In Defense of Disaster Main Characters, a guest post by Susan Azim Boyer
In my young adult debut novel, Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win (11.1.22 Wednesday Books), my main character, Jasmine — who’s running for senior class president in a must-win election — tells a little, white lie that snowballs into an avalanche. Time and time again, she makes the wrong decision for what she thinks is the right reason. Some have called her a “disaster MC.”
Disaster MCs can frustrate — or even exasperate — readers precisely because they seem to make the same mistakes repeatedly. So why do we write them? I talked to four of my fellow debut authors, and here’s what they had to say. (Spoiler alert: it’s not to exasperate readers.)
In Vanessa L. Torres’ powerful young adult novel, The Turning Pointe (2.2.22 Knopf Books), aspiring prima ballerina Rosa Dominguez nearly sabotages her opportunity to make it from her small studio in Minneapolis into a prestigious, national touring company after she becomes obsessed with being a backup dancer for Prince. She’s late for rehearsal and often unprepared — and her father is the director!
Vanessa says, as a teen, she made “a plethora of bad choices” and wanted to show readers that “even if you make what others might think of as ‘questionable’ choices, there is always a place for redemption, always room for growth.”
Maya Prasad’s Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things (10.18.22 Disney Books) is a delightful contemporary YA romance that features the four Singh sisters, who live and work at their father’s Songbird Inn on an island in the Pacific Northwest. Maya describes one of the sisters, chaotic and energetic Avani, as a disaster MC because “as hard as she tries, she’s often so focused on one thing that she makes mistakes and messes up something else.” For instance, she misses dinner with a cute boy because she entered the date wrong in her calendar. Then, instead of apologizing, she actively avoids the poor guy.
Eventually, she comes clean, but Maya wanted readers to see that Avani, who is potentially neuro-divergent, has her own strengths and that “teens who don’t think like everyone else can still succeed.”
In Keely Parrack’s gripping survival thriller, Don’t Let In the Cold (9.6.22 Sourcebooks Fire), disaster MC Lottie’s initial poor decision-making hurtle her and her new stepsister, Jade, into life-threatening danger. Keely describes Lottie as “headstrong and stubborn, someone who hates to put her trust in others.” But, as Lottie learns to trust in others, she begins to make better decisions. Keely says she created Lottie to show readers “that it’s okay not to be perfect and, no matter how things look, you can always turn them around.”
JC Peterson describes Lola Barnes, the main character in her rollicking YA romance, Lola at Last (2.28.23 Harperteen), as a “modern-day take on Lydia Bennet, one of the OG disaster MCs.” Lola burns bridges and most of her friendships to the ground, but JC says she makes the same mistakes over and over, “to find community and a reason to use her big voice.”
Interestingly, Lola was a secondary character in JC’s debut novel, Being Mary Bennet (March 15, 2022), but JC felt she deserved center stage this time around because Lola, like Lydia, “was never given a chance to grow up and learn from her mistakes; I wanted to give her a chance to do just that.”
In my case, I wanted Jasmine Zumideh to be like the rest of us: human and fallible with the ability to learn, eventually, from her mistakes. We all believe that part of the way teens learn is by making the “wrong” decision and accepting the consequences. Perhaps, in reading about our disaster MCs, they will avoid some of the mistakes our characters make.
But the truth is, if disaster MCs made all the right decisions, there would be no story. And sometimes, they’re just more fun.
Meet the author
Susan Azim Boyer writes young adult fiction featuring Iranian American heroines she *never* encountered growing up, who make messy, complicated choices that rapidly snowball into avalanches. JASMINE ZUMIDEH NEEDS A WIN is her young adult fiction debut. She hails from Nebraska but grew up in Los Angeles before spending several years in San Francisco and the next twenty in Sonoma County. She now lives in the Coachella Valley with her husband, Wayne, and her Pug mix, Teddy. Their son, Alec, lives in New York.
About Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win
A fresh spin on the cult-classic Election meets Darius the Great Is Not Okay in Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win when an international incident crashes into a high school election, and Jasmine is caught between doing the right thing and chasing her dream.
It’s 1979, and Jasmine Zumideh is ready to get the heck out of her stale, Southern California suburb and into her dream school, NYU, where she’ll major in journalism and cover New York City’s exploding music scene.
There’s just one teeny problem: Due to a deadline snafu, she maaaaaaybe said she was Senior Class President-Elect on her application—before the election takes place. But honestly, she’s running against Gerald Thomas, a rigid rule-follower whose platform includes reinstating a dress code—there’s no way she can lose. And she better not, or she’ll never get into NYU.
But then, a real-life international incident turns the election upside down. Iran suddenly dominates the nightly news, and her opponent seizes the opportunity to stir up anti-Iranian hysteria at school and turn the electorate against her. Her brother, Ali, is no help. He’s become an outspoken advocate for Iran just as she’s trying to downplay her heritage.
Now, as the white lie she told snowballs into an avalanche, Jasmine is stuck between claiming her heritage or hiding it, standing by her outspoken brother or turning her back on him, winning the election or abandoning her dreams for good.
Told with biting insight and fierce humor, Susan Azim Boyer’s Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win is a fresh, unforgettable story of one Iranian-American young woman’s experience navigating her identity, friendship, family, her future, and a budding romance, all set against life-changing historical events with present-day relevance.
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/01/2022
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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