I have been a terrible blogger lately, for which there is no excuse, but I have been meaning to post this for a while, if that helps at all.
I have read many, many good YA books lately, but the one whose heroine made a sort of indelible impression on me is the female protagonist of Maureen Johnson’s recent thriller, “The Name of the Star.” The book itself is deliciously suspenseful and set in London, no less. But to me, the real greatness of the book lies with Rory’s character.
Reasons to love Rory:
She is simply the most grounded, down-to-earth fictional teen girl I have read about in quite a while. I love many types of stories, but I consider Rory a BA—and not because she can fight demons or demonstrates incredible physical ninja-skills or has a scheming brain or can slaughter monsters with the best of the boys (and believe me, I am a sucker for all those types of heroines in stories, and I definitely feel there is a place/need for them as well.) No, Rory’s kickass qualities are of a different type and infinitely relatable, which is why I think it’s so important to have characters like her out there. She is simply a teenager who has a very strong, centered sense of herself.
When she arrives at boarding school and is confronted with girl cattiness, she holds her own without backing down—but she does so without becoming embroiled in the politics of the cattiness. She is understandably a little apprehensive about this new environment but does not equate her self-worth with how she is perceived, nor is she consumed with trying to fit in; she brings her quirky, funny self to the table and allows herself to think critically about the people and things around her. And she does not resort to viciousness or preoccupation with the catty girl. She just sees this girl for what she is, calls it for what it is, and goes on with her own life.
She has easy access to all her thoughts and feelings, and does not beat herself up for them. This is more important than it sounds, especially for women and girls, as we’re often so used to censoring ourselves it’s almost second nature. And I think it’s especially important when what is considered typically “strong” in a lot of media portrayal of female characters is women who “kick ass with the boys” and “don’t fall apart when things get rough.” I LOVE that Rory DOES emotionally react to things and does so unapologetically. Sure, she delves into the spectrum of emotions—confusion, anger, sadness, self-doubt, all the normal things to feel. But she isn’t consumed with trying to be otherwise, to prove herself, to be “better” or “other” than she is. She just is. She has an incredible amount of self-acceptance, which I found the most empowering of all.
As far as her romance with Jerome goes, this was another refreshing aspect of the story, another place where her very intact, independent sense of self comes in. I’ve never seen this in a heroine before: she likes Jerome, is attracted to him because of his fun, quirky, easygoing qualities—the way Johnson wrote him, he is as human as Rory is. And on Rory’s part, she doesn’t idealize him at all; she just likes him, thinks he’s interesting and enjoys his company. When she and Jerome kiss, she understands what her body wants and responds to; but not once does she confuse this feeing will lifelong love, and not once does she ask herself how she can live without him. I’m not saying it isn’t understandable to confuse hormones with lifelong love or grand hopes for the future, but I also can’t deny it’s refreshing to read about a teenager who has a slightly more down-to-earth perspective of her boyfriend.
So yes, these are the reasons I think Rory kicks butt, and is so very unique and likable and interesting. She LIKES herself—behold. So many of us don’t like ourselves as teenagers, and it is great and critical to have books to reflect that; but to have characters who also demonstrate what self-acceptance might look like is an awesome thing indeed.