Buffy the Vampire Slayer came later in my life than for most people my age. As a result, I loved Buffy for much too long and ignored other types of female protagonists: the kinds of characters who, like me, did not possess supernatural strength or the ability to quip effortlessly while executing a perfect cartwheel on stilettos. And while Buffy will forever be my safety blanket, lately I have found myself drawn to protagonists whose strengths and femaleness are represented in other ways. There is such a need— both in my bookshelf and in YA SF/F in general— for female characters whose strengths are as real as their weaknesses, i.e. strengths that aren’t only part of the fantastical world they belong in. Beyond that, I did not know what I wanted from my TBR pile.
It wasn’t until I came across The Mortal Instruments‘ Clary Fray that I started to figure it out. At first I was drawn to her determined, one-tracked (okay, somewhat obsessive) behaviour, but by book three in the series I knew with certainty what it was that I enjoyed about her: her love for drawing. Clary uses the very “mundane” talent of drawing to make herself valuable in a world that prizes physical strength. As Sarah Cross states in her essay “The Art of War”: “Art is a kind of magic … If you break art down to its base elements, there’s nothing miraculous about the letters of the alphabet or a drop of paint. But an artist can put those elements together to create something powerful …”
When Cherie Priest’s Princess X came out, I jumped at the chance to see how a heroine created by two school girls could transcend their shared fantasy world and alter the course of their reality. Between Kali Ciesemier’s wonderfully rendered fantasy back story for Princess X and Cherie Priest’s gripping narrative of an artsy girl who may/may not be dead, the act of making art becomes a highly valued skill, as does being able to understand it. Seeing May’s journey of reading and remembering parallel and eventually converge with Princess X’s trying adventure was incredibly fun. It did, however, leave me wanting more.
By the time Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper came out, I knew I had a thing for reading artsy girls. And if Older’s Sierra is any indication of future artsy girls to come, this is going to be a rather long standing obsession. Sierra’s story starts in a bit of confusion (as it tends to when you’re the only one who can see a mural cry) but as the haze of secrets and lies clears out, Sierra story becomes what it always has been about: making art that honours your identity and your ability, art that is powerful not just because it gains sentience when shaped with spirits but also because, in the right hands, art is nothing short of a subversive superpower. Obviously, all this comes through with great clarity thanks to Older’s superb writing, making Sierra’s story remarkable in terms of her character development, as well as the manner in which her character is developed.
Currently, I’m re-reading Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. Gabi is yet another artsy girl, though her creativity shines through in words not pictures. Even the second time around Quintero’s writing blows me away. I have to admit, though, that I miss being immersed in a fantasy setting. So if anyone knows of a heroine who can stave of demons with, I don’t know, a well-crafted origami giraffe, let me know?