Okay, today we’re talking about Young Adult Fiction. Which is awesome because I a) read YA stuff often enough to have an opinion and b) can actually name my favorite YA book: Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. Why is this my favorite YA book? Lots of reasons, but the main one is pretty simple: the female main character isn’t a goddamned moron or a ridiculous Mary Sue.
I’ve read way too many YA books where the “main” female character is really more of a side character, which gives me the sads. When you do luck out and get an actual girl for the main character, results are usually iffy at best. They range from the craptacular (cough BELLA SWAN cough) to the annoyingly messed up (for example, Katniss in The Hunger Games*). Wee Free Men‘s main character is a nine year old girl named Tiffany Aching, a shepherd’s daughter who within the first chapter beats the crap out of a river monster with a frying pan because she’s pissed that the damned thing is making her stream unsafe.** She’s a badass. Even better is the fact that, while being a badass, she’s frequently scared or upset or wrong and has to overcome it or deal with the fallout, only unlike many YA books with nine-year-old characters she does it with minimal adult assistance. In other words: Shit you rarely see in a main character of a children’s novel, let alone a female main character.
Aside from Tiffany not sucking, the book has a lot going for it because it’s main focus is on how stupid fairy tales, old wives’ tales and common knowledge usually are. The general message of the book can be summed up in this quote:
Miss Tick sniffed. “You could say this advice is priceless,” she said. “Are you listening?”
“Yes,” said Tiffany.
“Good. Now…if you trust in yourself…”
“…and believe in your dreams…”
“…and follow your star…” Miss Tick went on.
“…you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Good-bye.”
(For the record, Miss Tick is not supposed to be some horrible old codger out to crush Tiffany’s dreams.)
Anyway, it’s a rarity to find a girl in a YA novel who is, in fact, competent, reasonably brave, and clearly a strong person without the constant intervention or support of adults, which lacks both a messy subplot in which some boy heroically saves them and some gaggingly awful message about how awesome it is to be a girl! which backfires when you realize that the girl is still adhering to every single social stereotype expected of a female book character. It’s even rarer to combine it with the message that most shit you’ll hear about life is idealized at best and flat out wrong at worst; what you’ve got to do is observe, learn, and then make up your own mind. So: Favorite YA novel? Wee Free Men, hands down.
(Plus, I do love the Nac Mac Feegle, dirty, drunken little pixies that they are.)
* I really enjoyed The Hunger Games but Katniss’s constant cluelessness to everyone’s motivation got a little old, even if it was understandable due to her fucked up childhood. It was even more annoying when she started having flashes of insight into the way Snow and whoever the president of D13 was worked, because she didn’t seem to get any fucking better at understanding the motives of anyone else. The fact that she can easily follow Haymitch’s reasoning is the only thing I really buy, ’cause he’s just as fucked as she is.
** Best part: she uses her little brother as bait to get the monster to come out of the river. Awesome.