I write thrillers. I read thrillers. I crave suspense. Mysterious crimes, small town secrets, a shadowy figure materializing from nowhere on the highway, survivors hell-bent on revenge, fragments of recovered memories better left forgotten – yes, please.
But for me, thrillers are not just about the pyrotechnics of dark crimes and a hero’s race to save the day. I love character driven novels. I love knowing what makes the hero and her adversary, the villain, tick. While I’m drafting my own work, I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes a hero and what makes a villain. It’s not enough for heroes to be “good” and villains to be “bad”.
In my upcoming YA thriller, THE TELLING, protagonist seventeen-year-old Lana believes that, “the line between a vengeful hero and a villain is narrow and gray.” So do I. I love my heroes twisty. I love characters I change my mind about and that make me ask questions about the nature of good and evil. Increasingly in young adult lit girls are heroes and villains, perpetrators as well as victims. This is an important development in the way girls and women are represented in books, as textured and diverse as the representations of men and boys. Emphasis on girls needing to be sweet, nurturing, and likable is already shifting.
The list of books with multi-dimensional girl heroes and villains is long, but here are some of my favorites.
THE WITCH HUNTER and THE KING SLAYER Duology by Virginia Boecker
Former witch hunter Elizabeth Grey is hiding within the magically protected village of Harrow, evading the price put on her head by Lord Blackwell, the usurper king of Anglia. Their last encounter left Blackwell ruined, but his thirst for power grows stronger every day. He's readying for a war against those who would resist his rule--namely Elizabeth and the witches and wizards she now calls her allies.
Having lost her stigma, a magical source of protection and healing, Elizabeth's strength is tested both physically and emotionally. War always means sacrifice, and as the lines between good and evil blur once more, Elizabeth must decide just how far she'll go to save those she loves.
Why they’re musts: Two words. Elizabeth Grey. She’s brave, spunky, imperfect, funny, clever, and someone you’d want fighting by your side.
WINK POPPY MIDNIGHT by April Genevieve Tucholke
Every story needs a hero. Every story needs a villain. Every story needs a secret.
Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. What really happened? Someone knows. Someone is lying.
Why it’s a must: Twisty twistiness that makes you think – hard. Heroes and villains are near impossible to pin down in this whimsical novel that still leaves you feeling satisfied.
THE YOUNG ELITES (Young Elites Series) by Marie Lu
Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.
Why the series is a must: A villain’s origin story by Marie Lu. Need I say more?
BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver
For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—"Cupid Day"—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.
However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.
Why it’s a must: High school girls make the best characters. Sam’s fight for redemption is heartfelt and compulsively readable. She manages to be both heroine and reformed villain.
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Lana used to know what was real.
That was before, when her life was small and quiet. Her golden stepbrother, Ben, was alive. She could only dream about bonfiring with the populars. Their wooded island home was idyllic, she could tell the truth from lies, and Ben’s childhood stories were firmly in her imagination.
Then came after.
After has Lana boldly kissing her crush, jumping into the water from too high up, living with nerve and mischief. But after also has horrors, deaths that only make sense in fairy tales and terrors from a past Lana thought long forgotten:
Love, blood, and murder.
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