. Athena's Books: Totally YA Tuesday...Guest Author Post by Carmen Ferreiro-Estaban
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Totally YA Tuesday...Guest Author Post by Carmen Ferreiro-Estaban

Wanted: Strong Female Protagonist
A few weeks ago I posted a lengthy review on Two Moon Princess...you can read it Here. Today I'd like to share the author's thoughts on the importance of strong female leads. Carmen Ferriero-Esteban identifies in some ways with Andrea, the heroine of her novel, and has made sure that Andrea is not the stereotypical girl waiting for her prince. In Two Moon Princess, Andrea is a princess living in a patriarchal society of kings and queens, but she is able to find a much greater degree of independence when she sets foot in a modern day California. But wherever she is, Andrea stays true to her non-lady like ways and still manages to find love.

A Spanish Princess.
An American Boy.
A King set on revenge.

An unrequited love
and a disturbing family secret
bring a World to the brink of War. (from Goodreads)

Here is Carmen:

Spunky heroines that speak their mind and get the boy while staying true to themselves--so common today in YA books and they did not exist when I was growing up.

Women back in the sixties and early seventies were encouraged to be meek and subservient to men, both in books and real life. Think the unnamed narrator in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca who lives only for her man.

The roles were clearly defined. Women did not speak up, have careers, or drive cars, while men did not shop, ,or do the dishes. Although repeatedly told this was how things were supposed to be, I refused to accept it. Yet, it was not easy to fight these assumptions since neither the culture, nor the books I turned to for advice offered an alternative. (See the 2009 Oscar nominee movie An Education for an accurate take on women's scarce choices in 1961 England).
The books I read in my early teens supported this bizarre status quo. In these books, men had adventures, while women were secondary characters at their service. Think Tom Sawyer where Becky Thatcher has a minor role as his crush, or, even worse, Peter Pan for whom Wendy was not even a girlfriend but a surrogate mother to the lost boys. Mary Poppins is sweet in the Disney movie, but in the books, she was as grumpy and short of mean to her charges. And the children's mother was portrayed as a terrible mother because instead of being home with them, she spent her time campaigning for womens' right to vote. Imagine that!

In the eighties, women entered the work force and the print world, and they found a men's world. In books, especially in fantasy settings, girls were often set to compete with men by hiding their identity and behaving like them. Tamora Pierces's The Lioness Quartet comes to mind. Although I prefer these characters to the meek girls of before, I cannot identify with them. Alana's magic gave her an edge, but in the real world a woman behaving like a man is bound either to fail or give up who she really is. In both cases she will lose. As Albert Einstein said: "If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

Women are not men. That doesn't mean they are inferior or less intelligent, as they told me as a child. Anybody that has ever spent an hour in a kindergarten class knows this. But the Ophelia syndrome is real (read synopsis here: Reviving Ophelia) and some girls hitting puberty still sabotage themselves in a misguided attempt to win their last crush's attention.

I think books with strong female protagonists help girls navigate these difficult years by giving them a role model they can imitate while remaining true to themselves.

Among my favorite YA novels that fit this premise are Lene Kaaberbol's The Shamer Chronicles and Cynthia Voigt's Novels of The Kingdom.

And, of course Two Moon Princess, the story of a strong willed Spanish girl who comes to California from her medieval world and likes the freedom she finds there. And that part is true to my life--the adventure/romantic story that follows, I made it up.