The following is a reader response from 2015 Hub Reading Challenge participant Hannah Rapp, who weighs in with her analysis one of the books she read for the challenge: Marie Lu’s The Young Elites, a Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten pick.
When it comes to books, we all have a few things we tend to gravitate towards. For instance, I’m a sucker for high fantasy, from the rosy-tinged to the dystopian-esque. For another, I love stories involving complicated female friendships or sibling relationships. And I usually love a good anti-hero. So when I picked up The Young Elites by Marie Lu, it didn’t take me long to realize that this book was going to be right up my alley – dark fantasy, a fascinating and deep relationship between the protagonist and her sister, and of course, an angry, vengeful, powerful, and bitter anti-hero. Adelina Amouteru took this book from good to great for me, and I love her for it.
Of course, it is Adelina’s good qualities, as well as her bad, that make her a good character and anti-hero. She is loyal, if wary of others. She does, despite all the anger and bitterness between them, love her sister. And she comes from a place of righteous rage. Because we can all understand why someone who was hated and despised for something she couldn’t control, who watched those like her be persecuted, tortured, and executed, would become angry and vengeful. It makes sense. And a good anti-hero has to be relatable as well as flawed.
But it is Adelina’s flaws that make her so compelling to me personally. The way she starts to love the power she can manipulate, and to love the power it gives her over others, is dark and terrifying but still somehow relatable. The war between the dark parts of her and the gentler ones was more exciting to me than any of the battles she engages in with those around her. It was like staring at a fight between two wild animals – it was horrifying and brutal, but also beautiful to watch all that power and rage being given form.
It’s not often that we get to see a heroine whose bad qualities are explored as much as their good, much less one whose worse qualities are part of what makes them powerful, exciting, and a protagonist. But it’s so good to read, and so important. Because of course, girls and women are just as capable of having dark impulses or cruel streaks as men. They are not always just “good” or “bad,” and expecting that out of them is part of what makes us judge them so much more harshly than boys and men when they fall short of our expectations. And so for that reason, readers of any gender don’t just need Heathcliffs and Humbert Humberts and Holden Caulfields – they also need Catherine Earnshaws and Arya Starks and Adelina Amouterus. And with men so dominant in the realm of my beloved anti-heroes, is it any wonder that I was thrilled when I discovered Adelina, and that I fell for her so entirely?