For 'Twilight' Tuesday, we chat with experts about why young readers relate to the YA heroines.
No matter how you feel about "The Twilight Saga" as a film franchise,Stephenie Meyer's vampire romance inspired millions of young readers to pick up a book and read. Anything that gets young people to lose themselves in the written word — whether it's "Twilight," "The Hunger Games" or "Game of Thrones" — is a positive step.
This week's "Twilight" Tuesday is all about understanding what it is exactly about the characters in these books, particularly the very popular YA genre, that gets us obsessed and day-dreamy about them. Why do we love Bella and Katniss? What does that say about young readers today and the future of the genre? I took my questions to a few very informed experts.
"In terms of heroines now, I think what's really interesting about them is that, many of them, for example 'The Hunger Games,' certainly in my books, the characters don't necessarily start out being so fierce and badass, which I think to some extent would be not even off-putting, but alienating," she continued. "Because I'm not sure that people feel that way. I do think what's significant is that these characters are portrayed as being very much at the start, normal girls, but very moral normal girls who because of a set of very extraordinary circumstances are able to step into strength that they didn't know they possessed. I think that really resonates with people because everybody I assume would like to feel that, if given the chance, they could be someone special."
Dr. Jenn Berman, host and therapist on VH1's "Couples Therapy" said the love for both types of heroines hearkens back to classic literary characters we've loved for centuries.
"Both characters are appealing on a very archetypal level. One is very much a damsel in distress, this sort of empty, insecure vessel, which I think is very identifiable for young women," she explained. "The other is sort of this superhero, strong, independent woman who doesn't need anybody, which I think is also something that is very inspirational for women. In each one of us we have both of those entities, and as a result, people are drawn to these characters."
Kristin Rens, senior editor at HarperCollins, pointed out that while Bella and Katniss are pretty different, they also share a few qualities to which a lot of teens relate.
"Bella and Katniss are obviously very different characters. But one thing they have in common is their drive — the fact that they both very much know what they want, and they won't stop until they reach their goals," Rens said. "When you're a teen, there are so many parts of life that are out of your hands, so there's something very aspirational and appealing about characters like Bella and Katniss who are able to take control of their own lives, even when the odds are stacked against them."
Dr. Berman added that we all have a little damsel in distress in us, as well as a superhero; the trick is balancing them.
"In order to become fully formed people, we have to find a way to both make friends with our damsel in distress and find a way to rescue her on our own," she said. "As long as you understand why and what you need to do with that archetype, it's OK, but to romanticize the damsel-in-distress archetype, you set yourself up for unhealthy relationships. What you do [to prevent that] is you say, 'Wow, there is a part of me that would really like to be rescued, but I'm not going to give into that part of me. I'm going to rescue myself instead.' "
The same goes for the superhero Katniss archetype, however, in that romanticizing that type of woman can also set you up for an unhealthy perspective.
"Healthy relationships are interdependent," Berman said. "If you are an island, then you're not having an emotionally intimate relationship, so the truth of a healthy relationship lies somewhere in between both of these archetypes."