Okay, it’s a dramatic title, but don’t freak out. I’m not an emotional wreck or in any kind of downward spiral. I’m just the kind of girl whose body only seems to have one reaction to stress of any kind: tears.
Difficult math homework? Definitely tears.
Confronting authority figures? I can do it, but they probably won’t take me seriously because of the tears falling off my face.
A surprise of any kind? There will probably be crying.
Lots of little things go wrong in one day? You guessed it—tears.
A sad book? Don’t even get me started.
The point is, my tear reflex is very active. Which is something I’m used to at this point, but it does change the way that I read YA books.
Don’t get me wrong—I love the current trend of badass, take-no-shit, cool as a cucumber under pressure, stoic protagonists who face fifty million kinds of stress without any outward sign of freaking out. I could read about these characters for the next ten years and I wouldn’t get tired of watching them rise to the challenge, confront evils, and save the world, all without shedding a tear (though there might be a dramatic, sob-filled death scene).
I love these characters, but I could never be these characters.
Most of the time, that isn’t a problem. We read to escape life, to become people that we could never be in real life (at least, that’s part of it).
But other times, it is really frustrating. I’ll be facing a difficult decision or a stressful moment and I know exactly what my favorite MCs would do—but I also know that I won’t do those things.
It’s not just the crying-reflex, of course. There are more basic personality differences between introverted me and my favorite MCs. I probably will never be the girl that quirks her eyebrow at authority figures or smirks in the face of everything falling apart.
And I’m guessing that I’m not the only bookworm who’s ever felt this way.
I love those stoic, brave protagonists, but I also want to read stories about girls who are shy, who get flustered, who can think the right words but can’t seem to say them out loud, who want to do the brave thing but generally don’t. Who are awkward and know it. I want introverted heroes. Heroes who freak out, not just at the world ending, but at smaller problems too.
But I think authors might be afraid to write those characters. I’ve seen characters who cry a lot or have freak-out sessions described as “whiny” or “annoying.”
Anecdote time: In Across the Universe by Beth Revis, the main character Amy spends a lot of time freaking out about the circumstances that have befallen her…and I remember feeling very connected to her character because of this. I understood why she couldn’t stop crying when she realized there was no escape. But then a read a review that tore Amy apart for her break downs, describing her as a character that only runs around and cries.
I will say that this wasn’t a review that I saw in this blogging community, it was one I saw on Amazon (promptly ending my habit of looking at reviews on Amazon). People in this community generally aren’t that harsh, but there are still lingering comments about characters not being strong enough or focusing too much on their problems.
Sometimes, characters are just annoying. But a lot of the time, I wonder if we write off protagonists simply because they aren’t the incredibly strong, stoic MCs that we’re used to.
I don’t want the calm-under-pressure characters to go away—not at all. But with all this push for diverse characters in the YA universe, it would be great to also see some different personality types save the world.