Girl Power: A Review of Four Novels

I have made mention of my love for young adult literature, especially the dystopian/love-struck variety.  In the past several months, I have had the pleasure of reading four of the finest examples of strong, genuine portrayals of leading women that we can be proud to have our young women read and be inspired by.

*A quick side note about the Twilight series that I feel is quite necessary:  I read and enjoyed the Twilight series; the movies were horrible, but yet I have watched every single one.  I do not believe that you can judge the entire series, or Bella as a character, by just the first book and certainly NOT by Kristin Stewarts’ interpretation.

It’s ok to like Stephanie Meyers, and it’s even acceptable to care about Team Edward vs Team Jacob.  The issue I have with the book series is that there is an entire book devoted to the devastation of losing a boyfriend.  Yes, I’ve been there; a first-love shattered and wanting to have things “the way they were” so badly you can taste it. However, I don’t think that it’s a responsible decision on Ms. Meyers’ part to glamorize this agony or poor decision-making.  There.  Done.  Moving on.

The purpose of this post is to give you my expert opinion perspective on four of the hottest novels in young adult literature: The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsDivergent by Veronica RothShatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, and Crossed by Ally Condie.

What do all four novels have in common?

  1. A female protagonist that discovers she is stronger than anyone has given her credit for, including herself, and this strength is tested by their own doubts in the formulation of the Society.
  2. Dystopian society – Organized chaos.  As much as the Powers that Be have tried to improve upon the natural order of life, as we the readers know it, a power struggle erupts.
  3. Love-Struck: Not even murder, disownment by parents and society, imprisonment, or body mutations can stop the power of teenage love for these heroines.  These novels cook up some steamy romances, and yet do not leave out the struggles that one goes through when heartstrings are pulled.

Heroines:

  • Katniss Everdeen – The Hunger Games
  • Juliette Ferrars – Shatter Me
  • Cassia Reyes – Matched
  • Beatrice “Tris” Prior – Divergent

Character Synopsis in one sentence:

  • Katniss – To save her broken family, Katniss puts her life on the line in a game for everything, including her heart.
  • Juliette – Considered an outcast, Juliette discovers that she is more valued than most believe, as well as herself.
  • Cassia – Not all logical formulas result in predictable outcomes, and Cassia is determined to use the one that cannot be mastered: her heart.
  • Tris -Beatrice knew she didn’t fit in, and in a bold move, she will test the strength of her determination to discover who Tris is.

Conflict Abounds:

  • The Hunger Games:  The Hunger Game event pits youth against youth in a sadistic plot to remind the residents of the twelve districts that the government is in control.   In order to prevent her twelve year old sister from entering the games, Katniss volunteers to take her place.  Katniss is thrown into a whirlwind of strategy, training, and simply trying to stay alive.
  • Shatter Me: Plagued by a condition that has a lethal effect on those she touches, Juliette is left to ponder her life’s value until interest has been shown from two very different sources: to aid in the torturous empire, or to trust in the one person who showed her any compassion.
  • Matched:  Life is planned out in all aspects for Cassia, but due to one misstep by the Big Brother society and she is left to decide whether to follow the rules, or her heart.  Ky is the one person she should never have considered, but he’s the only one she can’t live without.
  • Divergent:  Certain behaviors are required of the various factions, and only until you’re sixteen are you given the choice to follow your heart.  During Tris’ faction testing, it is discovered that she fits into any of the faction, but is indeed an unspeakable Divergent.  Despite this, Tris chooses Dauntless, and it takes every ounce of her courage and determination to make it through initiation.  It is there that she also discovers that her roll in society will take another, yet more vital turn.

Love of a Good Man:

  • Katniss:  In the least love-torn relationship, The Hunger Games does have the element of love and longing, but not from perspective of the main character, Katniss.  Peeta, the boy who competes in the Games alongside Katniss, and her lifelong friend, Gale, both pine for our headstrong leading lady.  What makes this love triangle realistic, and a breath of fresh air, is that Katniss never succumbs to what she should do, which is fall for one of them totally and completely.  A faux relationship is formed for the cameras between Katniss and Peeta, and there are times that she truly considers falling into his earnest devotion to her.  As the reader, you continue to wait for her to accept either Peeta or Gale as her heart mate, but Katniss remains true to the cause throughout the trilogy.
  • Juliette:  Get ready to close your eyes during this book!  HOLY HORMONE!  Juliette has been locked up for the past three years because of the awful condition she was born with: a mere touch of her skin will send bolts of electrocuting energy to the victim, taking their lives.  She’s been an outcast since birth, and now she is contemplating her life of isolation, that is until Adam is sent into her cell.  This couple is on fire from the first moment they are reintroduced.  As it turns out, Adam was the one person who recognized that Juliette was not a monster and has been in love with her since the 4th grade.  You can imagine what happens when teenage hormones have been revved up from years of solitary confinement!  I felt that it overwhelmed the plot line of discovering why Juliette has this power, will she succumb to the evil Warner, why was she put in isolation at age fourteen and not earlier.  In its defense, this is only the first of the trilogy, and there is A LOT of room for character growth.
  • Cassia:  In almost total contrast to Katniss, Cassia is totally devoted to her men man: Ky.  The series begins with the anticipation of the Matching Ceremony where teens discover which mate has been chosen for them by the overlord government.  Originally intended to be paired with her best friend, Xander, Cassia discovers that she may have truly been meant for Ky, an outlaw and Abberation.  Classic “loving what you can’t have,” this novel attempts to show what true love is capable of overcoming.  In my opinion, Matched comes the closest to a Bella-like character in that Cassia seems more interested in begin with Ky than changing an unfair society.
  • Tris:  My favorite love story is between Tris and Four.  There is a genuineness to it that is somewhat present in the other stories, but even more so in Divergent.  Tris’ will is being tested throughout the entire novel from choosing to leave her family and born-into faction, to proving herself physically and mentally for admission into the Dauntless faction.  All young women at the age of sixteen are inherently insecure and extremely doubtful of themselves, and Tris is no different although she is put through the extraordinary task of outperforming contrasting chores to the lifestyle she’s been used to.  When Four, a leader of the Dauntless trainers shows interest in Tris as more than a soldier, she is hesitant to believe him or understand why he chose her.  It is through mutual vulnerability that Tris begins to believe that Four’s feelings are genuine, and she submits to her desire to love him back.  They are partners; there is no opportunity for a dominant force in their relationship.  In addition, their relationship progresses as the story does; one does not overpower the other.

Final Statements:

Overall I am totally in love with these series of novels, and cannot wait to devour the next edition of their trilogies.  I was spoiled by the first series that I read, The Hunger Games by it’s completion, but also enticed to read on after the inaugural book from the remaining three.  I would recommend these novels to my students, not just the females.  I think it’s important for both the boys and girls to see a woman in power, under control, and honest about their feelings.  There are also wonderful examples of how a young lady should be treated by the boy who wants to win her heart, and not just her body.

I thank all four authors, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, Tahereh Mafi, and Ally Condie for creating such inspiring characters, addicting plot lines, and relationships that warm your heart.

7 thoughts on “Girl Power: A Review of Four Novels

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