I Want a Princess, but a Heroine Too!
By J.L. Clark
When I was growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on. Fairytales, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller, and adventure stories filled my mind during the day and colored my dreams at night. I was known as the brainy but shy girl in my class, but no one knew the side of me that was left behind when I immigrated to the United States from Taiwan just shy of my eighth birthday. My mother always enjoyed telling the stories of me in kindergarten, laughing about how I would lead the class in made-up dances and kept everyone in stitches. When we moved, though, I came to an alien place where everyone looked totally different than me, and spoke a language I could not understand. It was reading that taught me to speak English for the first year my family lived in the U.S., and it was my ESL teacher’s parting gift of Disney’s Cinderella in book form that left a lasting impression on me. Within the front cover, she praised me for the hard work I had put in, and told me that if I just kept reaching for the stars, I could make my dreams come true just like Cinderella did.
My desire to have a fairytale life drove me to work hard at school, and keep working on my communication skills as time went by. Soon, I was just like any normal teenage girl, worrying about my appearance, juggling my school assignments, and crushing on boys. I kept up with my love of reading, and had even started writing short stories and poetry through the years as a budding storyteller. However, one thing stuck out as I transitioned into a lot of the popular young adult books my friends and I were reading. Many times, the protagonist, if female, seemed to lead a perfect life, with doting parents, perfect hair and skin, a wardrobe that would make a celebrity stylist jealous, and a gorgeous and loyal boyfriend. For those female characters that didn’t start out with this glamorous life, they often would end up in the same place. Personally, I found that even though I really enjoyed the stories, my inability to completely relate to the main character (I was an awkward and nerdy teenager, I’ll admit it) left me feeling a bit unsettled.
With my strict but well-intentioned parents, I eventually put aside the reading and writing to focus on more stringent academic pursuits, and eventually graduated medical school. I began treating children and adolescents in my every day life, helping them deal with stressors, depression, anxiety, and a variety of other issues. When the new young adult fiction wave hit, I read the stories along with everyone else. However, I found that this time around I took even more issue with how female protagonists were portrayed. Why were some of the most popular books told from the perspective of a girl who was a blank slate before meeting the boy of her dreams? Why must the young woman only find strength in her romantic relationship, or change the way that she was to become more attractive to the young man she was with?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying those stories aren’t entertaining. I enjoyed them just as much as the next reader. Still, knowing that these were the “heroines” and the role models for the teenagers I saw daily just made me cringe. We speak about empowering young girls and women every day in the media, but yet we bombard them with books, television, and movies portraying weak female characters. I found a few series that were able to show some growth for their protagonists over the books, but then they were one-dimensional caricatures of real people. When I would discuss them with my colleagues, they all agreed, but also shrugged their shoulders in helplessness as to how to combat it. Then, one day, I decided to challenge the YA norm, and that is what brings me to you today.
Within a few months, the first book of my fantasy series The Avalon Relics, entitled Lilith Links, was completed and self-published. My title character, Sophia Bennett, has just entered adulthood at the age of eighteen, and as with many teenagers, she is wonderfully awkward, painfully insecure, but also extremely intelligent and kind-hearted. She has barely celebrated her birthday when her world is turned completely upside down. Within the span of days, she discovers a hidden magical world, meets half-human half-fairy beings called faeids, dodges an attempt on her life, falls into a budding (but complicated) romance, and discovers that she may not know herself as well as she thinks. She has to juggle her fears and worries as she goes on an adventure with some new friends, and eventually realizes that although life can change in a split second, it is not always for the worse.
The Avalon Relics was born out of a desire to tell an entertaining story wrapped in fantasy and magic, but grounded in realistic, flawed characters that learn from their mistakes and come into their own. It’s the kind of story that grabs you from the beginning, keeps you reading all night, and leaves you rooting for your favorite characters until the very end. You can be young or old, female or male, and the story will still connect with you because we all have common ground. Despite the fact that I have readers from every walk of life, I am most proud of the young women who have taken the time to reach out and let me know how much they love the way Sophia finds herself empowered along her journey.
I have had a wonderful time bringing Sophia and her world to life, and I hope that you will take the time to join her on her journey of discovery and magic!
As the faeids would say…Luceat Lux Vestra!
J.L. Clark is the author of the young adult fantasy novel series entitled The Avalon Relics. The first and second books, Lilith Links and Lailan Crown, follow an eighteen-year-old girl named Sophia who discovers there are magical half-fairy, half-human beings called faeids. Before she knows it, Sophia is pulled into a dangerous but intriguing mystery, and has to join forces with some new friends in a race against time. Can Sophia help the faeids take possession of an ancient magic, or will the Dark Ones triumph and destroy everything and everyone she holds dear?