Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Artwork by MShah123
When I open a book and read about a character described as "perfect" or "ordinary", I have to roll my eyes. We see it all the time: Perfect Girl that no one understands, Ordinary Girl that Perfect Boy just so happens to fall for. In reality, very few people fall into those catagories. Most us of are somewhere between ordinary and perfect.

When I come across a story that goes against this cliché, I get excited. It's refreshing. So I thought I would take a couple blog posts and discuss two different types of protagonists that I can never get enough of.

Part 1: The Protagonist that is too busy saving the world to care about appearances

Katniss Everdeen is no stranger to dirt and grime. She appreciates a pretty dress when she's at the Capitol, but when it's time to get down to business, her mind is in the arena. She has no problem roughing it to survive. And no one has to tell us that Katniss is attractive, her strength and cleverness show us that.

While Harry Potter's friends are worrying about hand-me-down robes and ten-second pimple vanisher, Harry just wants to make it through the school year alive. He never frets about his glasses and untidy hair. In fact, he makes us love those qualities about him, just because of who he is.

Claudia Arlexa lives in a world that prioritizes appearances above everything else. Futuristic technology and conspiracy are hidden beneath an 18th-century mask, creating a picturesque kingdom. But Claudia is determined to strip away all that beauty to show everyone the world as it really is, because the suffering in Incarceron is too high a price to pay for castles and beautiful gowns.

What are some characters that you think fall into this category? How do you think we can learn from people like Katniss, Harry, and Claudia?

Click here to read Part 2.



Dalya Moon said...

What about the girl who's a big nerd, but they take off her glasses and suddenly she's the prom queen?

But seriously, I don't care what a protagonist looks like, as long as she doesn't go on and on about it for too long. :-)

Kristan said...

I am so tired of the perfect looking people. Ordinary doesn't bother me as much, but perfect? How many perfect looking people do I know? Um, zero. (Well, okay, I knew a couple in college, but they were douchebags.)

(Can I say that on a YA blog? Douchebags?)

My favorite kind of hero/heroine, in terms of appearances, is probably the Harry Potter kind. Real looking. With their own quirks, like the hair or the glasses or whatever, that BECOME attractive because their personality is attractive. That's most believable to me.

Very rarely am I stunned by someone's beauty. More often, I am pleased to find my friends becoming more and more attractive the more I get to know them. :P

Sonia said...

Um, YES.

I didn't pick up on it much the first time I read HP (yeaaaars ago) but through re-reads, I definitely appreciated how NORMAL everyone's appearance was. They weren't beautiful, they weren't ugly... it was so realistic and refreshing. Great post! :)

kaye (paper reader) said...

I think what gets me even more, if possible, are the attributes that go along with this. If a girl IS "ordinary" then she is also usually mousy, clumsy, and is generally unnoticed. Why can't an ordinary girl, if she is indeed ordinary, be just that? It upsets me that a normal, everyday girl is almsot seen as a bad thing. While these are possibilities, they are not at all actuality 100% of the time.

"Perfect" guys that I've read about do this a lot: shrug, lean against a wall, don't meet your eyes. Is this a trait of perfection that I'm missing?

I don't mean to blabber, but, I notice this and it's a bit bothersome at times!

P.E. said...

I do notice that. If a girl is insecure in a book, it's only because she's so shy and modest she doesn't notice that she's actually drop dead gorgeous.

And the guys... they're even worse in a way. They are all handsome in either a wholesome, artistic, dark, or goth way. Honestly I know everyone looks good in their own way and that can be established to the reader if rather than saying she/he is perfect or gorgeous, say they had gorgeous hair or eyes.

The book I'm reading of right now is a story about Alex Van Helsing and it's so refreshing when he doesn't get the girl! I sound mean but I'm a bit tired of everyone in YA having a significant other.

We Heart YA said...

Yup, that's another irritating occurrence. The "She's All That" syndrome. We totally believe that everyone has the potential to be beautiful in their own ways, but it's not as easy as just taking off glasses. :P

@The Story Queen-
Yes! And it's true in the movies, too. Usually Hollywood pics all gorgeous people to fill the roles, but in the Harry Potter movies, the majority of the characters just look like real people (especially the adults). That's so refreshing!

Exactly -- why does "ordinary" have to be painted as such a bad, awkward thing?

"Is this a trait of perfection that I'm missing?"

LOL apparently. But don't worry, we don't get it either.

That's another great point: why all the pairing up? "Singletons" (pardon our British) would be a welcome change in YA lit.

Ashley @ Book Labyrinth said...

Love these examples! It's so true that very rarely is someone spectacularly beautiful or especially plain. I mean, I don't even know what those labels mean, because everyone sees people in different ways.

The first thing I thought of was Ruby Oliver... There's a passage in the first book, "The Boyfriend List", where Ruby addresses this:

"I’m not telling you what I look like in any detail. I hate those endless descriptions of a heroine’s physical attributes: "She had piercing blue eyes and a heaving milk-white bosom blah, blah," or "She hated her frizzy hair and fat ankles blah blah, blah blah." First of all, it’s boring. You should be able to imagine me without all the gory details of my hairstyle or the size of my thighs. And second, it really bothers me how in books it seems like the only two choices are perfection or self-hatred. As if readers will only like a character who’s ideal-or completely shattered. Give me a break. People have got to be smarter than that." (p. 20-21)

We Heart YA said...

That quote is SOOOO fabulous. And the narration has such... spunk! Now we want to read that book. Thanks for sharing!

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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.



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The Bitter Kingdom
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Mind Games
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Days of Blood & Starlight
Every Day
Jellicoe Road
Finnikin of the Rock
Guitar Notes
The Dead-Tossed Waves
The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
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