I appreciated Joanna Scutts’ recent piece in Slate, “Well-Behaved Women Make History Too: What Gets Lost When It’s Only the Rebel Girls Who Get Lionized?” As she wrote, “…the shallow kaleidoscope of inspirational biography can’t help but imply that the only women worth remembering are those who stand alone. This narrative…consigns whole communities to obscurity for lacking the spirit to rebel [and] reflects a fundamentally masculine narrative of genius and exceptionalism….” I would add that this viewpoint is also highly Western and individualistic.
YA fiction similarly features few nuanced portraits of those who work within families or communities, strengthening bonds while negotiating all the complexities of life.
Xiomara, the New York daughter of Dominican immigrants in Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X (a 2018 Kirkus Prize finalist), struggles under the weight of her mother’s faith and strict expectations, but she turns to her community to help her build bridges—and the result is far richer than if she simply rejected all her family stood for. “… I know / assistance comes / in mysterious ways / and I’m going to need / all the help I can get.”
In My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma (May 15), Winnie, the daughter of Indian immigrants to New Jersey, wants to believe the pandit’s prophecy about her soul mate—after all, he has a good track record, having matched her own happily married parents. This sweet rom-com upends the usual narrative of rejecting the parentally approved romantic partner, even as nothing goes quite to plan. As Winnie would say, “Holy baby Shah Rukh Khan!”
Is it a coincidence that these are both #ownvoices stories about second-generation Americans? Probably not. But surely young women from other backgrounds would love to be celebrated even if they are not outspoken mavericks.
Laura Simeon is the young adult editor.