"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis
There are a bunch of hashtags out there for wishlists – agents have their manuscript wishlists, and my brain is currently freezing so I can’t remember what the hashtag for reader wishlists was, but that exists too. Lately I found myself thinking about some of the characters I’d like to see in more YA novels. Consider this the first of many posts on the kinds of characters I wish populated more YA novels. (I’m sure I’ll think of more characters in the future!)
1. Badass Females Who Aren’t Badass B/C of Traditionally Masculine Things
Think of your favorite or at least the most popular SFF “strong female characters.” (I feel like people use badass to describe their friends or SFF characters; for some reason I can’t picture with contemporary??? Does anyone feel this way?). How many of them have power because they’re considered ruthless or they’re given a weapon? (It’s usually the weapon thing that bugs me – as if the only way to power is to have some fighting skill). I’d really like to see some magic system or just a character whose compassion, sensitivity, and conscientiousness is what gives her power. Like Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. Bitterblue knows how to defend herself because she’s a queen, but that doesn’t much enter the equation. Her power stems more from being a compassionate queen – her compassion helps her country heal from the wrongs inflicted by her psychopathic father (who was the former king).
2. The Girl in the Arranged Marriage Actually Accepts Or Change Her Background a Bit?
Okay, so if you’re going to have the arranged marriage trope, I’d like some girls to be a.) actually happy or accepting (if my parents wanted to set me up on a blind date, I would accept, but I’ve also been raised by Lebanese immigrants. I think that American culture is so individualistic, it doesn’t want to accept the very idea of arranged marriages despite the fact that there is a huge precedent in history and this is *actually* happening in places today) or b.) making the most of the situation like Elisa in The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson or c.) accepts the marriage because arranged marriages were historically ways that women could get more power, and the woman wants to be more empowered. I’d also like to see more books that shake up that character more! So, I’m excited to read Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst because the character ends up falling in love with someone else too, so there’s a conflict between duty and love. I’d love to see an arranged marriage that makes homonormativity the default in the way C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince series does. Also, why do so many arranged marriages end up focusing on teen girls? They weren’t the only ones either forced or asked to marry other people. Put more diversity in these arranged marriages! Use them to challenge concepts of privilege and racism and so much more.
3. The Chosen One Who’s Not Actually the Chosen One:
Okay, so actually there is a fantasy series out there right now that deals with the concept of the person who is raised as the Chosen One not actually being the Chosen One. I won’t say what that book is because that’d be a spoiler, but I want more characters like this and fewer actual Chosen Ones. I think that fantasy reflects reality with different symbols, so I’m going to talk about a personal story. In high school, I was at the top of my class. I was used to things feeling easy if I put in some work. When I got to college, I was no longer special; I was in a group of really intelligent people who thrived on challenges, and I needed to get on board and try harder. I see this as sort of relating to this “you think you’re special, but you’re not *that* special” and I think that how people react to that situation is interesting and shows a lot of their character. So if you have a character that’s been raised to think one way, and the carpet is swept out from under their feet – what happens to them? Do they become a villain? Do they fade into nothing? Etc. It's like imagining Neville if he'd actually known about the prophecy.
Stories with villains at the forefront (e.g. The Young Elites)! Complex, complicated villains who aren’t only evil for evil’s sake but who are fully fledged characters are ALWAYS! Appreciated.
(And of course more diverse characters ALL AROUND will always be welcome with me too. I was considering including that on the list but then I don't know that I want to encourage non #ownvoices people to be writing some of the character types, etc.)
So that’s the first of many “reader character wishlists.”
Would you like to read any books with these kinds of characters? What characters would you like to see more of?