As a general rule we tend to gravitate towards what we’d call “underdog stories”. In YA, or other tales about teens, this “underdog story” often—historically—takes a particular shape. For boys (that is, male protagonists), this tends to manifest as “nerds versus jocks” and the familiar imagery of tall dudes in sports uniforms shoving scrawny glasses-wearing lads into lockers, or guffawing at their interest in science, or knocking them over so their Dungeon Master’s Guide falls into a puddle. For girls, you see this most as “bookish versus bitchy”, with squads (often trios) of heavily made-up young women throwing catty remarks from lip-gloss-coated smirks, often while dressed in pink or a cheerleader uniform, in stark contrast to the plain appearance and conservative unfashionable clothing of the heroine hugging books to her chest.
There are variations on type, of course (and this is a very Hollywood set of images, though it extends beyond that too), but in both gendered cases, the villain of the piece is an image of what’s conventionally attractive and cool, versus underdog heroes who aren’t. In their shadow, our geeky, less-attractive less-cool protagonist looks like a pigeon next to a peacock. But don’t worry, underdog: you have something that these nasty people who conveniently hit their growth spurt in time to be hot during their high school years don’t. That’s right, they might seem to have it all, but they’re dumb as rocks. And they have sex. And we all know that’s gross!
Watching the character Sonezaki move through her high school life in O Maidens in Your Savage Season, it’s not hard to guess what kind of character she identifies with in those many novels she reads. She is, after all, a True Intellectual, a Tormented Outsider, and truly, deeply, much more mature than those silly girls in her class with their shortened skirts and eyeshadow and interest in boys. They are The Other Girls in the tropey teen movie that is Sonezaki’s life, and she is clearly the Bookish Heroine. Except, of course, it’s a little more complex than that—as the series has begun to dig into with her personal arc. Continue reading