Sunday, January 3, 2021

Hello, YA Outside the Liners, and happy 2021! Like most everyone else, I celebrated a safe and socially distant New Year’s Eve at home. I gathered with family and friends virtually and together we said good riddance to this unusual year in the usual way – with cheers, toasts, and drinking a cup of kindness for auld lang syne.

Now it’s time to take on the new year. One of the first things I do in January is to select a single word as my guide through this shiny new year. In 2018, my word was embrace. To embrace the “new” in new year with energy and vitality and to embrace all opportunities that came my way. In 2019, I chose the word persevere, as in, nose-to-the-grindstone, stick-to-it determination to reach my goals in both my writing and personal life. For 2020, I chose challenge. I planned to challenge myself, but as we know, the year itself ended up challenging us all.

So… What word would fit for 2021? As luck would have it, this month’s Outside the Lines theme—which YA novel character would I like to change places with—tossed the word at my feet.


After the tough times of the past few years, what better way to embrace, challenge, and persevere in 2021 than with the ferocity of a determined YA novel heroine taking care of business?

Now, because I’m once, now, and always indecisive (and a little greedy), I couldn’t settle on just one book character I’d like to change places with. I’ve chosen three. All intricately drawn, memorable characters who, through their words and actions, define the word fierce.

The first is Mattie Ross, the heroine of Charles Portis’ True Grit, the savviest 14-year-old you’ll ever meet. Mattie is one of my all-time favorite characters, YA or otherwise. Here’s why:

1. She speaks her mind without hesitation (tough for a girl from any era).

2. She doesn’t take BS from anyone, especially those who underestimate or dismiss her.

3. She’s Determined with a capital D.

4. She gets to ride a horse.

5. She’s unapologetically fierce.

What more could a reader ask for? Spending time with Mattie, you’ll be inspired to sic your own Lawyer Daggett on anyone who questions your abilities.

Next up in heroines I’d like to do the Freaky Friday switch with is Pippi Longstocking, the title character of Astrid Lindgren’s children’s book series. I just loved Pippi when I was a kid and admire her today for a whole lot of reasons:

1. She’s independent and, like Mattie, not afraid to speak her mind.

2. She’s wicked funny.

3. She lives alone and manages it quite well, thank you very much.

4. She’s strong in both mind and body. And I mean strong. She’s pick-up-a-horse-and-carry-it strong.

5. She’s fiercely optimistic. Nothing and no one is going to bring her down or get in her way.

So, yeah, I’d love to switch places with Pippi for a couple of chapters, especially when she’s in the South Seas.

Now onto my third choice, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games series. Not sure I’d like to switch places with Ms. Everdeen for more than a few pages, since she’s in danger every freaking second of the books, but man, the way she handles that danger is a journey you’ll never forget:

1. She’s a fighter for all the right reasons.

2. She’s loyal.

3. She can nock an arrow and let it fly in the blink of an eye.

4. She’s not as strong as Pippi, but given the right motivation and a head start, she could probably pick up a horse.

5. She’s fiercely fierce. She’s fierce squared, fierce times a million. Have I mentioned she’s fierce?

There you have it, three indelible characters, three role models for how to handle the ups and downs of 2021. Not that I expect to be chasing cowardly outlaws in the next year. Or outwitting Panem’s powers that be or hoisting any horses on my back for transport purposes. But no doubt some curveballs will come my way in the coming days, so I’m putting on my fierce face and getting ready to face them all.

Janet Raye Stevens writes YA and Adult mystery and paranormal. Her first book will be published in October 2021, BERYL BLUE, TIME COP, a time travel adventure with humor and heart.