Welcome to Authorology, where authors talk about their favorite parts of YA books.
There’s plenty of opportunities for drama in YA, and sometimes, that takes the form of fights: verbal fights, fist fights, wars. Let’s talk about the best fights in YA books.
Fights Rites of Passage
The final showdown in Joy Hensley’s Rites of Passage. I love that book a lot, and I love how Sam is willing to take on the world by herself if she has to, but she has friends around her who will happily fight with her.
– Marieke Nijkamp, author of This Is Where It Ends
Why pick one fight when you can pick two?
Can I have two? Because I want to have two. 1) The fight between Ryan Dean and the football losers in Winger. I LOVE that that this nerdy, young rugby player just totally took out one of the best football players in the world. He knew he was going to get beaten all to hell, but he did it anyway. I loved it. And, number 2) I need to preface this by saying I love a bad boy….what girl doesn’t? But I love bad boys who can be redeemed. I know it’s a cliche, but when it’s done well, I love love love it. So I think some of the best fights I’ve read are in Katie McGarry’s book Take Me On about a boy named West who loves to fight and will fight as much as he can. Until he meets the girl that makes him only want to fight to protect her.
This is a tie for me. I often find myself thinking of the rumble between the Greasers and the Socs in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders because it’s an excellent example not only of how an author crafts a physical fight, but how the author makes that fight about so much more. Case in point: Ponyboy is sick. He’s physically sick, he’s mentally sick, he’s sick of everything his life means (being poor, fighting, having to justify his creative dreams). His whole existence is one of yearning to break free from his hardscrabble life. The rumble between the Socs and the Greasers is a pivotal moment for Pony: he begins to see how easy it would be to become a lifelong “hood,” how the Socs are nothing but scared boys with lots of money, how everybody postures, and how nobody really wins, ever, in the end. And then (spoiler!) Johnny dies. “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.” (Sheesh. Hold on. Getting tissue.)
It’s not a stretch for me (I’m super agile that way) to leap from Ponyboy Curtis to Harry Potter. Both are orphaned, and lonely, and looking for a way to tap into that magical inner something that could save his life. Every single fight Harry Potter has in the series has to do with proving himself brave and worthy. Whether it’s a fight rooted in class hierarchy, such as with Draco Malfoy, or his ravishing, frightening battles with Voldemort, each of these fights brings Harry closer to the person he wants to be: educated, brave, wanted. Like Ponyboy, he’s struggling to fight his way out of the life he’s been given, into the one he desires.
– Kathleen Glasgow, author of the upcoming Girl in Pieces
Nimona as a dragon in Noelle Stevenson’s book. Nimona is such a great character, part villain, part hero. When she’s a dragon she’s finally able to release all the anger and frustration that she’s only allowed in small bursts in her pervious fights. Plus,. she’s battling an evil empire/corporation that’s poisoning people. But is she doing a good thing with such wanton destruction? I see her as Max from Where the Wilds Things Are – all grown up but now perhaps dangerously angry and violent. We secretly root her her, while also hoping she doesn’t go TOO far.
Shanna Norris’s Troy High is a contemporary retelling of The Iliad set in high school during football season, so the entire book covers the rivalry between the Troy High Trojans and the Lacede High Spartans. As the story progresses, the pranks the schools pull against each other escalate in severity, and tensions between characters grow stronger. It’s so easy to get sucked into the competition between the two schools, and each prank is more horrifying than the previous, so the result is a very fast-paced read. But, really, any time Spartans show up with a horse-shaped peace offering, only a fool would readily accept it.
– Ella Martin, author of Will The Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?
Not otherwise specified.
The fights in Hannah Moskowitz’s Not Otherwise Specified feel honestly, viscerally real. Her narrator, Etta, exists as an outsider in every community in her small, Nebraska town. She constantly fights the sense that she isn’t gay enough, white enough, or tiny enough for the groups in her life. She’s just Etta, and her tension with her ex, Rachel, and her new friend, Bianca, grow naturally out of battles with everyone else and with herself.
The fights in Not Otherwise Specified also ring true because they have a history, even when we can’t always see that history in the making. They simmer. Etta’s toxic friendship with Rachel stretches back well before the novel begins, and readers can feel their story every time they talk. Etta and Bianca, on the other hand, meet over the course of the novel and their eventual clash builds, like a slow-motion car crash, until the actual fight seems almost beside the point. The characters could have avoided the problem a million times over and yet they also couldn’t, because that just isn’t who they are. No matter how much we scream at the page, the crash still happens and, like her readers, Etta learns.
Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia
That is best done by the three alternating voices. When we meet these girls, they seem quite familiar. Trina’s the girl who is perky to the point of annoying. You know this girl. Then there’s Dominique, the athlete with the bad temper. We’ve met her, too. Finally, there’s Leticia who at once loves the taste of gossip but also doesn’t want to get involved when she overhears Dominique threatening to jump Trina after school when she unknowingly bumps her in the hallway. Hell, we’ve all been Leticia.
We think we know these girls, but the truth is we don’t. Not as well as we should anyway, and Williams-Garcia gives us painful insight in their real battles. The story unfolds over the course of one school day that threatens to be anything but typical. And yet the personal fights that Leticia, Dominique and Trina are facing – fights that have nothing to do with the others – forces us to grapple with the everyday conflicts facing urban girls of color, turning the smallest transgression into profound threats.
This is particularly true of Dominique who, try as we may, cannot dismiss as a mindless bully.
As you turn the pages wondering if Leticia will do something to stop Dominique from jumping Trina, you will find yourself in a fight. You will want to find pat conclusions to the problem of relational aggression among girls, but it’s a fight you won’t win. That’s exactly why you should read Jumped, preferably with a group of girls like Trina, Dominique and Leticia.
– Sofia Quintero, author of Show and Prove
The Demon’s Lexicon series by Sarah Rees Brennan. The main character brothers are just the best. This series should be as popular as anything. Nick is a dreamboat.
– Heidi R. Kling, author of Paint My Body Red