Sunday, February 12, 2012

Where Have All The Heroes Gone?


What’s the deal with all the bland protagonists in Tween Fic?  

I’m thinking of two stupendously successful books which, imo, have utterly uninspiring heroes. 

First, James Patterson’s foray into the world of Middle School, titled (aptly), 
Middle School, The Worst Years Of My Life, where the main character, Rafe, sets out to break every rule in the book—literally.  As a premise, it’s great.  I loved it.  As a reader, I couldn't wait to find out what mayhem Rafe would attempt and even more, as a writer, I couldn’t wait to learn how his character would grow over the course of the story.  

Patterson delivers on the first part, and it’s thoroughly entertaining.  But, on the second?  What a disappointment!  Not only does Rafe learn nothing from his escapades, he’s essentially rewarded for them.  He goes off to start fresh in a new school for gifted Artists, but does he do so because he’s earned it?  No, he does so because he’s been expelled from his current school and a good-hearted teacher sees his innate, artistic abilities and takes pity on him.  

This is all very warm and fuzzy, but does it inspire?  Does Rafe overcome anything to gain such a wonderful new opportunity?   No.  He doesn’t.    Really, he’s just lucky to have such a good teacher take a personal interest in him despite his incredibly egocentric behavior.  

And, the girls don’t have it any better.  If you want your daughters to read about how cool it is to be utterly vacuous, petty, materialistic, and mean, then I recommend The Dork Diaries . 

Here’s what The School Library Journal has to say about the series: 

Grade 5-8–Fourteen-year-old Nikki J. Maxwell has been awarded a scholarship to a prestigious private middle school as a part of her father's bug extermination contract. Her angst as she deals with the resident mean girl, her embarrassing parents, her crush on the hot boy, and making new friends are all recorded alongside numerous sketches of her life. Although occasionally amusing, Nikki is not a very likable character. She is shallow and self-centered and fails to show any growth in the book, even as she one-ups popular and cruel MacKenzie in the end. In fact, Nikki, who steals her neighbor's hearing aid and plays pranks on her little sister, is somewhat of a mean girl herself. All the other characters are underdeveloped, including Nikki's family and her new BFFs, Chloe and Zoey. Black-and-white drawings, which are often witty, appear throughout the text, which is printed on lined pages as though from a diary. Fans of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Abrams) may enjoy this book, but it's an additional purchase.–Terry Ann Lawler, Phoenix Public Library, AZ 

Sadly, I concur.  

While I understand that it’s appealing to read about characters who are “just like us”, I can’t help but wonder, “Yes, but must they also stay just like us?”

Isn’t half the fun of the adventure found in the discoveries made, both externally and internally?  Isn’t a character who’s flawed and imperfect (just like us), so much more endearing when they’ve really slogged it out through the course of the story and wound up so much wiser, stronger, and better for having survived the experience?  

Or, is “no growth” the new goal?

 Me?  I want aspirational heroes.  Give me a main character who does something really impressive, even if nobody ever thought her capable of it.  

Actually, make that:  especially if nobody ever thought her capable of it.


  1. I completely agree. I haven't read those particular books, but character arc is essential. They don't even have to "win" at the end - we just want to see them go up against SPLAT regardless of odds and be altered because of the experience.

    Did you hook up with Shannon over at Middle Grade Mondays?

    1. I did! Finally. Really good to meet everyone, there!

  2. Hmmmm. This is food for thought. Of course, teachers and librarians are big on the whole character growth thing; it's Good For You. But do readers really want that? I don't know that I want a character who does something really impressive, but I don't want who doesn't grow at all, either. I think middle school is often about growing even though you don't WANT to. I'll have to think about this more today!