Five heroines to celebrate in young adult fiction

In 2017 it is disheartening to see that young women, the world over, are still subjected to the influence of the hyperfeminine stereotype.

From the sexualised variants found in advertising, to the comical and submissive supporting roles on television and film, hyperfemininity – which portrays women as passive, naive, soft, graceful, and nurturing – has been caricatured and fictionalised since the dawn of creativity.

With this in mind, it is no surprise that the realm of literature is no exception. As a medium used by most as an escape, a means to educate, or promote a message, the world of young adult (YA) literature sometimes gives us self-sacrificing heroines, helpless noblewomen, and those who bide their time until their prince arrives (we’re looking at you Bella).

Despite a tendency to reinforce gender stereotypes, YA literature has also given us examples of strong teens, young adults, and freethinkers who provide an anti-type for the next generation of women to aspire to.

Here are five examples of strong female heroines from YA fiction, who encourage independence and promote girl power.

The front cover of the book 'The Hate U Give'. It features a black girl holding a sign with the title of the book written across it.

1. Starr Carter, The Hate U Give

When her best friend Khalil is shot down by a white police officer, Starr has a choice – either reveal her best friend’s killer or keep her friends and family safe.

Starr’s choice not only reveals the rampant class struggle evident in today’s America, but the makings of a fearless teenager whose sense of right and wrong is paramount to her own identity.

The Hate U Give is by Angie Thomas

 2. Liesel Meminger, The Book Thief

A still from the movie version of The Book Thief. The still shows actress Sophie Nélisse as Liesel Meminger, sitting in a basement reading. The word 'WRITE' is written in capitals on the wall behind her.

Spanning decades, The Book Thief brings to life the experiences of Liesel, an adopted nine-year old who lives with Hans and Rosa Hubermann in Nazi Germany during the rise of the Third Reich and the onset of WWII.

Distraught over the loss of her family, Liesel’s life is made even more difficult when she is bullied for not being able to read. But, through perseverance and the kindness of Hans, she soon discovers the power of words. Liesel begins to steal books deemed illegal by the Nazi Party and eventually starts writing her own stories.

Liesel shares her stories with Max, a Jewish former fist-fighter being sheltered by the Hubermanns at the height of the holocaust. Together they find freedom and redemption

through language.

The Book Thief is by Markus Zusak

3. Grace Dawn, Mazin Grace

A photograph of the front cover of the novel 'Mazin Grace by Dylan Coleman. The cover features an Indigenous girl running whimsically through a field. A bird is flying in the sky above her.

Award-winning Mazin Grace explores themes of childhood and young womanhood at Koonibba Lutheran Mission in South Australia, through the eyes of Grace Dawn.

Set in the 1940s and 50s, Grace – a fictionalised version of the author’s mother – is the daughter of an unknown Caucasian father and Indigenous mother. Grace begins the search for her father after episodes of bullying and near excommunication lead her contemplate suicide.

The novel tackles difficult themes, including Australia’s colonial history, and highlights the intelligence, resilience and perseverance of its central character, despite the external pressures she faces from her peers, family and society.

Mazin Grace is by Dylan Coleman

4. Jade Moon, The Fire Horse Girl

Front cover of the novel The Fire Horse Girl. The cover features two girls, one in traditional Chinese dress and one dress in men's clothing and wearing a hat. They are mirror images of each other and set on a blue background.

The Fire Horse Girl follows the life of young protagonist, Jade Moon. Jade is born during the Chinese year of the Fire Horse – a bad omen – and her family believes their daughter is destined to be stubborn, wilful, and far too imaginative.

Jade is given the chance to leave China and move to the United States when her father meets an American, Sterling Promise, who paints a picture of prosperity beyond the confines of their village.

However, Jade’s journey is thwarted by deceit and she soon realises she must use those traits considered by her family as negative to free herself from the chains of tradition and from men who want to use her as kindling to stoke the flames of their desires.

Jade has to use her all bravery and will to get into America and survive there.

The Fire Horse Girl is by Kay Honeyman

5. Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games

A still from the movie 'The Hunger Games'. The image shows Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, firing an arrow into the distance, flames in the background.

And how could we miss out Katniss Everdeen? Katniss lives in a dystopian reality in which a wealthy Capitol city, run by dictator President Snow, exerts both wealth and power over 12 underprivileged and impoverished districts of a post-apocalyptic world.

After volunteering to take her sister’s place in the 74th Hunger Games – a fight-to-the-death competition with an aim to entertain the ‘haves’ and to remind the ‘have nots’ of their place and purpose – this 16-year-old endures a journey of difficult choices and near-death experiences.

Katniss is capable and self-sacrificing and leads a rebellion that sees an army of slaves rise up against their oppressor.

The Hunger Games series is by Suzanne Collins

Agree with the heroines we chose for this blog? Who would you add?

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Milly Stililovic, journalist

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