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Guest Post by Heather Demetrios: Subversive Sisters: YA Girls Who Stick it to the Man

We are so pleased to feature this kick-ass post about kick-ass YA heroines from kick-ass author, Heather Demetrios! Heather is originally from Los Angeles and now lives in Brooklyn and various imaginary locales. She is the recipient of a PEN New England Discovery Award for her debut YA novel about reality TV stardom, SOMETHING REAL (Macmillan/Henry Holt), and is the author of the upcoming EXQUISITE CAPTIVE, a smoldering fantasy about jinn in Los Angeles (#1 in the DARK CARAVAN fantasy trilogy from HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray). She is currently working on her second novel for Macmillan, I'LL MEET YOU THERE, a love story about a young combat veteran and a girl trapped in their small town, both struggling to escape the war at home. When she’s not hanging out with her characters, Heather is working on her MFA in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Find her online at

In my debut novel, SOMETHING REAL (out now from Macmillan/Henry Holt), my main character, Bonnie™ Baker, is forced to be on a reality TV show with her family. Not only was she born on camera, some of the worst moments of her life have played out for all the world to see. And she’s tired of it. Inspired by reading 1984 in her government class, Bonnie™ begins to realize that she’s going to have to make her voice heard, no matter how many times the adults in her life try to silence it. In order to express her serious lack of enthusiasm for the show, Bonnie™ resorts to subversive acts ranging from closing her eyes during a photo shoot and changing her name to Chloe, to an act of war against MetaReel, the corporation that produces her family’s show. Not only does she subvert the expectations of her family and MetaReel, she learns there’s power in standing up for yourself…and that it’s kinda fun to stick it to the man.

When I started working on my character, Bonnie™, I realized that petty revolutions weren’t enough to help her grow as a character or to stop what was happening to her (although gorilla tactics help her let off a little steam). If she really wanted to change her life, Bonnie™ had to do something BIG. Something that would make people wake up and see how damaging these kinds of reality TV shows are. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you. Let me just say that, for a girl, she winded up having some pretty big cahones.

Right now, there are a lot of kickass female protagonists in YA lit. Pick up any book by Kristin Cashore or open the covers of many dystopians and you’ll find a girl who’s ready to take on whatever system she lives in. This is a good thing. Forget boy obsessed, make-up obsessed girls who are happy to be put in pretty little boxes: fierce is the new fantasy. For this post I wanted to take a look at my favorite subversive YA gal, Frankie from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by e. lockhart. What I love is the complexity of this subversive girl; as great as it is to see so many teen protagonists who thumb their noses at the oppressive circumstances in their lives, it’s not enough for a proto to raise her Hell No! banner: she needs depth.

Frankie Landau Banks is my hero—no, my heroine. At novel’s beginning, Frankie feels “invisible” and “meek,” so when when popular Matthew Livingston takes notice of her she’s downright giddy (Lockhart 193). However, she quickly realizes that she likes being a part of Matthew’s group of friends almost as much as she likes him. But they’re members of a guys-only secret society and they’d never dream of letting Frankie in. So Frankie gets even by becoming the unknown mastermind behind the Basset Hounds’ pranks. Rather than take them down, she decides to beat them at their own game. Frankie, well aware of her intelligence, does not orchestrate the pranks she plans for the Hounds in order to prove her intellectual equality (she knows she more than measures up); rather, her nocturnal extra-curriculars are a misguided attempt to simultaneously secure her position in the boys’ club and convince herself of its ridiculousness. This provides an interesting contradiction in Frankie’s character, one Lockhart’s other protagonists often come up against; while Frankie’s pranks suggest a brazen courage and endless self-confidence, a peek into her inner life reveals that a fear of rejection is what motivates her and, by extension, informs the plot of Disreputable History.

The pleasure she gets from the pranks, while initially underscoring a growing sense of power, fails to satisfy Frankie. As the pranks become ever more elaborate, Frankie soon realizes that Matthew and his friends “were going through life together – whether the pranks they pulled were dumb or brilliant. [She] was going through life with no one” (Lockhart 222). This acknowledgement of her loneliness acts as the first step in Frankie’s efforts to break the destructive cycle she is in, both internally and externally. Matthew’s rejection of her acts as the climax for the novel and for Frankie’s inner journey; no longer in a position to vie for Matthew’s attention, Frankie must come to terms with the motivations for her outrageous behavior. Though she has told herself the pranks were about proving a female can not only infiltrate the boys’ club, but rule it as well, the truth is that Frankie was simply desperate to be in Matthew’s world and her orchestrations were an attempt to prove her self-worth. Her ultimate self-realization occurs at novel’s end, in the following passage:

It is better to be alone, she figures, than to be with someone who can’t see you for who you are. It is better to lead than to follow. It is better to speak up than stay silent…She will not be simple and sweet. She will not be what people tell her she should be. That Bunny Rabbit is dead. (Lockhart 342)

Frankie’s contradictory impulses – to be both exceptional and fit in – are what make her such an engaging character. What I love about this book is that Frankie subverts her boyfriend’s expectations of her and, by extension, her school’s and her family’s and yet it’s not a hooray! ending. Frankie’s realization that she’s lonely is what makes her understand that even though she’s a mastermind, she’ll never have the kind of community the boys have and so must create her own. We don’t leave Frankie with everything figured out and, even better, we don’t leave her arm in arm with the boys she so despertaely wanted to be accepted by. Instead, we know that her subversion is still continuing to do its transformational work inside her because “that Bunny Rabbit is dead.” The not-so-triumphant ending doesn’t take away from Frankie’s subversion: we know that the next thing this girl puts her mind to is going to be just as rule-breaking and label-defying.

Last fall I was in Times Square, making the trek out from Brooklyn because I had some friends in town. A huge billboard towered above the crowds: a girl with a glint in her eye, intense on some distant threat. Her hair was in a simple braid, she wore very little makeup, and instead of a purse, she was holding a bow. Katniss Everdeen, of course: the Girl on Fire. Now, the billboards around the country have Tris from Divergent, looking like she’s about to throw a serious monkey wrench into the system. It gives me a little thrill to know that teen girls today have these role models: young women who won’t take no for an answer and aren’t afraid to shatter glass ceilings. Whether they’re trying to kick televisions out of their home, infiltrate a secret society, or take down an opressive government, today’s YA heroines are kicking ass and taking names.


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The opinions expressed in guest posts are the views of the designated authors and do not necessarily reflect those of YA Highway members.

Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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Item Reviewed: Guest Post by Heather Demetrios: Subversive Sisters: YA Girls Who Stick it to the Man Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook