Love and/or Marriage and the YA Heroine

I think my problem isn’t that I am lazy and unmotivated to write, it’s just that I have too many places where I do write! I still have a Livejournal (omg I know), a tumblr, a couple of twitter accounts, Facebook, and Goodreads. I thought that keeping them separated would be better, since people who may be interested in anime/manga may not necessarily be interested in my personal goings-on or travel experiences.

But in separating these aspects of my online life, I’m leaving my poor Tokyo Jupiter fallow. So, I’m going to suck it up and just put whatever I’m currently obsessed with and compelled to blog about in this space. If you’re not interested in that specific post, sorry! You can scroll up/down or just let me know what you’d want to read more about — not that I can accommodate all requests, but it’s helpful to know what people are looking for and why they’re reading this blog.

Now that that bit of housekeeping is done with — I feel that I have to inform you that my brain is currently being consumed by YA novels. I’ve only kept up with Free! and C3 this season so my anime-watching is pretty non-existent. To fill that void, I’ve been mainlining all these YA novels like they’re going out of style.

I’m a huge fan of the Hunger Games series, so I’ve been on the lookout for a while for a series that captures that same atmosphere, if not similar plot structure. I think I hit the jackpot when I read Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt, 2008), the first book in her Graceling Realm series.

Unmarked spoilers for Graceling start here. Please read at your own risk.

The heroine of Graceling, Katsa, shares more things with the Hunger Games‘ Katniss beyond a similar-sounding name. Katsa is a physically strong and capable warrior. She’s the assassin of the king of Midlund, her uncle. Actually, assassin may be too nice of a term; she’s really more of his thug. Is there a lord who owes him money? Send Katsa to break his arm. How about another lord who harvests more trees from the king’s land than he asked for? Katsa, cut off his pinky. You get the point.

In this book’s world, Katsa is what’s known as a graceling, a person gifted with a particular and special skill. In her case, she possesses the grace of killing — which gets her the respect and fear of everyone in their kingdom and beyond.

So blah blah, stuff happens, and Katsa finds herself relying on her grace in order to protect persons she’s grown to love. While reading this novel, I couldn’t help but compare her to Balsa, the fierce and brave bodyguard of Seirei no Moribito. Like Balsa, Katsa finds herself in a situation where she’s responsible for the safety and security of a young royal. And like in Moribito, the sequence of events that describes how Katsa survives and protects her young charge was thrilling, in that anxiety-making “omigod are they going to survive” way. But it’s a YA novel, and this isn’t a spoiler, since obviously she and her royal charge end up okay! (Yay!)

So, here’s this great, feminist-positive heroine, who’s strong, independent, yet compassionate and caring, you’d think that every person who’s read this book would be rabidly frothing on how awesome it is, right? That is where you, my friend, would be wrong.

On Goodreads, home of fair and objective reviews, every other person is up in arms against Katsa. Why? Because she’s doesn’t believe in marriage yet is all right with having premarital sex. Earlier in the narrative, Katsa explains that she is against marriage because she believes that marriage will mean the loss of her self-autonomy, her control. She has become the person she is because of her own independent spirit, and she doesn’t want to lose that aspect of herself which she fears will end as soon as she becomes Mrs. Lord Something or Other.

So, when she meets this hottie graceling prince named Po, she tries really hard to resist his charm. She has no problem sparring and wrestling with him for training purposes, but a romantic relationship is totally out of the question. She is her own person, dammit, and no cutie prince with silver and gold eyes and a sexy tattoo is going to change her mind.

Po’s pretty persistent though, and actually pretty evolved for a male YA character. He tells Katsa that he accepts her conditions. He understands what she’s saying, and he’s willing to have any kind of relationship, on her terms. This is what upsets the good readers/reviewers at Goodreads; that these two teenage characters are having a mutually agreed upon and respectful sexual relationship.

Maybe I’m not as conservative or as traditional as the average GR reviewer, but I am genuinely surprised at the outrage towards Katsa. She’s not the perfect YA heroine, but in my mind, she’s pretty darn close. She’s definitely a vast step-up from Bella — who gets her own share of abuse from the fans so I’m trying to be kind here — in that Katsa possesses agency, the feminist blogger’s favorite word. Katsa doesn’t wait to be acted upon, she’s not waiting for the boy to make his decision on whether he loves her or wants to kiss her or not. It’s also not as if Katsa is refusing to have a relationship with Po, she just wants it on her terms, on what feels comfortable for her. She may not have marriage on the brain, but throughout the novel, she shows how much she loves and cares for Po, almost risking her life at various points for her love.

It confuses me that people who claim to be open-minded about marriage and its various incarnations are not okay with non-marriage. It is possible for love to exist without marriage, and it’s up to the two people in partnership to determine what works best for them.  A marriage at the end of the book doesn’t equate to a happy ending; in reality, some marriages are the anti-happy ending.

I’m glad that this book is out there. I personally believe in marriage, love, and happiness, but I don’t think you always need the first in order to obtain the latter two.


3 thoughts on “Love and/or Marriage and the YA Heroine

  1. Great points!

    The whole “and then the heroine gets married and has babies” trope is actually my only pet peeve with Tamora Pierce’s books. Even Kel, who doesn’t get married at the end of her series, finishes it thinking not about her accomplishments, but about boys. C’mon, Tammy!

    • Thanks Mel! I didn’t even know you were following this blog.

      It’s just crazy-making when I read a great book and find out that people hate it for the dopiest reasons.

      • Saw your post on twitter 🙂

        I read Graceling a while back and remember not liking it for some reason — maybe the writing style? But I thought it handled relationships well, especially for a YA novel.

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