“I Am An Unlikable Heroine”
Molly Ringwald sits in library detention, opposite Ally Sheedy, losing it over life and love and the particular unfairness of being a teenage girl. And there is a very specific injustice in it. “If you say you haven’ t [had sex] ,” Sheedy says, “you’re a prude. If you say you have, you’re a slut.”
“You’re so conceited, Claire,” says Anthony Michael Hall, because Ringwald revels in popularity. Ally Sheedy hides in the shadows, the least conceited of them all, and they call her a freak for it. Condemned if you do, condemned if you don’t. Give Judd Nelson one victorious fist pump as the credits roll, and BAM. You’ve got a hero. And every terrible thing he ever said up to that point just dissipates.
Is anything more important, more subversive, for people to read in a classroom than an unlikable girl?
We grow up in school reading Holden Caulfield, Jay Gatsby, Odysseus, and the message is clear: you boys, made of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, show your teeth and the world will remember you for a hundred years. But what about the girls? Be sweet and good and kind and nurturing, and the world may not remember you…but the boys sure will. Boys who conquer the world are active. Flawed. Anti-heroes. Girls in stories can take the world by the scruff of its neck, and they are unlikable.
The thing I have most consistently found, in regards to Renley, the protagonist of my novel, How to Make Out, is that she is unlikable. Man does she make some mistakes. And she makes some BIG ONES, and makes them with gusto! And to that theme, I say, “You are right.”
But here’s the thing: I am unlikable. I was unlikable when I was 10 because I loved The Backstreet Boys, and the Backstreet Boys were trash pop. I was unlikable when I was 14 because I played basketball and wore high-cut puppy dog shirts that went up to my throat and did nothing to show off my curves, and didn’t I want to be a girl? I was unlikable when I was 16 and showed up to school with a hickey on my neck. I was unlikable when I was 18 because I got married, and at 21 because I had a baby and those choices were ridiculous. I was unlikable at 22 because I worried too much about the highlights in my hair and wore skirts everywhere, and lord, isn’t that vain? I was unlikable at 25 because I wore Hogwarts t-shirts and played video games but didn’t know what exactly happened at hour 2, minute 17 of a 70-hour game and so I was a fake geek girl. I am unlikable at 26 because I have blue hair and daydream about tattoos.
I am an unlikable heroine.
GIRLS are unlikable heroines.
Wouldn’t it have been amazing to have grown up in a classroom library just FULL OF US?
Wouldn’t it have been incredible for the boys to see that sometimes they can be made of sugar and spice? And that sometimes girls can have snakes and snails running through their veins too?
How delightful a thing, to grow up surrounded by people of EVERY gender who make mistakes, and who live.
How incredible to be given permission to not judge your worth and validity by being likable.
About the Book: Sixteen-year-old Renley needs three thousand dollars for the math club’s trip to New York City, and she knows exactly how to get it: she’s going to start a how-to blog where people pay for answers to all of life’s questions from a “certified expert.” The only problems: 1) She doesn’t know how to do anything but long division and calculus. 2) She’s totally invisible to people at school. And not in a cool Gossip Girl kind of way.
So, she decides to learn to do . . . well . . . everything. When her anonymous blog shifts in a more scandalous direction and the questions (and money) start rolling in, she has to learn not just how to do waterfall braids and cat-eye makeup, but a few other things, like how to cure a hangover, how to flirt, and how to make out (something her very experienced, and very in-love-with-her neighbor, Drew, is more than willing to help with).
As her blog’s reputation skyrockets, so does “new and improved” Renley’s popularity. She’s not only nabbed the attention of the entire school, but also the eye of Seth Levine, the hot culinary wizard she’s admired from across the home-ec classroom all year.
Soon, caught up in the thrill of popularity both in and out of cyberspace, her secrets start to spiral, and she finds that she’s forgotten the most important how-to: how to be herself. When her online and real lives converge, Renley will have to make a choice: lose everything she loves in her new life, or everyone she loves in the life she left behind.
About the Author: Brianna Shrum lives in Colorado with her high-school-sweetheart-turned-husband and two uber-hyper, superhero-obsessed little boys. She thinks chai tea is proof of magic in the world, and loves all things kissy, magical, and strange. She’d totally love to connect with you, so you can find her online at briannashrum.com or saying ridiculous things on Twitter @briannashrum.
Thank you Brianna for this important conversation-starting post!
**Thank you to Cheryl at Skyhorse Publishing for setting up the guest post!**