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Multidimensional Female Leads In Demand In Teen Lit

With Katniss Everdeen all over the movie screen and e-book screen, interesting, multidimensional female characters in teen lit are in demand.

YALSA’s 2005 Margaret A. Edwards Award winner, Francesca Lia Block, recently wrote a prequel about her independent and magical character, Weetzie Bat. It was interesting to see Weetzie before she became a confident woman. In Pink Smog, she is an insecure 13-year-old named Louise whose father just left and whose mother has a serious drinking problem. She is bullied by mean girls and her best friends have moved away. A mysterious family lives in her apartment complex. The boy is like an angel who saves Weetzie and claims to know her dad. The boy’s sister, on the other hand, is more of a demon with powers of voodoo with her creepy Barbie dolls. What does this family have to do with her dad’s abandonment, and who is leaving her cryptic notes that lead her to her favorite places in LA? Again Block shares her love of Los Angeles and makes you feel like you are there. I get lost in the author’s mixture of words, magic and setting. One of my favorite moments is when Louise befriends other outcasts and creates her own group of true friends. Block does a beautiful job of sharing Weetzie’s insecure, scared side and shows us what Louise went through to become the strong character loved by so many.

Lauren Myracle’s Shine may largely be remembered for its egregious snubbing by the National Book Award Committee. YALSA appreciated the book’s brilliance in the 2012 Best Fiction For Young Adults list. It is a great story about a girl who goes through a transformation and comes out on the other side much stronger than she could have imagined. Cat is a girl who would rather be alone. She lets go of her friends, and for most of the book, we don’t understand why. She has let go of her best friend, Patrick, who is an openly gay teenager and now feels guilty because he is the victim of a vicious hate crime. Patrick is now in a coma. Local authorities can’t or won’t figure out who did it. They assume it was someone from out of town. But Cat thinks it is someone in her town who did this, and she is determined to figure it out. Shine is about that journey as she digs through things people in her town would rather leave undisturbed. Readers watch Cat go through a transformation as well. Her transformation is my favorite part of the book. This is a good read for any teen, especially girls who are trying to figure out who they are.

Erin Dionne’s Elsie in Notes From An Accidental Band Geek is a fascinating character. She is a bit of a prodigy on the French horn, just like her dad, who plays first chair for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She wants to be a professional musician. One of the ways to make that happen is to make it into the prestigious Shining Birches music camp. Because her father was on tour in Austria, she missed auditions for the youth orchestra. Now her only option for the ensemble requirement is marching band. Elsie is socially awkward and has only had one friend in the past. Since that friend moved away, she hasn’t had any. Marching band is a team effort. So she has to interact with the other members and stumbles into making friends. Keeping them is another story. Erin Dionne never says Elsie is on the autism spectrum (and I don’t mean to suggest that she is); however she does have some similar characteristics. It never occurs to Elsie to ask her friends about themselves or what they may be interested in. She is very wrapped up in herself, her music, and her routine. This backfires on her and she is not sure how to make it up to her friends. The social world is so complicated. It is interesting that once she loses the friends, she realizes how much she wants them.

Kristin Cashore’s women of the Seven Kingdoms are mesmerizing! Graceling and Fire both earned her spots in YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten List in both 2009 and 2010. Katsa is one of my favorite teen lit heroines. She is fierce and strong and wants desperately to change her lot in life. When she discovers her true calling, her transformation is quite magical. Fire is the last of her kind. She is a human monster. There are monster versions of all kinds of animals. She was the only child of the human monster Cansrel, a dangerous man who used his powers for his own greed and pleasure. Besides her unnatural beauty and hair the color of fire, she has the ability to enter and control the minds of those near her. Now Cansrel is dead. Fire lives in the estate of Lord Archer, both her lover and protector. Human monsters have a hard time surviving. Monster predators such as raptors and leopards hunger for their flesh more than any other human. She must be guarded at all times. Fire is uncomfortable with her mind control powers, and keeps her hair covered whenever she leaves her home. The very sight of her can be so shocking to humans, they can’t control themselves around her. They either want her for their own or want to kill her. Kristin Cashore’s much anticipated Bitterblue will be released on May 1st. It picks up eight years after Graceling, and Bitterblue is now queen.

— Kris Hickey is currently rereading Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins