Welcome to Authorology, where authors talk about their favorite parts of YA books.
Want to know what people like more than really amazing villains? Really amazing heroes. Let’s talk about the best heroes in YA books.
Nothing screamed “hero material.”
Couldn’t open a pickle jar, couldn’t create a working speech box, couldn’t get the girl, couldn’t save the world or the boy. Dexter Wu: Professional Loser Protagonist.”
He’s also delightful. Dexter Wu, Wes Kennedy’s protagonist of To Terminator With Love, is a chubby, queer, scifi-watching, brilliant, funny, young scientist who loves his robot more than his own life and who has, to quote his mother, “Run of the Mouth Syndrome.” When a mysterious agent shows up just before finals determined to save him from a bunch of OTHER agents trying to kill him, Dexter knows—and comments on—all the tropes of his own adventure. He knows, for example, that he doesn’t exactly have the skill-set to be a Luke Skywalker or a Harry Potter, and he’s terrified, but that doesn’t stop him from becoming his own sort of hero. He kicks ass, gets kisses, and won my heart from page one. Sequel?
My gut answer would be Lady Knight Keladry of Mindelan (or Aly of Pirate Swoop. I’m more of a spy girl myself.) but I’m trying not to answer everything with Tortall and the Lumatere Chronicles. So, Elisa from Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorn series. And Jessamy from Kate Elliot’s Court of Fives. Because both of these girls are complex, face impossible choices, and stay true to themselves.
– Marieke Nijkamp, author of This Is Where It Ends
We’ve got an Albertalli fan in the house.
Simon Spier in Simon Vs. The Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Abertalli. I cannot say enough good things about Simon, his life, and how he comes to accept who he. He’s so brave and so vulnerable at the same time. I love him.
Katniss is pretty kick-ass. I’ve always appreciated that she doesn’t act according to what people expect out of her. She does what she needs to do for herself. Of course, her sense of responsibility grows as the series expands, but The Hunger Games’ Katniss is awesome. I also love the way she uses/manipulates the rules of her society to win. And she does that without actually “falling in love” with the boy.
– Kevin Sylvester, author of MINRS
– Heidi R. Kling, author of Paint My Body Red
This one’s nearly impossible because there are so many good ones! I think one favorite has to be Saturday Woodcutter, from Hero by Alethea Kontis. She gets to do all the cool things Prince Charming usually gets to do in stories.
– Shanna Swendson, author of Rebel Mechanics
Absolutely True hero.
As much as I might enjoy the stories of mythical superheroes and historical trailblazers, my favorite champions are the heroes of their own lives. I especially adore them in YA literature because I understand firsthand how inspiring their triumphs are to readers in similar circumstances. When young people see characters they can relate to face difficult conditions, make hard choices and prevail over their obstacles, they think, “Maybe I can win after all.”
That’s why Arnold Spirit Jr. the protagonist of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the GOAT. It’s not that at the tender age of fourteen, Junior bucked the expectations of his tribe and enrolled in the white high school umpteen miles away from his reservation in Spokane. It’s not that he overcomes one heartache after the next. It’s not that he… well, no spoilers.
It’s that through it all, Junior thinks, talks and feels like a real kid. He’s got sexual urges he isn’t shy about discussing. Sometimes he curses, lashes out and says some un-PC things. And he loves very deeply.
Junior is an everyday hero and his own savior. He takes the hand he’s been dealt, and every time the stack of cards he’s building comes tumbling down, he starts over. His superpower is his own resolve, and that’s what makes him at once relatable and inspiring.
– Sofia Quintero, author of Show and Prove
The late Christopher Reeve said, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” I love reading stories about so-called “ordinary” kids, the ones who don’t necessarily have special powers or secret magic, the real teens who might be facing incredibly overwhelming obstacles but who find their strength anyway. I interned in a group home when I was in college, and I’ve taught at the high school and college levels for more than sixteen years where I’ve had the honor to work with many students who have lived in a foster care setting. Ball Don’t Lie’s Sticky reminded me of all the “ordinary” heroes I’ve worked with over my many years in education. His journey towards independence and self-worth spoke to me – and has stuck with me since I first read Matt de la Pena’s beautiful book many years ago. It’s the first book I recommend to anyone looking to read YA, as I see it as a true hero’s journey, one that is both ordinary and extraordinary all at once.
– E. Katherine Kottaras, author of How To Be Brave
Who are your favorite YA heroes? Sound off in the comments below!