A couple of weeks ago, I attended a Harry Potter Fan Convention called Ascendio, which took place at Universal Orlando. While I have been to four other Harry Potter conventions since 2003, this was the first one to really incorporate a portion of the programming to Young Adult authors and literature. That portion of the programming was called The Quill Track, and included fabulous authors like Veronica Roth, Libba Bray, Michelle Hodkin, Aimee Carter, and Beth Revis. I spent much of my time during Ascendio in these YA lit panels, and because this is a book blog with a mainly YA-focus, I thought I’d share a write-up of a couple of the panels that I found most interesting. First up: the Katniss, Bella, and Hermione: Finding the Balance Between Asskicking Prowess and Emotional Realism in the Girls of YA Fiction panel, which featured all of the above authors, and was moderated by Lindsay Ribar, whose debut YA novel The Art of Wishing will be released in 2013.
The panel started off with each of the authors introducing themselves and talking a bit about their own heroines and why they would call them kick-ass. I have actually only read Aimee Carter’s Goddess Test books, as well as Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy, so can’t really offer any insight into if I agree with their assessments of their characters’ ass-kicking prowess, but I figure they know best, no? (I should also point out that there was a Harry Potter-themed musical taking place next door [The Untold Tale of Beedle the Bard], so there was a lot of dramatic music and whatnot that kept interrupting the ladies talking; this led to many hilarious comments or bursts of laughter, particularly from Libba Bray, who is hilariously funny.)
The panel was supposed to focus on Bella, Hermione and Katniss, but unfortunately Hermione really wasn’t mentioned at all. What was talked about instead was, as I mentioned above, the authors’ own female characters, as well as some other well-known “kick-ass” females scattered throughout YA or films. I did like the aside that Michelle brought up regarding Bella, though, and feel it’s worth mentioning. Bella is not exactly what anyone would probably call kick-ass – I know that I certainly don’t put her in that category – but Michelle brought up how, in the end, Bella gets exactly what she wants: Edward, being vampired, and even a baby. Bella is what you would call tenacious (or annoying, but maybe that’s just me); she does what she wants, when she wants, and doesn’t allow anyone to get in the way of her desires and goals. Then there’s Katniss, who is definitely physically stronger than Bella – more kick-ass, if you will – who winds up getting NOTHING that she wanted. She is forced to lead a rebellion she doesn’t want to lead, and even fails in saving her sister, even though that was the whole point of her volunteering for the Hunger Games in the first place. Not to mention that, in the end, she comes out pretty emotionally scarred as well. So while Bella fails in the ass-kicking department, she winds up the happier, more satisfied character. Which just goes to show that being able to kick ass doesn’t guarantee happiness.
There was a lot of discussion about sex in YA books, and specifically the way that some people want to censor it, or not allow their patrons/students to read books with sexual content. This segued into Aimee Carter talking about her Goddess Test books, and particularly the character of Ava. Ava is actually Aphrodite, so obviously sex is a big part of her identity; Aimee said that she uses sex as a way to express herself. And then there’s Kate, who is willing to attempt the tests to become Henry’s wife. One would think this shows strength, but I’m not so convinced on this front. See, Kate is only really going through with it because of Henry’s offer to keep her mother alive, and also because of her guilt over Ava’s death. Some of the other authors on the panel commented that they feel Kate is also subverting society’s opinion regarding premarital sex, because her and Henry do indeed have sex (fade to black, of course) in the book. But when you look at Kate’s attitude about sex – particularly sex involving more than one partner – I think Kate is actually quite in line with society’s view. She looks down on both Ava and Persephone because they had sex with people who weren’t their spouses; this doesn’t sound very “kick-ass” or “strong” to me. It was also interesting to listen to Aimee talk about this, because she was very “rah-rah, your body is yours to do with as you please!” but that wasn’t reflected in her character at all.
Then someone brought up the character of Merida, from Disney/Pixar’s Brave, and also Mulan. Both can wield weapons, and Mulan even goes so far as to take her aging father’s place in the army. But that brought up the discussion of whether people are putting too much emphasis on physical prowess or strength, and not focusing enough on the internal strength of character that is just as – or maybe even more – important. The comparison of Merida versus her mother was brought up. Elinor is no less strong than Merida, even if she can’t shoot a bow. When Elinor talks, everyone listens, even the brawling leaders of the clans. This is definitely a sort of strength, even if she can’t whip out a bow and shoot someone. (Then there’s the whole “fiercely protecting her child” thing as well.)
The statement was made by Beth Revis (I think; I could be wrong!) about how it’s important that female YA characters are well-developed outside of any relationship they’re in. The relationship should never define them as a person. I couldn’t agree with this statement more! This led to the question for Lindsay (who is also a lit agent) of whether a YA book could sell to a publisher right now if it didn’t include romance. The answer was a little disheartening: it depends. Most of the authors agreed that it would be very difficult, because romance – particularly paranormal romances – are so hot right now, and the publishing market always goes with the sure bet. Lindsay said she thought she could sell a book that didn’t include romance, but it would have to be something absolutely amazing. (The question I wanted to ask was, “Could you sell a YA book without a love triangle?” because I am really getting tired of those. :-P)
Then there was some conversation about the strength that various Harry Potter characters show in the books. Some of the ones talked about would be Bellatrix (she’s absolutely insane, but is one of the only women in the Death Eater ranks), Molly (“Not my daughter, you bitch!”), Percy (who, while being an idiot, stands up for what he believes in, in terms of leaving his family behind and doing his job at the Ministry, and also knowing when he’s made a mistake and admitting it), and then the conversation turned to Tonks, and I basically vehemently disagreed with everything they said about her. To me, Tonks is one of those characters who starts out being absolutely AMAZING, but as soon as love enters the story, turns into something else entirely. I am still so angry that she left her weeks-old son to run willy-nilly into a battle simply to find Remus; that’s not strength, that’s obsession and also stupid. But anyway, I digress.
The panel ended with a statement by Beth Revis, who told about a librarian who picked up her book and asked if there was sex in it. The answer was yes, and she started to put it down. When it was clarified that it was not consensual sex, she picked it back up and said, “Oh, well that’s okay, then!” This brought up the discussion that it’s seemingly okay to have violence – and sometimes gratuitous violence at that – in YA books, but it’s not okay to have sex. Beth talked about how people are afraid that you’re going to try to act out what you read (think Harry Potter and the whole witchcraft debate), so apparently reading about teenage sex will be enough to cause the reader to find someone to have teenage sex with? Even though obviously if you read about someone killing someone, you’re of course NOT going to go out and take someone’s life yourself. The double standards, they are amazing!
Even though the panel got off the subject of Bella, Hermione and Katniss, I found it a very entertaining and fun experience. All of the ladies involved were really well-spoken, oftentimes very funny, and very engaging speakers. While I didn’t agree with everything being said, I enjoyed hearing them share their thoughts on the kick-ass-ness of females. My main takeaway thought was this: No matter a person’s experiences or life, everyone can be kick-ass in some form or fashion.
(To read Beth Revis’ discussion of this same panel, go HERE. It’s a pretty entertaining read!)
Really really interesting post, I’d have loved to been at this! I’ll have to live vicariously through you, so thanks for sharing! :) Some excellent points made by the women too. And thank you, totally agree with your comments about Tonks, fantastic character when you first meet her, so cool and then she just really disappoints in the end!
Also, have to say I’m a little shocked at the thought people would choose sexual violence over consensual sex in their Y.A. books. I tend to stir clear of the former, too difficult to read for me!
Ugh, Tonks. I wanted to strangle her in Half-Blood Prince, seriously.
That was a little surprising to me, too. I wouldn’t necessarily NOT pick a book for my library because of that sort of content, but it’s odd that this particular librarian preferred non-consensual sex to consensual sex. Makes you wonder what ELSE she’s decided to leave off her shelves (or add to them).
This sounds like a really interesting panel. I find that point about Bella getting what she wants vs. Katniss getting nothing she wants really interesting – I am usually inclined to pretty much dismiss Bella as a total waste of space and a completely spineless and useless character, but I have to admit that that point is true. Girlfriend knows how to get what she wants, I will give her that much. (But nothing else. I refuse to say anything else positive about her.)
I’m with you on Tonks, too; I feel like her running off to be with Remus in battle is one of those gestures that is supposed to be tragically romantic and stuff, but as usual, I find most tragic romantic gestures like that to just be sort of selfish and idiotic. I mean it would have been FINE if she hadn’t had a baby, then it WOULD have been a really great romantic moment, but once you have a kid you have to sort out your priorities, you know? Your baby doesn’t have to be more important than your husband, but you also should CONSIDER THE FACT THAT YOUR CHILD SHOULD NOT GROW UP AN ORPHAN. Gah. Tonks sucked so much from HBP on.
That story about the librarian preferring non-consensual sex over consensual sex is interesting to me; I mean, I think it’s ridiculous, but I guess I also understand her line of thinking – if it’s non-con, then it’s an Issues Book, and YA as a genre loves a good Issues Book. But if it’s consensual sex then I guess it’s perceived as immoral? I mean, I think that’s ridiculous, and I think it’s important for teenagers to have good examples of safe sex to read about, but I guess I can see how the librarian would be concerned about the perceived scandalous nature of such a book. Sigh. The world we live in, I tell you.
I would LOVE for YA to get out of this love triangle fad; I wish there were more YA books without romance in general, but I don’t really care that much about that, I just REALLY want to be rid of all the damn love triangles. I feel like a love triangle is a very tricky thing to get right, and I’ve only read a handful of books where the author managed to convince me of it, and so now that it’s basically expected of any YA book, I feel like almost all of them are going to SUCK because the writers are just doing love triangles because they’re expected to, and not because they truly think the text and characters need one.
(Sidenote: Veronica Roth’s books don’t have a love triangle – they’re pretty good books, I’m not in love but I’ll def read the last book in the trilogy when it comes out next year, but the lack of a love triangle is BY FAR my favorite thing about them. Proof that a YA series can be a bestseller without an idiotic love triangle! Win.)
Veronica Roth’s books are on my to-read list. I just haven’t had a chance to get to them. I really want to read them soon, though, as I’m afraid I’m going to stumble upon something that’s going to spoil them!
And yes, love triangles, UGH! Pretty much every single YA I’ve picked up of late has contained one, especially if it’s a paranormal. So done with the whole trope.
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