Why are Teen Girls the new Sci-Fi Protagonists?, a guest post by Brea Grant
You can’t slingshot a rock right now without hitting a YA book about a teen girl surviving a dystopian apocalypse, discovering her magical powers, or finding a doorway to an alternate land. I’m not complaining but it’s interesting that teen girls are at the front and center of the science fiction/fantasy universe. What is it about the teen girl experience that lends itself to being a protagonist in an otherworldly adventure?
When writing my new graphic novel, Mary, I took a look at Mary Shelley’s personal history and built on it to create my own teen girl protagonist forging her own way and finding a magical world. My modern-day character, Mary, is the fictional descendant of Mary Shelley. She comes from a long line of writers and is expected to become a writer herself. Instead, she discovers that Mary Shelley was not writing about the fictional creature of Frankenstein’s monster but instead was writing a guidebook for her progeny so they could follow in her real footsteps — not as writers but as a doctor to monsters. When my current-day Mary discovers this, she must grapple with what she’s been told about the world and her future choices. It’s coming-of-age magnified.
Struggling with knowing what to do with your life is something most of us can all relate to…even in our mid-to-late 30s (note to self: figure out what you want to do) and beyond. Writing this graphic novel, I felt like I could take my own meandering path regarding my career choices and put it into a magical context and that somehow made it…easier to deal with? Mary could think about her life in a way that I couldn’t because her world was actually as strange as mine has always felt. If the world is actually bizarre, difficult to understand, and magical, maybe she (or myself by extension) wasn’t such a weirdo for not being able to fit into it. If the reason that you are unable to make a decision about what to do with your life is because there are monsters living among us and no one told you about them, maybe you weren’t so wrong to have trouble deciding whether or not to go to college (or insert other major life decision here)!
Mary Shelley herself happens to be an interesting heroine in real life. Shelley can be credited with being the mother of modern day science fiction as we know it. She was a pioneer. What people often forget is that she was only 19 when she conceived of the concept for Frankenstein, on a cold, dark night (true story!). When published, it was so outlandish that a woman would write something horrific that she didn’t put her actual name on its first published editions.
So, like a lot of heroines in science fiction novels, she was a rebel. She didn’t fit into the rules of her day. She had a relationship with a man against her parents wishes and was estranged from them for many years. She wrote and created in an unexplored genre that was unseemly for women. And like many of our modern-day heroines in the aforementioned apocalyptic situations, she forged her own way against the rules that had been set up. We don’t center YA novels around teenagers following the rules and upholding tradition. We center them around pioneering young people willing to take chances and break things. Shelley was definitely one of those. She opened up a magical door that was rarely opened for female writers while under the age of 20. Teen female protagonist for the win.
Being young encourages imagination. I am in the small minority of people who have the privilege of spending most of my days imagining worlds that don’t exist. Between the pull of adulthood, responsibilities and all of the very crushing realities of growing up, somewhere along the way, we lose our ability to just play. Science fiction and fantasy allow us to be imaginative. They allow us to escape — as writers or readers. So it may be obvious that age has a lot to do with the many examples we see of female protagonists fighting monsters, discovering worlds, and ending up winning the day. We associate science fiction — the ultimate place for imagination — with youth. Of course our main characters are youthful. They still are allowed to play.
But that doesn’t explain the choice of young women over young men as sci-fi protagonists. I would make the argument that the monsters/dragons/evil doers are stand-ins for the harsh realities of growing up and the tough decisions young women have to make. The female experience lends itself to the paranormal in the obvious ways our bodies change but also the way in which societal standards morph as we get older. As children, we can run, play and be free to think wildly but as we get older, those things start to be discouraged. A young girl covered in mud is much different than a 20-year-old. Dealing with these standards is like fighting off a demon. It is choosing to stand out and creating an entirely new set of rules. It’s difficult. I think it’s why we are seeing so many interesting trans characters in sci-fi as well. Trans people have known they were breaking societal rules for a long time. They have been fighting these monsters since the day they realized they wanted to wear a dress instead of a soccer uniform. Breaking out of these molds are otherworldly. For a young woman, something as simple as choosing to study engineering is comparable to teen heroine picking up a sword for the first time in an all-male league of dragon fighters. Although different worlds, it takes the same amount of courage to be a young woman who doesn’t quite fit into the mold of what is expected and to continue to push boundaries.
I love that we have these models for young women. It’s hard to be a thing if you can’t see it and we can see these boundary-pushing young women all over YA right now. So, if you’re never fought a monster before, how do you do it? You dive in like Katniss, Emika, Sunny, Starr and the many other teenage female protagonists who are fighting new fights, figuring their way through it, and on the other end, becoming the heroes of their own stories.
Meet Brea Grant
Brea Grant is a filmmaker/writer best known for her Emmy-nominated work on the Netflix series, EastSiders, and her most recent film, 12 Hour Shift, a comedy heist film starring Angela Bettis and David Arquette. It premiered at Tribeca in 2020. A month later, she starred in the horror film, Lucky, which she also wrote, directed by Natasha Kermani, which premiered at SXSW in 2020. Her first comic series is called We Will Bury You, which was published by IDW and co-written with her brother, Zane Grant. She co-hosts a weekly book podcast called Reading Glasses with author Mallory O’Meara on the Maximum Fun Network. She started in the film industry as an actress and has appeared on shows like Heroes, Friday Night Lights, and Dexter, as well as horror films like Halloween II and the recent indie favorite, After Midnight.
About Mary: The Adventures of Mary Shelley’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter
Angsty teenager Mary Shelley is not interested in carrying on her family’s celebrated legacy of being a great writer, but she soon discovers that she has the not-so-celebrated and super-secret Shelley power to heal monsters, just like her famous ancestor, and those monsters are not going to let her ignore her true calling anytime soon.
The Shelley family history is filled with great writers: the original Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, the acclaimed mystery writer Tawny Shelley, cookbook maven Phyllis Shelley…the list goes on and on. But this Mary Shelley, named after her great-great-great-great-great grandmother, doesn’t want anything to do with that legacy. Then a strangely pale (and really cute) boy named Adam shows up and asks her to heal a wound he got under mysterious circumstances, and Mary learns something new about her family: the first Mary Shelley had the power to heal monsters, and Mary has it, too. Now the monsters won’t stop showing up, Mary can’t get her mother Tawny to leave her alone about writing something (anything!), she can’t tell her best friend Rhonda any of this, and all Mary wants is to pass biology.
Publisher: Six Foot Press
Publication date: 10/06/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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