Nov 18, 2011
YA heroines outside the white, straight box
This has been a rough week for people of color and women. First, there was the whole thing where people forgot that yes, there are black people in The Hunger Games.
Then I watched the most recent episode of Once Upon a Time (that TV show on ABC), in which there was a black fairy godmother. Wait, you say, what black fairy godmother? Well, she appeared, said her two lines, and died within the first two minutes of the episode. Poof. (I have to say I called it. As soon as she showed up on-screen, I said, “I bet she dies.” Sometimes, it hurts to be right.)
And, of course, yesterday I saw this amazing clip of an interview with (black) British director Steve McQueen, where he asked a lineup of six white male directors why they so rarely cast minorities in movies. They had nothing to say in response.
Color me shocked.
And then there was Cracked.com’s totally unfunny list of 5 Old-Timey Prejudices That Still Show Up in Every Movie. The list includes No. 5: They still can’t show a black man dating a white woman (unless that’s what the whole movie is about); and No. 4: Only the pretty girls are allowed to live.
All of this left me a little down in the dumps. So I was really heartened to come across the YA Sisterhood’s Tournament of Heroines, which celebrates awesome YA heroines. Currently, the Tournament of Heroines is open for nominations.
What do they mean by “heroine”? Here’s what they say:
A heroine is a female character who is admired for her noble qualities. We think it’s someone who meets the world head on. This doesn’t mean she has to be a hardcore girl who can beat up anyone who crosses her path (though those girls certainly qualify). Your favorite can be anyone you admire, for any reason. The important thing is that she is extraordinary in some way or another– be that the way she handles other people, her inexhaustible humor, or her skill with a crossbow. We encourage you to think outside the box! Search your bookshelves for the female characters who inspire you, who make you want to be better, who prove that our world doesn’t have to be a man’s world.
Nominations are open until Nov. 24th, and the running list of nominated heroines is already pretty long! I love that YA readers are going to be talking about the qualities of a heroine.
There are already a few non-white characters on the initial nominee list (which is going to be updated daily, so that might have changed by the time you read this), but you know what would make me super thrilled after a week of such depressing news about how the wider world isn’t really that accepting of minorities (or, frankly, girls)? To show that YA readers are.
So I’ve gone through my bookshelves and pulled out 10 heroines who aren’t white and/or aren’t straight. These are the awesome girls I’m going to nominate for the Tournament of Heroines (in alphabetical order by first name):
Ai Ling from Silver Phoenix and Fury of the Phoenix by Cindy Pon
Billi SanGreal from Devil’s Kiss (and sequels) by Sarwat Chadda
Bridget Liu of Possess by Gretchen McNeil
Esme Rocket from Sister Mischief by Laura Goode
Hanna from Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
Jael from Misfit by Jon Skovron
Keri from The Shattering by Karen Healey
Micah from Liar by Justine Larbalestier1
Nimira from Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore
Sin from The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan
There are my 10 ladies. But wait … there’s another!
Kaede from Huntress
Yes, this is my own book. Is it bad form to mention that a character I created qualifies? I mean, seriously, I think Kaede could totally take Katniss in a fight. And you know Katniss is going to make it to the final round. But Kaede’s archery skills are, I dare say, as good as Katniss’s. Plus she likes to throw knives for fun. Winner!
I think it’s going to be fun to see what YA readers think a heroine should be. (You can nominate your heroines here.) Who are your favorite YA heroines who are of color or queer?
- OK, yeah, Micah may not quite fit the definition of “heroine” above since she’s, you know, a liar. But she’s definitely “extraordinary,” and I love her! I have to include her! [↩]