Can I rant about female YA protagonists for a second? Yes? Good.
“Quirky” is not a personality.
I’ve read plenty of good YA in the past few months, since I started hitting the library on a weekly basis to expand my horizons. But I’ve read some pretty middling YA too, and some that made me cringe.
And one of the common threads in the average-to-bad books is a semi-interchangeable female lead that doesn’t have any/many defining traits beyond a collection of seemingly random likes/habits that don’t mesh together well. Because “quirky.”
I don’t care if she likes ’70s folk music instead of the current boy bands if there’s no reason given as to why. With no explanation, it’s a prop to make her different than her peers for the sake of the difference. (Totally made up this example, just in case someone goes hunting for whichever book I was reading…but really any “I like X because everyone else likes Y” attribute would fit here.)
Whereas if she gets teased for listening to Joan Baez and Gordon Lightfoot while she’s driving her friends somewhere, then later she reminisces about how her dad used to sing those songs to her when she was little…well, that’s a reason. And a good one, especially if her father’s no longer in her life somehow. A little emotional depth can go a long way.
Giving a character an odd habit or hobby or interest does not engage the reader if it doesn’t add to the character’s development.
Some of these characters felt only a step or two removed from the dreaded Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which of course they couldn’t be (because the defining trait of MPDG is that they exist to “save” the male lead from himself without having goals of their own…and as the protagonists of their own stories, they do, at least, have that much going for them.) But they seem, to me, to be a disturbing echo of them. Pile enough random shit on a character to make them “different” without describing why, and it’s just a caricature of a person, not a real character.