Growing up, I loved the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books because I adored how those characters were brave and smart. You always knew no matter what happened, they'd find a way out of danger.
But after time, those stories grew stale for me and I suppose it's because as I grew up, I realized they weren't so realistic.
At some point in my early teens, my reading tastes changed from mystery and adventure to romance. And, just as with Nancy and Trixie, the bloom soon wilted, because the romance novels from Harlequin Presents on which I cut my teeth typically featured a heroine in trouble saved not by her own wile and cunning (as Nancy and Trixie were) but by the hero, with whom she'd already fallen madly in love.
I soon found authors whose books featured flawed characters whose strengths and weaknesses not only got them into trouble, but out of it and along the way, into love. I love the romance genre because real love should be both characters saving each other.
Take authors like Nora Roberts, who writes heroines 'with spine,' as she often says. The strongest of these is Eve Dallas, star of 50+ futuristic suspense novels to date. Even as a tough as nails homicide detective, she'd be the first to tell you that farm animals just weird her out, as do loving friendships with key characters in the series. She knows this about herself, and though she spends page after page avoiding entanglements with friends, in the end, she always, always finds a way to overcome the awkwardness that frightens her and holds up her end of the friendship.
Kennedy Ryan, another one-click buy for me, writes some of the smartest, sharpest, and deepest stories I've ever enjoyed. While her characters are often victimized, they find strength to fight back and emerge all the stronger for those battles.
Even the Bridgerton novels, currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to the Netflix adaptation, feature strong women resisting the roles in which the ton insists on squeezing them, and finding alternative ways to survive the norms of the period. Eloise Bridgerton remains unmarried long after it's fashionable. Penelope Featherington has a *gasp* career. I look forward to seeing how Netflix adapts these characters in later seasons.
Sherry Thomas, author of the Lady Sherlock series, a historical Remington Steele situation, features Lady Charlotte Holmes, mastermind of the entirely made-up Sherlock, finds a way to survive --dare I say it? Without a husband.
Is it any wonder that my own writing features strong heroines? I hope not. Grace in Some Boys declines her mother's offer to finish high school abroad, where no one knows she was raped by the school's golden boy and instead, forces everyone to confront what happened to her -- what was done to her. Ashley in Someone I Used To Know, who heals from a similar trauma in her own way, on her own terms.
But you know which character I am ridiculously proud of? Olivia Ivers in Nobody Said It'd Be Easy. This novel is not YA, but a contemporary romance I released in 2018, featuring a widowed father of four daughters.
Olivia is daughter number 2. Each of Gabriel's daughters had to have a personality that was unique and all her own because his girls featured prominently throughout this book. Olivia is super-smart, smart beyond what's typical for most nine-year-olds. She's inquisitive and often impatient with the answers she's given, particularly when those answers are 'dumbed down' for her age -- or what others believe is typical for her age. (See earlier point.) For fun, Olivia is more likely to watch documentaries and solve famous equations than play video games or *shudder* shop. Gabriel's strength is illustrated through his four girls and how he provides exactly what each child needs, instead of trying to force them into molds dictacted by society (see Bridgerton, above).
I read strong characters and I try my best to write strong characters because of one important reason: I want my readers to see themselves reflected in my stories, even if they don't look like my characters. I hope girls read books like mine, like these, and see that it's rarely a heroine's appearance that solves the story problem.
It's her intelligence, courage, and wit.
Please tell me about your favorite strong characters in the comments! I'm always looking for new material to read.