On October 19th, the Boston Book Festival commenced in Copley Square. Rows of tents housing local authors, publishers, and bookstores lined the square, bringing book lovers together on the beautiful Saturday afternoon. Right next door, at the Boston Public Library, several panels from authors and publishers were held all day. In one panel in particular, which they called Warrior Girls, held in the Teen Central section of the library, several authors tackled topics such as what makes their characters warriors, and the challenges they faced in regard to diversity in their books and making sure those stories are told. The panelists were Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, authors of Once and Future; Charlotte Nicole Davis, author of Good Luck Girls; Rory Power, author of Wilder Girls; and Brittney Morris, author of Slay. The moderator was Monique Harris, a local special education teacher.
The main aspect of the characters that the authors gave to describe them as warriors was the fact that they are, indeed, fighting for something. Whether it be for survival, or to overcome racism in their respective worlds, there is something at stake for all the characters that they have to fight for. In Davis’ debut novel Good Luck Girls, which is inspired by the old west, her two main characters are on the run after one of them accidentally kills a man.
“I guess they’re warrior girls in that this is a world that doesn’t really want them to be free but they’re fighting for that freedom anyway,” Davis said.
The concept of “warrior girls” is one that has grown in popularity in young adult fiction over recent years, seen in titles such as Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi and Sarah J. Maas’ two series A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass. However, the inspiration for these authors began way before these titles were even a thought.
“I feel like when I was growing up when YA was blowing up for the first time Harry Potter was just coming to a close, Twilight was right at its peak, and The Hunger Games had just come out, and it’s very interesting to me how those are three very different female protagonists,” Davis said. “Katniss really is a strong, female protagonist in the very literal sense in that she’s a fighter, and you’ve got Hermione who’s really brainy and clever.”
“Ella Enchanted was the very first time I read a book in which the protagonist saves herself and that wasn’t even a concept until I read that,” Morris said. “It was really empowering and I was wanting that in whatever else I read.”
With the concept of “warrior girls” and feminism in these authors’ books comes diversity, not only in terms of race but of sexuality as well. Even though diverse representation is getting better in the publishing world, authors are still faced with some challenges, even within themselves.
“When I was trying to find a book about people who looked like me they were always very heavy suffering books, and those are important, I kind of describe it as eating your vegetables, but it didn’t feel fair that I never had any cake,” Davis said. “So, in writing [Good Luck Girls], I want the characters who don’t usually get to have fun, I want them to have the most fun possible.”
“When I was seventeen, my feeling was ‘I don’t know, not straight, though.’ So, I put that in the book and I realized as I was writing it that queer readers knew exactly what I was talking about, but straight readers did not,” Power said. “I had to learn how to put in these big, neon arrows for the straight reader who was like ‘help me understand’ without feeling like I was pausing the book to give a PowerPoint presentation.”
At the end of the day, young adult fiction is a genre that has a lot of impact on the minds of the readers, especially since they are young and malleable. In addition to writing entertaining, diverse books about warrior girls, these authors also wanted to leave their readers with a newfound message at the end of it all.
“Slay is actually dedicated to everyone who has ever had to minimize who you are to be acknowledgeable to those who aren’t like you. And I chose that dedication very deliberately,” Morris said. “I hope that by the time you get to the end of the book you are sure of who you are, or at least confident in taking the time to decide what that is.”
“If a book is a story about a character it’s for everybody. A book about queer people is for every reader, a book about girls is for every reader,” Capetta said. “I think there’s still that message that is not spoken out loud anymore but is reinforced in a lot of subtle ways that a book about a girl or about a marginalized person is only for that reader, and that’s the person that needs that book.”
In writing these books about warrior girls, it seems that these authors are embodying warriors themselves, combatting racism and genderism through their characters. They have hope for these types of books in the coming years and will continue to write their own stories in order to contribute to the changing dynamics of the young adult genre.