The response to not a pretty girl has been INCREDIBLE (I had
nearly more than 600 visitors and more than 1000 views on October 11, at which point I had to go have a lie down with Elysian Brewery’s imperial stout). People have been bringing up awesome points all over the place that I want to discuss at greater length. But first! I totally forgot in my rush to get that thing finished in the first place that one topic I wanted to talk about was YA media that I think do a good job of dealing with the many different ways of being a teenage girl — the stuff that I would steer a teen toward if she asked me for recommendations. So here are some of those!
- 10 Things I Hate About You: although at first glance 10 Things seems to fit into the Me vs. Other Girls dichotomy pretty neatly, with Kat Stratford on the Me side and Bianca and on the Other Girls side, I think the movie ultimately complicates that dichotomy in good ways. Bianca and Kat are both clearly valuable, and worthy of love and attention. It’s not perfect, but both of them disrupt the narrative associated with their characters: Bianca is way smarter than she lets on, as demonstrated by the way she breaks into fluent French to express her frustration with Cameron, and Kat has both a soft side and an attention-seeking side (“You’re not as mean as you think you are, you know that?”) Plus we have Mandella and Chastity as secondary characters to round things out. (Although I wish Chastity had a little more, you know, development, instead of just dropping her best friend like a hot potato out of nowhere. Well, not unrealistic, I guess.)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy taught a generation of girls that kicking ass and being girly were far from mutually exclusive. Moreover, the show includes lots of different teenage girls living femininity in different ways, from enthusiastically geeky Willow to vain Cordelia to somewhat clueless Anya to hard-partying Faith to militant Kendra to quiet Tara. Again, Joss Whedon ain’t perfect when it comes to writing women, but I think he does a remarkably good job of showcasing lots of different types of women, and allowing their choices to have real weight without (always) falling into stereotype. (Hell, before she starts dating girls, geeky and awkward Willow dates the objectively best dude on the show (I will miss you forever, Oz).) And then there’s Cordelia: in early seasons she’s the catty popular rich bitch character we’re all familiar with, and over the course of the series and Angel, we get to see her develop into a canny, shrewd, funny person.
- Tamora Pierce: I mentioned both Alanna and Keladry before as female characters who eschew femininity and break their in-universe glass ceiling by becoming knights. What’s great about Pierce’s work is that Alanna and Keladry are just two of many well-rounded, diverse, unique female characters. For all my fondness for Alanna and Kel, I always liked Daine of the Immortals Quartet best, with her abilities to talk to animals, heal, and shape-shift. (Also Numaire’s totally dreamy.) And then there’s the Circle of Magic books, notable not only for having three very different girls among its four protagonists, but also for mostly bypassing traditional elemental magical systems (earth, air, fire, water) in favor of awesome stuff like thread magic and smith magic. And then in the later books there are, like, glass mages and carpentry mages and cooking mages. But seriously, thread magic! SO COOL.
- Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin: This is quite possibly my favorite book ever; I reread it at least once a year throughout college, especially when I was feeling low. Janet fits very much into the bookworm archetype, but she’s surrounded by a wide variety of characters. She’s got realistic relationships with her two diametrically opposed roommates, Molly and Christina. Molly sleeps with a field hockey stick for a teddy bear, quotes Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and is close with Janet, while both Molly and Janet have a rockier relationship with Tina, who’s decidedly unbookish. (“She may be athletic,” says Nora, the girls’ RA, when calling Janet out on the fact that she and Molly exclude Tina, “but that doesn’t mean she’s stupid.”) But Tina turns out to be impeccably loyal to her friends, even when Janet ends up with Tina’s ex-boyfriend. And then there’s Peg and Sharon and Nora, and the unearthly Anne and Odile, and Melinda Wolfe and the terrifying Medeous, and the Fourth Ericson ghost and gah oh my god guys I can’t even tell you how much I love this book, just go read it immediately, it captures the college experience so vividly and it weaves in a fantastic magical storyline and there are so many literary references and it’s the book that introduced me to The Lady’s Not For Burning and if it had nothing else going for it I would love it forever for that BUT IT HAS SO MUCH GOING FOR IT. (To be fair, I guess some people find it slow, but I was always so busy swooning after Thomas and Robin and envying Janet her reading lists that it never bothered me.)
Adventure Time: (Come on grab your friends~) For a show focused on two bros — Jake the Dog and Finn the Human — Adventure Time has an AWESOME cast of female characters who run the gamut from Marceline, a punk rock vampire, to Princess Bubblegum, a sweetly terrifying mad scientist ruler, to Lumpy Space Princess, who knows she’s just too lumping good for everyone who can’t handle her lumps. Plus, when character designer and artist Natasha Allegri created genderswapped versions of Finn and Jake (Fionna and Cake) and the fandom fell in love, the showrunners were smart enough to recognize a good thing when they saw it and made several episodes featuring Fionna and Cake and an entirely genderswapped cast of characters.
Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones: I love basically all of DWJ’s ouevre, and there are actually a ton of her books I could recommend as being stories about young women supporting each other and featuring an interesting, diverse cast (Witch Week comes to mind). But Year of the Griffin is one of my absolute favorites. Like Tam Lin, I think it captures college life in a particularly delightful and true-to-life way — if, in this case, your college experience included assassins and pirates and terrible lecture classes and those magical moments when you made breakthroughs of understanding during discussions with your friends. Elda, Olga, and Claudia are all very different archetypes, and indeed, different species. (The book is technically a sequel to Dark Lord of Derkholm, which is technically a companion to The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, but it can be read without reading either of those; I didn’t even know it was a sequel for years after I first read it.)
This is a fairly limited list — a lot of the stuff on here is really mainstream, and while that’s nice on the one hand because it means it’s easy to find, I’d also like to shine a spotlight on stuff that most people may never have heard of. And, as you can see, I have a particular bent towards fantasy, so there’s probably plenty of literary fiction or sci-fi that I’m missing out on. So what stories would you recommend? Are any of those dystopias that are getting made into movies good?
Super extra bonus points if you have any recommendations that also deal with issues of class, sexuality, race, disability, or any other form of intersectionality!