This is a post that I’ve been mulling over for a while but was really sparked into action by Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, my current read (it’s excellent!) The thing about it is that Celaena, the main character, is an assassin. She’s deceptively beautiful but has a reputation for being one of the most powerful and feared killers in the land. So many characters like Celaena have been popping up recently. Let’s call it the Katniss Phenomenon. I adore both these books and Celaena and Katniss are both such strong and independent characters. But the question that I’ve been debating recently is: what about quiet strength?
What about the girls who can’t fight? The girls who aren’t fast runners, aren’t trained? They can’t fight their way out of their situation. They only sit there and suffer. What about those girls? Why aren’t we giving them the label of “strong”? Recently, there have been girls popping up in YA who can fight, who can shoot, who have black belts and are physically strong. They’re plunged into impossible situations that they have to fight their way out of or think their way out of. What about the girl who’s scared to fall in love but conquers her fear and finds herself happy? What about the girl like Alice in Living Dead Girl, whose strength comes from the fact that she’s surviving in a world of horrors? Are we just ignoring them?
Katniss has spent her life in District 12 providing for herself and her family. She’s strong in the sense that she has a gift for archery and is willing to sacrifice herself for her family. She’s badass and almost feral in her fighting abilities and strength to do things without thinking of herself first. There’s a reason that there’s practically a cult-like following behind her and The Hunger Games novels. They rock, and she rocks. She’s strong and everybody uses her as an example as a strong character.
Quiet strength is still strength. Even if these girls can’t go and run a marathon, aren’t the top of their prime in their sport, and they can’t fight. They can be delicate or even not very smart. But those girls can still have something that makes them strong. I consider myself strong, but I can’t even play volleyball well. I think that I’m strong because I’m comfortable being myself and I know what I want and I’m doing what I can to get it.
Some strong girls are even weak emotionally. They can fight and they can save the world, but they’re still nervous to go after what they want. It’s in conquering that obstacle that makes them truly strong in my eyes. I think that all these characters are strong, but I just wish there would be more types of strong in YA. There are some different ones, but nobody ever seems to acknowledge it. Often times, the characters in the dystopian novels or the action novels are the ones being praised for being strong characters. There are still a good number of girls in contemporary novels being praised as “strong” but not nearly as many. We don’t live in a dystopian world. Our strong NOW, in this moment, isn’t the same strong that pops up in other novels. Our strong is something different entirely – having the courage to go after the job you want or write a risky article or even stand up for somebody who can’t stand up for themselves. Why are we letting strong have a different meanings? So many people are strong and so few characters are praised for it.
There are a lot of girls who are passed over in reviews. “Unmemorable characters”. Sometimes it seems as if the only memorable characters are the ones who can fight or the ones who go out and DO something about their current situation. When I was at Teen Author Carnival, Jeri Smith-Ready, author of the Shade trilogy, said something that I really agreed with. There was a panel dedicated to strong characters and she talked about it when it was her turn. She said that to make her characters strong, she had them overcome their biggest fear. I agree with that; the character may not be the best fighter or the best at what she does, but if they conquer their fear, they’re strong. If they’re comfortable being themselves, they’re strong.
There are a few weak characters out there, I’ll admit. But I think that anybody who shows their most vulnerable side of themselves to somebody is strong. Somebody who endures something awful and still goes on is strong. Anybody who is comfortable in their skin or working towards something or anything is strong. Would you identify yourself as weak just because you can’t do what some other people can?
I love Katniss and I love those badass characters who defy the stakes. I adore reading about a character who is excellent with swords and can kill a man in less than three seconds. I love reading those high-stakes, epic novels that leave me breathless on the edge of my seat. But who’s defining strength here? In a market that can easily be saturated with these types of characters, why are the quiet ones being overlooked?
I love reading strong characters, whether or not they’re like Katniss. I’m not bashing these characters. I love them just as much as everybody else. I still have dreams where I’m in the Hunger Games and can fight. We all wish we could be like Tris, or Calla, or Katniss. I wish I could fight as well as she does or fence or do something awesome. But my strength isn’t in any of these things; my strength is in my blogging, and my writing, and my reading. Maybe the strongest person is the person that nobody notices.
What do y’all think? Do you think that physical strength defines a character more than emotional strength? Just to clarify, I believe that those physically strong characters are just as strong as other characters. I’m not demoting them at all or demeaning them. I’m just saying that I think some quieter characters should be thought about too. If you’re a blogger, think about that the next time you read something. Although it might not be “loud” strength, popping out at you, it may still be there.
Thoughts? Comments? Comment below or tweet me. I’d love to hear what you think!