No Barbies in This Girl’s Drawer

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I didn’t burn Barbies, but I can’t say I was nice to them.

I never expected I’d become an author of Young Adult novels. Perhaps it was my stubborn insistence that the subjects and themes I’d been preparing to put into a literary context were too complex and bold for a younger audience.

And then I read The Hunger Games. And the wheels started turning.

Three major YA series in the last decade have come from female authors and feature young female protagonists (Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer, and Veronica Roth). I wasn’t quite so taken to the Twilight Series, mostly because I was never really into vampires, and a story which mostly focuses on relationships isn’t quite my cuppa tea. Then Hunger Games and Divergent came barreling into the scene and I was all “Hellz yeh, these bitchez be awesome!”

Still, I felt there was something missing.

Perhaps I never quite related to the plights of little Miss Bella because I was absolutely NOT the boy-crazy teenager that the series appealed to. I was a sporty kid (calling myself as a “tom-boy” leaves a funny taste in my mouth). My sister and I sort of played Barbies, if you’d consider “playing with Barbies” taking Bicycle Barbie’s helmet and strapping it on Sleep-Time Barbie’s head, throwing our created “Crash Test Dummy Barbie” into the ceiling fan and then betting which wall she’d slam into. My girlfriends played soccer and other brutally physical sports, and instead of showing off our nail-polish of the week, we compared cuts and bruises. Most of us got hurt playing sports (many of us badly). I had surgery to repair a torn ACL in my left knee before my 14th birthday and then suffered a year of excruciatingly painful rehab–and on top of that, it was my freshman year of high school. My best friend had a life-threatening genetic disease. Other friends had their own trials and tribulations that would make most adults blush. Yes, we had those awkward moments with boys and wanted nothing more than to be “understood and seen” by those boys. For me and many girls I knew, surviving through adolescence was a test of mental and emotional toughness, peppered with extreme physical pain and recovery. A lot of the time, we liked it. We pushed ourselves, got hurt, and got back up asking for more. And there was more going on than just that. Much more.

Yes, there are many Young Adult authors who feature themes and characters who cut to the bone with many of these difficult issues, and much applause and appreciation to them.

And then there’s Katniss and Tris. Both kick-ass girls. Strong. Bold. Unapologetic. Girls who care less about nail polish and more about shiny bruises. Katniss and Tris share many things in common, and I don’t consider that a bad thing. Quite frankly, I believe young girls need more independently-minded and mentally tough role models, and it’s exciting to know these characters stand in such a strong limelight.

And yet, they share something else in common: a backdrop of story and plot that is not relatable to today’s teenage girls.

In the year 2014 we do not suffer the heavy hand of a dictatorship in government. We are not separated into factions. We do not send our children to kill each other for our entertainment. We are not living within confined social barriers (well, that’s debatable, but certainly not that extreme). Yet, that is what these two girls face. They are meant to use their unusual strength and skill to take down governments. Sure, these themes are meant to be symbolic, and it’s an exciting thrill ride to watch them go through with these missions because–as a bruise-proud sporty girl–I do enjoy me some action-adventure. Please, give a girl a gun and something to shoot. It’s sexy.

The question that remains, however, is how can an adolescent girl take the inspiration from these characters and find a way to be that strong and resilient in her own life? How can any teenager look at Katniss and Tris and think “Take me to the leaders, I’ll take them down!” It’s unrealistic. It’s unrelatable.

So I set out to do something about that gap between the “battle-ready kick-ass chick” and the everyday “being a teenager sucks ass” personas that seems to have overwhelmed the YA scene. I wrote “TICK”, a story about a teenage girl who has many typical teenage issues, yet suffers from a violently-focused personality tick. It’s funny and sarcastic. It’s gritty and dark. It’s painful and heartfelt and confusing and all that wrapped up in an action-adventure to appease the senses of the girls (and people in general) who have found inspiration in the female characters who know how to use a gun. My girl carries a gun. And a paintbrush. I set out to write a character that I would find to be someone I could look up to, because–quite frankly–I’m a rather difficult one to impress. And so are many girls I know.

I aim to bridge the gap between these worlds. Honestly, I didn’t initially intend to, but that’s the story that came out of me. I took what elements I thoroughly enjoyed from Hunger Games and Divergent and the like, and then implanted myself into the stories. My life certainly isn’t interesting enough to be of any literary worth, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. I set out to create a character who was bold and brave, yet equally lost and afraid, with only her own life to save. Because, really, that’s what we want our daughters to grow up to be, right? We want them to fight for their own convictions, for their own importance, for themselves. I’m hoping “TICK” will help be a light to lead the way.

 

What are your thoughts in regards to the trials that face Katniss and Tris? Do you feel these girls are leading examples of how a teenager should see herself? Do you feel there is a gap in the stories, considering both take place in dystopian futures? Discuss!

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