In the coming months, four notable YA book adaptations will be hitting the big screen: The Giver (Lois Lowry), The Maze Runner (James Dashner), If I Stay (Gayle Forman), and Mockingjay Part 1 (Suzanne Collins). With new movies comes movie news, and with movie news comes criticism. And since critics just can’t wait for the movies to come out to rip them to shreds, they choose to attack the books prior to the release.
A recent article featuring an interview with Brenton Thwaites, who stars as Jonas in the giver, refers to Tris Prior of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series as “a Katniss Everdeen clone”. Many seem to think that all strong female characters are the same, even though if they were to actually read the books and see the films, they wiould discover that their stories are quite different, even though they share the common trait of being able to, in not-so-eloquent terms, kick major booty. I’ve come to the conclusion that some people just can’t seem to wrap their heads around the idea that there can be more than one strong female character in the world.
While Katniss and Tris are quite possibly the most notable of YA’s strong teenage ladies, the truth is that the genre is FULL of this kind of character, all different in their own right. Here are a few examples. Kira Walker, from Dan Wells’s Partials Sequence, is not only physically strong, but a brilliant medic who discovers a cure for a disease. Doloria de la Cruz, from ICONS by Margaret Stohl, uses her emotions as a weapon. In Amy Tintera’s Reboot duology, Wren Connolly doesn’t think twice about destroying her enemies. Dystopian is a popular subgenre of YA, and with that subgenre comes a plethora of diverse female leads (and supporting characters, too).
The powerful teenage lady is not exclusive to young adult literature, however. It spreads across all genres of all mediums. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire features SEVERAL strong female characters, such as Sansa and Arya Stark. In U.S. television, the (sadly canceled) ABC Family show Bunheads featured a cast of teenage ballerinas, all with strong, unique personalities. The recent film Lucy has a plot that consists primarily of Scarlet Johansson kicking butt as the title character. Going back to the dystopian subgenre, Mikasa Ackerman and the ladies of the 104th Training Corps from the popular manga Attack on Titan not only make it into the top ten of their class, but are known to keep the boys in check (read: Annie flips two boys twice her size).
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the strong male character. In fact, I often find it refreshing to read from a male P.O.V., as I am a female. But it seems as though strong female leads are the ones all being called the same. Would you say that Iron Man and Captain America are practically the same character? Would you say Thomas in The Maze Runner is just the new Percy Jackson? Of course not! So why do that to the girls?
As YA stories with female leads hit the big screen, I’d like people to keep in mind that just like real girls, leading ladies are not all the same. Katniss Everdeen is the only Katniss Everdeen. Tris Prior is the only Tris Prior. Authors shape their characters from their hearts, and it’s an insult to them to call a character that they have so dearly created a ‘clone’ of another. Because there will never be another ‘Hunger Games’, or ‘Divergent’, or ’The Fault in Our Stars’. There will only be new stories, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for this revolutionary genre.
The problem with the entire concept of the YA “ripoff” market is that it holds water, but the connotation of ripoff is skewed to a money-grabbing image that doesn’t fit. Yes, there are writers who write solely to turn a profit, but more write for the simple joy of introducing characters into the world and sharing them with people, creating life through fiction and spreading it. Why then do we experience influxes of certain genres every time a novel of that type becomes “the next big thing?” It’s just the way the market works.
When Harry Potter was first released, fantasy was not as big in the young adult fiction culture, but its subsequent success led to many other authors being able to publish their stories. There is a very real possibility that if Harry Potter hadn’t become the cultural nexus that it did, Hyperion wouldn’t have taken the chance on a fantasy series based on Greek mythology and we would never have read Percy Jackson (and without Percy, the mythology craze would never have been entered into, a trend that continues with the Blackwell Pages and Norse mythology). This possibility becomes even more heightened in series that more closely echo Potter, among them lesser known gems like Erec Rex, The Tapestry, Suzanne Collins’ own Gregor the Overlander, and Fablehaven (can we argue that Fablehaven brought the female protagonist back to young adult fantasy? Probably not, but Kendra is still a strong character).
Potter was followed by Twilight which inspired a legion of vampire and vampire slayers series, as well as a grand tide of vampire parodies (which are arguably better than the books they emulated) and Twilight was followed by the Hunger Games, bringing us into the current dystopian trends (although The Fault in Our Stars may usher in a revival of more realistic teen fiction; it is still too early to tell), a trend that encompasses everything from Divergent to The Maze Runner to Matched to the The Scorpio Races. The list goes on.
And yet, none of these are carbon copies of each other meant to sell novels and make money for the writers. Katniss and Tris may both belong to the subgenre of strong females revolting against a class division dystopia, but they exist in worlds different from each other, just as Harry Potter and Erec Rex both belong to the subgenre of male heroes with facial deformities who act as a Chosen One figure, yet exist in two separate worlds. The Unwritten, a comic series by Mike Carey, features the most obvious Potter Copy, but he utilizes it to talk about the power of fiction and writing in general, a point much different from that of the Potter series. The baseline is this: the similarities are not to be mistaken, but the correct descriptor is not rip-off but rather capitalization. Part of being a good writer is knowing when your writing will best succeed, and that is the basis of the young adult market. If one needs a Hunger Games or a TFiOS in order for their world to find a greater audience, so be it. It’s not a rip-off, it’s just the way the world works.