Defending Ellie: Unlikeable Teen Girl Characters

My latest post is up at the Ploughshares blog, and this month I’m talking about judging characters by how likeable or relatable they are.

“Likeablity” is a big issue for YA writers and readers. Teen characters, especially teen girl characters, are easily judged for being ‘annoying’ or ‘bitchy’ or for making bad choices–which is how teens and people in general are in real life. We make bad choices, we complain, we say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and that’s part of what makes us human. Even more importantly, it’s a place from which we can grow and learn from these mistakes. YA is all about growing and learning and becoming the person you’re going to be for the rest of your life. Why should that always be ‘likeable?’

In the post, I include a reference to The Whale and teen character Ellie, one of the most unlikeable and most pained teen characters I’ve seen. Although The Whale is decidedly not YA, when I saw the play and heard audience reaction to how unlikeable and seemingly irredeemable Ellie is, I really wanted to have the opportunity to defend her. She’s a mean person who does/says some awful things, but all of her cruelty comes from a place of sadness and anger and grief and isolation. I hope more readers and viewers can take the opportunity to asses characters like Ellie (again, especially teen girl characters) and understand what makes them mean or annoying or frustrating.

Check out the whole post, and share your thoughts on likeability, relatability, and readability.

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