Let’s think about the ladies

Let’s think about the ladies

There’s a really thought-provoking piece published this week in The Atlantic about books that are focused on women finding or yearning for love in fiction rather than other things in life like career or themselves. I think teens and younger adults are so focused on boys and love that it’s obvious to look to a love interest for drama, and I think there is a perception that most books need a “love interest” to work in the market.

I think the expansion of the children’s market, YA in particular, over the last few years have produced a great number of smart, thoughtful books with female protagonists grappling with real emotional issues other than love, including my own Brianna on the Brink by Nicole McInnes, which begins with a sexual liaison but evolves into so much more.  The author of The Atlantic piece, Kelsey McKinney, also points to a coming-of-age family drama with no love story that sounds terrific called Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. It was published decades ago.

Cheryl Klein over at Scholastic tweeted the piece and said that she too is looking for this kind of material. In her words: “I would LOVE more YA about young women finding careers, or their life’s work & own worth, exclusive of love interest. Tho I love love too. I was obsessed with my future as a teenager: what college to attend, what career would suit me. Not things I see a lot in mss.” It’s rare to find that kind of direct feedback from an editor who reads for a living and sees a lot of submissions. The message is that there is room in the market, which is the opposite of what agents and editors  are usually saying!

And I agree that there is room for growth here. As McKinney says in her smart piece: “I wanted to drive On the Road and stop off in small towns and drink more than was probably appropriate. I wanted to question who I was and be my own Catcher in the Rye. There are no Jack Kerouacs or Holden Caulfields for girls. Literary girls don’t take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.” What about a modern female-driven version of On the Road? I’d love to read that, and I’d love to sell it too and pass it down to my four daughters.

So, if any of you aspiring authors have books with strong female protagonists contemplating their futures in a unique and independent way, please send them along.

5 Responses to Let’s think about the ladies

  1. Simone says:

    I love this idea and if there’s a market for it, then that’s fantastic. One thing that actually irritated me about reading “On the Road” in my 20s was how male-oriented it felt. I do recall that as a teen, I wasn’t interested in anything that didn’t have a love subplot, but I don’t know if that’s typical or not. There certainly shouldn’t be an issue with it in adult books about women. That reminds me of the Bechdel Test for movies, which a comment mentions on that article. (I have to disagree with the writer’s take on Jane Eyre though.)

  2. Nicole says:

    Thanks for sharing this piece, Stacey. I agree that it would be refreshing to see more well-rounded female protagonists in YA – especially contemporary YA. It seems to me that sci-fi and fantasy YA novels are more open to heroines who have more than just romance on the brain. Real girls are generally much more complicated than that, so why not fictional characters as well?

  3. Joelle says:

    I love this post because I have a YA that I set aside. It was good enough to land me an agent but then I moved to DGLM and forgot about it because I wrote something else that ended up being my debut. I still love this book a lot and it is about exactly what you’re talking about – a girl sorting out what she wants to do after high school, her family, friendships, and no romantic element at all. Maybe it’s time to dust it off and see what MB thinks!

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  5. Why YA? Why not start it with middle-grade fiction?

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