I Don’t Give a Damn About My Bad Reputation…Why I Love the Bad Girl in YA Literature

Ode to the Bad Girls

This goes out to the bad girls. The girls who were never called ‘sweet’ or ‘nice’, the ones no one ever dreamed of bringing home to meet their parents. The girls who had attitudes, who dressed slutty or punk or different. The girls that dance on tables even if they’re wearing skirts, the girls that go out at night wearing clothes that resemble lingerie, the girls who never had a problem getting into the bars even without an ID. For the girls that drank all the guys under the table without breaking a sweat. 

This is for the girls who slept with guys who had girlfriends, the girls who hooked up with the guy their friend was in love with, the girls who were unashamedly only looking for a fun night with no strings attached. This is for the girls who know how fun men are, but how much more fun it is to mess with them. This is for the girls who flip-flop between being teases and sluts for only reasons they will know, for the girls who dumped a guy because he was ‘nice’.  For the girls that played the field and won the game.

I didn’t write that little ditty (here is the source ) but I love it because it perfectly sums up one of my favorite archetypes in literature, especially YA literature: the bad girl. 

We all know about the bad boy, and I love him too, but I have to also admit to being as fond, if not fonder, for his kissing cousin, the bad girl.

Bad girls are not to be confused with the mean girl archetype.

And they are not to be confused with the bad ass/ kick butt heroine girl archetype.

Bad girls are a different animal altogether. I mean, what’s not to love about a bad girl in literature? Bad girls, like their male counterparts, are FUN. They have attitude. They usually have a great sense of humor. They are confident (or are they?) And above all, they are UNAPOLOGETIC about their actions. Who are some of my favorite bad girls from YA literature? Here are a few…

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
Remy is the quintessential ‘bad girl.’
She’s snarky, she’s smart, she likes to party.
She’s a serial dater. Remy’s motto?
Love ’em and leave ’em fast.
That way you no one gets hurt.

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols
Meg is an awesome example of a bad girl.
She looks the part, she’s sorta punk rock,
complete with blue hair.
She has sex for kicks, not for love,
and she has no problems with breaking the law.
Mostly she wants out of her small town life.
Who, she wonders, in their right mind
would want to stay?
The Believing Game by Eileen Corrigan
Greer might just be the baddest of bad girls,
so bad she ends up in a high end reform school.
She’s a kleptomaniac, anorexic,
sex obsessed teen who has hit rock bottom.
Until things get worse.

Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally
Parker likes to kiss guys. A lot.
And she doesn’t really have any issues
with letting the world know it.
In fact, she WANTS the world to know it because maybe then they’ll forget
that her mom just came out as a lesbian.

Saving June by Hannah Harrington
Harper’s bad-ness seems to derive from her need to stand apart from her ultra good girl sister, June.
She’s snarky, petulant, and can be kinda fierce.
Then her perfect sister commits perfect suicide
and everything changes.

A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger

Whitley likes to PART-Y!
She’s got a reputation and that’s all good with her.
She can’t wait for college where she’s sure everyone will be JUST LIKE HER.
But things get a little complicated when her latest boy toy turns out to be more
then the one night stand she had in mind.

It seems to me that the bad girl isn’t as prevalent as the bad boy in many of the books I read, and I often wonder why? When I decided to write this discussion I thought about bringing up the differences in how readers view the bad girl and the bad boy in books. I thought about the double standard that bad girls face. I thought about why most YA bad girls are written as ‘bad’ because something ‘made’ them that way. All the bad girls I mentioned above are ‘bad’ for a reason: family issues, a traumatic event in their life, or a personal loss. But bad boys on the other hand, are often ‘bad’ just because. Just because they CAN. This is definitely NOT a new topic by any means. But being a reader of YA literature, it’s a topic that I think about often because it’s so present in the books I read.

And all that got me thinking about another favorite book and author interview I did recently that had a great bad girl protagonist. One of the author’s answers in particular struck a chord with me.

The Flyleaf Review: One of the things I loved most about Drain You was the character of Quinn Lacey because she is not your typical YA heroine. She’s an unapologetic slacker, she manipulates her parents and friends to serve her own means, and she juggles not one, but three different guys through the course of the book. To me, Quinn is written almost like a stereotypical “bad boy” and I LOVED that. I think her flaws make her character more authentic and that there is a little bit of Quinn in all of us (whether we want to admit to it or not.) When you were writing Drain You did you think about how very different Quinn was in regards to other female leads in today’s YA literature?

M. Beth Bloom: Absolutely. That was in fact my inspiration for the book. Female leads in so much fiction – particularly YA – drive me CRAZY. Women characters aren’t typically allowed to be as three-dimensional as men, and I’m here to change that. Quinn is a total bad boy, not in the rebellious way, but in certain immature and obnoxious ways – just like I feel like I was and many of my friends were. And why is it that men are always the ones stringing women along when that’s usually NOT how it is in adolescence? We’re the far more sketchy gender at that age!

I love that Bloom answered my question that way. And of all the books I’ve mentioned, only Drain You’s protagonist perfectly emulates the prototypical bad boy. Quinn is a bad girl just because she can be. Just because she wants to be. I for one, think that’s pretty darn awesome. I would love to see more female protagonists break through the stereotypes that dictate what’s “appropriate” behavior for girls and boys.

What do you think? Would you like reading more “unapologetic-and-bad-just-because-she-can-be” books? Or do you think that type of female character would be too inaccessible to most readers and someone they would have a hard time connecting to or empathizing with? Not sure? Head over to author Keirsten White’s (Paranormalcy, Supernaturally and Endlessly) 2010 post I’m Hot for Your Stereotype, where she plays around with gender stereotypes. Then come back and tell me your thoughts on the bad girl in YA literature!

Want to read more? My pal Jen has some things to say today about this topic as well! Head over to Jen Ryland/ Ya Romantics’ Bad Girl Post and read all her thoughts on the subject!