Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best of 2011: Wonderfully Complex YA Heroines

I have a feeling I'm going to be talking about the same books over and over again in these lists, so hopefully you don't get tired of hearing about them. (You shouldn't, because they are awesome!) It's just that when I fall for a book, which honestly doesn't happen that often, I fall hard.

Today is all about characters, and I decided to narrow my scope a little so that I don't just start spitting out book titles like a crazy person. People are like onions-- they're many-layered, they become less harsh the more time you spend with them (on the stove, get it?), they sometimes make you cry...okay, you get it. Basically, real people are complicated. They have a variety of motivations, they have moods, they have flaws, and I'm not just talking about little quirks, I'm talking about deep, intense flaws.

Characters, when they are at their best, reflect this complexity, but that is a hard thing to pull off. So I'm going to list my Top 5 Wonderfully Complex YA Heroines.

1. Melinda, from Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

At least one good thing came out of that whole Speak banning scandal, and it was that I finally got the motivation to read it. (Admittedly, that happened over a year ago, but I have already established that I'm breaking all the rules with these lists, right?) I was always a little afraid to read it, scared that it would disturb me too much. Well, it did disturb me, but this book isn't an excruciating slog through pain and depression. It is about Melinda, recovering from something she should never have had to go through, and finding the courage to speak up about it.

I don't know how to explain this-- but sometimes, characters that have been through a tragedy become narrowly defined by that tragedy, in books. It's all they think about, it explains everything about them. I am sure I've done this myself in my writing, somewhere. But real people who have been through tragedy don't become that tragedy. They have good days and bad days and really bad days. They have moments of humor and hope, and moments of crippling sadness. That's not to say that the horrible events don't transform every aspect of a person's life, because they do, but it isn't the only thing they are. Melinda feels like a person in that respect, whose ultimate victory is not the stuff of inspiring sports movies, but is nonetheless powerful because it feels grounded in reality.

2. Ruby, from Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Ruby isn't the narrator of this book, but she's so well developed that I can't help but put her in this list. On the one hand, Ruby is selfish, vindictive, controlling, narcissistic, and dishonest. On the other hand, she is charismatic, vibrant, loving, protective-- and ultimately, she's even selfless, when it comes to her sister. I read this book in March but I still remember everything about her. If you haven't read this book, you should read it just for her.

3. Sam, from Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

I have to admit, this book sat on my shelf for awhile because I wasn't sure how the "she relives her last day seven times" thing was going to play out for me. I have the attention of a goldfish sometimes. But all I had to do was start it, last April, and I was in. Sam is fantastic because you start off the book hating her-- or at least, I did. But as she experiences her last day again and again, you get to know the good friend, the good sister, who lives under the surface somewhere. And not only that, but she learns, she transforms. By the last page, it's like she's taken on flesh and walked around in the real world, and I still didn't always like her, but I loved her, and for me, that's the sign of a complex character.

4. Elisa, from The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Elisa is an example of a powerful character transformation. In the beginning of the story, she's deeply insecure and unconvinced of her own worth. By the end, she's confident and fierce in her convictions. She, more than the plot or the world (which were both great), carried me through this book-- I wanted to watch her change.

5. Hermione, from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

More cheating, since I pretty much grew up with Hermione. But this was the Year of Rereading Harry Potter In Anticipation of the Last Movie, for me-- that's all that got me through draft two of Insurgent, I swear. So I was able to rediscover all the characters from my new adultish perspective. And Hermione is more complex than I remembered. She has so many different sides-- a caring, almost mushy one (Ron, anyone?), a know-it-all, clever one, a stubborn one... She's smart, and she's painfully aware of that, but not always sure of herself, not always cool under pressure. I love her, but I sometimes want to throttle her. It's fantastic.

So there you have it.

Let's see what everyone else said, shall we?

Tomorrow: Books of 2011!


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