I’m always on the lookout for how females are represented in young-adult/kid’s lit. Truly, it’s beyond time to break away from the gender roles and stereotypes that’re placed upon women.
For my critical thesis, I focused on female protagonists and where they fail at being role models. I know, there will be some who’ll scream, “They’re book characters, not real, so they can’t be role models.” Well, scream that to yourself because I learned a lot about puberty and the girl-change from Margaret in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
I polled a local Girl Scout troop and guess what? They loved Hermione Granger, but didn’t want to be like her. Why? Hermione’s portrayed as an annoying, nosey know-it-all. According to the girls, the only thing enviable about the girl in that “vampire” book was that she had two boys fighting over her. Yeah, who wouldn’t want that? Talk about an ego boost. And Katniss, yeah, she was pretty bad-azz with a bow and arrow. Yet, she was guarded and if it wasn’t for Peeta, she’d be totally unlikable, even Haymitch said it. Plus, she was more of a puppet and even her sister told her that she didn’t know how much power she had. (I’m not taking away from Hermione and Katniss, I’m just the messenger.)
Have you ever read a book and got so angry with the female protagonist because she kept doing stupid stuff? It makes you engaged in the story, but not necessarily root for her. Or, she might lash out and push others away out of stubbornness or whatever, and you’re like, “Silly, they’re there to assist you? Why can’t you accept help instead of walking in the dark without a clue?”
I finished reading Don’t Turn Around and not only was it a thrilling page-turner, I was with the female protagonist. I understood when she resisted help, and rooted for her as she ran around without a clue. Her reasons were justifiable.
- Non-traditional interests: Noa is all about computers. A girl about STEM! Yes! She’s a hacker, in fact, one of the best! And, self-learned at that. She wakes up on a table in a hospital gown, but she’s not in a hospital. Plus, some sort of procedure was done on her. What was done to her? By whom? Why her?
There’s so many questions that I, as a reader, had to find out. Then there’s Peter who founded the /ALLIANCE/, a group of hackers who pay back the awful folks, sort of like ANONYMOUS. How does he fit into the story? His life is intense because we get the sense that his family is involved with some heavy-duty criminal stuff, which he’s on the verge of discovering–with the help of Noa?
2. Tough and common sense smart: She’s a foster kid who’s learned to survive on her own. Noa’s not a victim and doesn’t require pity. And, she doesn’t make a lot stupid decisions. I think sometimes authors allow protagonists to make silly choices to put them in dire predicaments. Michelle Gagnon has that ability to keep conflict and tension in the story while Noa remains smart. Yes, she’s in trouble. Yes, folks are chasing her. But, she is tough and likeable.
3. Has relatable flaws: She’s a loner and doesn’t like to accept help. What teen likes to accept help? My daughter’s motto is: “I’ve got it.” Yet we understand why…she’s a foster child who’s damaged. She’s had to depend on herself. When female protags reject help, we assume they’re bad-azz, right? We give them a pass. Not acceptable. In life, we do need help. It doesn’t make us stronger when we reject it. Sometimes it makes us stupid because we can’t do everything. We don’t know everything. When Noa accepts help, it doesn’t make her vulnerable. It makes her smarter. Unlike Katniss, she listens, yet make decisions for herself. Also, unlike Katniss, she is guarded, but let’s her guard down enough to be personable. It’s not easy for he, but readers understand.
4. Vulnerable. Noa’s scared out of mind. She is struggling to figure things out. Girls need to see female protagonists who are like them…tough o5.n the outside, but scared as well.
5. Isn’t expected to fall in love: Why do authors think that girls want a love story in every novel? There doesn’t always have to be a love interest? Can’t we see a bad-azz chic doing her thing without the distraction of a guy? Sure, he can like her, but it’s 2015… she’s got more pressing and urgent things to figure out–like, who’s chasing her and why?! Noa’s not distracted by a cute, charming guy when she knows she has things to do. My daughter and I always talk about books that stop time for characters to focus on a kiss when the world is exploding all around them. Uhmmm…I don’t know about you, but a kiss would be the last thing I’d be concerned about.
Understand, this list isn’t conclusive…and you might read this novel and find other qualities…which I suggest you do. It’s definitely a page-turner. I can’t wait to read the follow-up novels in this series.