Jennifer L. Armentrout’s White Hot Kiss is a young adult, paranormal romance that contains many popular themes found in young adult literature. While the story itself is quite original, the concept is not: a female protagonist falls in love with the bad boy, gets caught in the middle of a possible love triangle, and finds that, though she is powerful, she still inherently needs the help of a male character or two. Armentrout’s novel is a great example of how young adult literature is presented to modern-day teenagers.
Nowadays, it’s just as normal to see a girl wearing a massive ball gown on the covers of young adult books as it is to see two lovers caught mid-tryst. Girls are constantly exposed to characters like Layla, the protagonist of Armentrout’s latest novel. These characters are typically categorized as women who are in love with two different men, and they don’t seem to be able to stand up for themselves. While it’s normal to idolize two different people, I’m not a huge fan of female characters who can’t seem to hold their own—especially when a story is meant for them to have some character growth.
In the past, I’ve encountered the argument that a character’s inability to save him/herself is a characteristic that makes a character realistic and relatable; but, when did a girl who remained a pushover for the entirety of a novel become a hero? Character growth suggests that a character overcomes his/her flaws throughout a story and eventually comes out at the end having learned something that the reader may appreciate (or not). I’m tired of readers excusing a character’s obsession with men who stalk, control, and seethe with jealousy as a character trait. Being followed every day, being told what to say, do, and how to act, and letting a man control the way you live your life and who you become friends with is NOT OKAY. In my opinion, this goes far beyond anything as small as a character trait. Which begs the question: Are we secretly in love with the idea of being subversive in a world constantly struggling to prove how powerful women are?
Layla has so much potential to be a character that girls can look up to, but instead she becomes another example of how female characters are portrayed in this age group. Being protected to an unbelievable point, Layla is constantly being pulled from a world of pure evil to a world of pure good. Although, this is subjective since the good cause trouble all for the sake of doing what they believe is the right thing. So, the reader may at times feel confused by the actions of the so-called good and the so-called evil. This concept makes me wonder what is good and what is evil, and do authors really have the power to assign such bendable characteristics to their creations?
We constantly see Layla being almost physically dragged from one side to the other, while she internally struggles with her own demons (pun intended). My trust in her character immediately wavers as she so easily betrays those who swore to protect her, even though she has no idea why she is being protected. That trust wavers even more as her curiosity and poor heart (oh, woe) take over her senses. As the story progresses, we are newly introduced to a Layla who trusts no one and is set on destroying the past that she had, whether her actions are intentional or not.
The conclusion of the novel is probably the most powerful event in the novel. Why? Because Layla finally shows that she has the power to defend herself and not just rely on those protecting her. It proves to the reader that she has the capacity to become a truly awesome character. She has enough power to save herself. But then, as all characters are, she is flawed and allows her prior weaknesses to take over again.
I enjoyed Armentrout’s novel because of its unique storyline, but the characters were truly just the same old, same old. When it comes to young adult characters, you can either get the revolutionary characters that struggle against the grain to be more than what is expected of them, or you can get the ones who are in it for the romance and glory of meeting an already expected destiny alongside their so-bad-and-stalker-ish-and-sexy boyfriend.
I get why some readers enjoy the latter, but I wish more readers would crave the former.
What do you guys think about the representation of female characters in young adult literature? I’d love to know your opinions!