The secret is out: one of the main reasons I have been reading and reviewing so many YA books is because I am writing my own. I feel quite grateful that many of the authors whose books I hope to emulate in some form or another have accepted to contribute to my blog in the form of the Author Spotlight feature.
Andrea’s Pyros’ My Epic Year of Rock impresses in the way the narrative is not turned into a simplified, black and white, good versus evil story. While Nina—the main character—was angry and upset at her former best friend, Brianna, neither the latter was painted as evil nor the former as an innocent bystander. This goes against a lot of the images we are fed in mainstream media, in which extreme drama created by the collision of bad versus evil is encouraged, if not actively nurtured. I asked Andrea if she would be willing to share some thoughts on why she chose to avoid the stereotypical “mean girl” character, and here is what she had to say.
Avoiding Stereotypical Mean Girl Characters, by Andrea Pyros
Sahar, I’m glad you asked me to write about my new middle grade novel My Year of Epic Rock and how it explores the dissolution of a friendship without having a “mean girl” vs. “nice girl” battle at its core.
I admit my initial impulse was to write a more simplistic good vs. evil story, though! In my first draft, my main character Nina’s best friend Brianna dumps Nina for no reason and is seriously nasty about it—stereotypically so. I made Brianna into a social climber, and wrote her and her new best friend, Shelley, as one-dimensional, cruel mean girls. It’s understandable, right? It seemed like my book would be more dramatic and exciting if I showed Nina in the most flattering light and cast Brianna as the monster.
But it didn’t quite work.
Nina came off as a victim instead of a normal 12-year-old girl with strengths and weaknesses, and Brianna seemed less like a fairly obnoxious kid who could have been a whole lot more thoughtful about what she was doing, and more like a scheming character out of Heathers (side note: best movie ever).
I wasn’t doing my characters any favors having my story play out that way and it didn’t ring true. In the real world, sometimes friendships end because one person wants to move on, and there isn’t always a great reason. If you’re the one left behind, it stings and it sucks, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person doing the “breaking up” is pure, unadulterated evil. (Sometimes they are, though. Maybe that’s another story!)
I am a big fan of books that are real and relatable, so when I started revising, I spent a lot of time thinking about how we’ve all had our moments where we could have been nicer or kinder or more upfront with someone we were close to. That’s why I toned down Brianna’s cruelty, Shelley became more clueless than calculating, and Nina had her own moment of being unkind, too. My goal was for readers to see shades of grey in all the characters, and maybe even see themselves reflected in all the kids in this book, not just the “good” ones.
More information about Andrea Pyros is available on her website.
Originally published on 26 December 2014 on Sahar’s Blog.