Tanaz Bhathena: YA Girls Behaving Badly

Tanaz Bhathena's debut novel is A Girl Like That, "a timeless exploration of high-stakes romance, self-discovery, and the lengths we go to love and be loved." We adore her recommended reading lists of YA girls behaving badly, girls who will no doubt inspire readers to persist in being themselves. 

*****

As a teen I was, by most accounts, a “good girl.” The girl who obeyed her parents without question. One who followed all the rules. In literature, however, I always gravitated to girls unlike myself—the so-called “bad girls.” The troublemakers, the misfits, the rebels. These are girls whose actions seem to infuriate everyone around them even when they’re being themselves or, perhaps, especially when they’re being themselves.

Where real life often failed, literature allowed me to see each of these girls in a different light and understand them better. As I grew older, they challenged me to push my own boundaries and act on impulses I might have suppressed as a teen. More importantly, they encouraged me to accept my imperfections and embrace the parts of myself I didn’t fully love.

These recent Canadian young adult novels stood out to me in the same spirit—books whose so-called badly behaved female protagonists had me rooting for them all the way to the end.

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Saints and Misfits, by S. K. Ali

Janna Yusuf is a misfit. A practicing Muslim who doesn’t fit in at school because of her hijab, but doesn’t quite fit in with the girls at her mosque either. A girl who secretly crushes on a non-Muslim boy and must pretend that she genuinely likes her brother’s saintly girlfriend. A girl who can, by no means, tell anyone about Farooq, the devout boy from her mosque who tried to sexually assault her. When Janna’s uncle asks Farooq to lead prayers at their local mosque, Janna must decide if it’s worth breaking her silence once and for all.

S. K. Ali has written a vivid and engaging book about a Muslim teen in North America. The book challenges prejudice and stereotypes both in and outside the Muslim community with a cast of diverse, multifaceted characters. Saints and Misfits was a book I finished in one sitting and one that I recommend for everyone.

*

Book Cover All the Rage

All the Rage, by Courtney Summers

Romy Grey knows that the sheriff’s golden son, Kellan, isn’t the boy everyone believes him to be. And telling the truth about him lost her friends, family, making her an outcast in her community. Bullied relentlessly at school, Romy focuses on the only things she can control—her appearance—her red lipstick and red nail polish an armor against the world. However, when a girl Romy knows goes missing after a party, Romy knows she can’t remain silent any longer. 

I was full of rage when I first read All The Rage and three years later I’m still thinking about it. This novel doesn’t shy away from exploring difficult themes or showing us exactly what’s wrong with the world in terms of how it treats girls and women. In true Courtney Summers’ fashion, the writing is ruthless, honest, and utterly brilliant.

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Book Cover Firsts

Firsts, by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Mercedes Ayres had a bad experience at losing her virginity. Ever since then, she has vowed to fix this for other girls, by teaching their virgin boyfriends exactly what they’re doing wrong in bed so that they can give their girlfriends a perfect first time. She doesn’t expect the boys she’s helping to leak her secret about these lessons, or fall for a boy who truly likes her for who she is. Now, with her carefully structured life unravelling, Mercedes must decide what to do next and where her heart belongs.

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn’s book is both fearless and compelling and will challenge many preconceived notions about sex and female sexuality. There are so many shades to a character like Mercedes and the author brings them all out in a way that is both relatable and compassionate.  

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Book Cover The Last Namsara

The Last Namsara, by Kristen Ciccarelli

Asha, princess of Firgaard, can draw out dragons by telling them stories. After drawing forth a dragon and a terrible fire that nearly burns down the kingdom and leaves Asha disfigured, she becomes the Iskari, the most feared dragon slayer in the land. As a girl, however, Asha’s destiny is to marry cruel commandant Jarek—unless she can bring home the head of Kozu, the oldest and most terrible dragon of them all. Things grow more complicated when Asha begins to have visions in which she’s warned against killing Kozu and develops feelings for a slave named Torwin.

I was completely captivated by Kristen Ciccarelli’s debut novel, which is the first in a fantasy series. Asha is fierce and cruel and not always likable, and the reasons for this become clear the further we get into the novel. The action in this book does not detract from the sensitivity with which the characters are drawn, resulting in a story that is ultimately about slaying dragons—though not always in the form we imagine for them. 

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About A Girl Like ThatSixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school.You don't want to get involved with a girl like that,they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that. This beautifully written debut novel from Tanaz Bhathena reveals a rich and wonderful new world to readers; tackles complicated issues of race, identity, class, and religion; and paints a portrait of teenage ambition, angst, and alienation that feels both inventive and universal.

March 1, 2018
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