Friday, 1 July 2011

Guest Blog Post by Julie Bertagna: Divergent Girls (This post has themes of teen romance)

I promise it is pure coincidence that I chose to post Julie's guest post, and my reviews for her trilogy today: these are Exodus, Zenith, and Aurora: I'll pass over to Julie now who will talk about Dystopian girls, with reference to Tris in Divergence by Veronica Roth. (formatting has gone weird so I'm not even going to attempt to change it!)
DYSTOPIAN GIRLS by Julie Bertagna
When I began dreaming up an idea of a girl battling to survive in an apocalyptically flooded world of the future, I looked to see what other strong heroines existed in YA dystopian fiction - and couldn’t find them. Mara, in my book Exodus, was quite literally out on her own and I had to go to writers of adult fiction like Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing and Ursula Le Guin for gutsy and inspiring futuristic heroines.
Today, happily, it’s quite different. There’s a whole gang of feisty YA female characters, fighting for the future in all kinds of dystopian scenarios.
I didn’t realise it back then, but Mara in my Exodus trilogy was a kind of ground-breaker. YA dystopia wasn’t in vogue at that time. So much has changed since - especially the boundaries of what’s deemed acceptable. I had a few battles to fight on Mara’s behalf. I wanted her feisty and flawed; a real, gutsy heroine in a YA world where boys still had all the best action.
There was a sex scene, for instance, and also the moment where Mara kills. My then-editor guided me to write those scenes with the sensibilities of younger readers and adult ‘gatekeepers’ in mind. It’s a bit like being the oldest child in a family. In the beginning there are so many boundaries to challenge, but by the time the younger siblings come along they get away with just about anything!
That’s what I felt when I read the latest dystopian thriller, Veronica Roth’s Divergent. There’s a lot to like about Roth’s heroine, Tris. No airbrushed beauty, Tris is plain, long of nose, hard-headed in her desires and brutal. I wouldn’t have got away with Divergent’s extreme violence when I was writing Exodus - YA publishing just wasn’t ready for that.
Two things struck me about this gripping, action-packed story: a strange coyness about sex in a book where young characters think nothing of beating a rival senseless and an unrealistic, cartoon quality to the relentless violence.
My dystopian trilogy has come to an end with Aurora and I’m writing a new book, a cosmic adventure set in a very different future. Now there seem to be few constraints on what and how I write. But I find myself wondering about the ‘hidden’ boundaries. Is violence in vogue, as long as your main characters are made of rubber and always bounce back? And is panting lust between characters a must, as long as nobody actually gets their pants off?
Is the next challenge for YA dystopian heroines to ‘get real’? 
That's an excellent question Julie - only time will tell what's next for the dystopian heroines of the future. I'd like to thank Julie for a thought provoking post, and for writing 3 very cool books. 

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