Friday, 26 November 2010

Redheads Rule!

Redheads get a lot of crap. Whether in reality or in fictional settings, our red headed brethren get the short shrift. Ginger, ranga (Aussie slang short for orangutan) or Big Red are all common means of lumping all those with red variant hair into one group. If they are in a bad mood it is instantly assumed to be a personality trait!  Some redheads, most, are unfortunate enough to have pale skin also and all that accompanies that - blushing, freckles and an increased chance of skin cancer. I think we can all agree that that is plenty to deal with without the name calling and the assumptions.

When Joelle Anthony published her thoughts on overused elements of MG/YA fiction, the red headed best friend came in second.  This post was first published in 2007 (and has since been updated) but I would argue that in my experience it isn't that common.  In fact, I believe slutty best friend trumps redhead best friend in spades.

After my discussion on negative versus critical reviews yesterday, I wanted to shine some positivity on a deserving group.  While issues of eating disorders, racism and sexual identity are all issues that are getting some attention - what about the red head minority? They are one of the unsung troopers of the YA world.  They need all the positivity they can get!

Ron Weasley (Harry Potter series - JK Rowling)

I am declaring him the unofficial public face of the YA redhead plight.  Not only is he ginger haired but he's from a long line of similarly afflicted wizards.  Genetics deemed that there was no escape in the Weasley household.

Never was there a better character to fly the flag for red hair tolerance than Ron.  Brave, foolhardy, loyal and in love with a girl with brains - what more can we ask for?

James (Audrey, Wait by Robin Benway)

Alas there is no picture for this understanding cutie pie.  James answers the question - who said a romantic interest can't be adorned with a red crown of glory? one actually asked that question but this dude is amongst the best representations of a nice guy who is interesting.  It is like he's an Abominable Snowman or Bigfoot - a complete anomaly (nice and interesting, red haired romantic interest).  Brave to Benway for achieving the impossible and pushing forward the red haired dude's right to win the protagonist's heart!

Fire (Fire by Kristin Cashore)

We have to put some chicks into the mix.  Fire sports a particularly awesome shade of red as she's part monster.  Lucky she was raised in a fantastical medieval world as high school would have been a special type of hell for her.  Fire's strong, determined and a brilliant representative of her kind (whether that be monster, female or redhead - you decide.)

Plus...I really want her tresses.

Clary (Mortal Instruments series - Cassandra Clare)

When Cassandra Clare's lead isn't fielding kisses from her assumed brother, her actual brother or her geeky vamp best mate she is mixing it up with the bad guys.  A proactive, decisive, empowered character who breaks the best friend mold to be a fantastic fantasy protagonist!

There will be fisticuffs if the movie casting goes in another hair colour direction for casting.

...I can hear you screaming, I am getting to her...

Apologies for quality but this is
from a 1926 edition that I own.
Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables etc - LM Montgomery)

While her carrot plaits might have started off in MG territory she cruised on through to YA.  Have pity on Anne, she hated her hair more than anyone else could have (she even tried to dye it to ill affect).  But she gained an education and won Gilbert's heard...enough said.

She (and Montgomery) also introduced me to the Lady of Shallot for which I shall be forever grateful.

Alanna of Trebond/Olau/etc (Song of the Lioness series - Tamora Pierce)

Is anyone else noticing a pattern here?  Strong, kick ass heroines from fantasy YA titles seem to be leading the redhead charge.  Alanna preceded all mentioned so far and rightly so.  She's is the grandmother of all awesomely empowered female protagonists regardless of their hair's hue.  At the age of ten she swaps identities with her twin brother and in disguise goes through years of knight training.  How unbelievably awesome is that?  How unbelievably awkward does that get as the years go by?  Hair colour was never a concern for Alanna, she had more things to worry about eg poisoning, invasion, conspiracies.

If she had to worry about her hair, I would find the male styling to be a greater issue :)

Amy (I Love You I Hate You I Miss You - Elizabeth Scott)

We needed a redheaded train wreck and here we have one!  She drinks excessively.  She sleeps around.  She thinks of herself as nothing.  And her best friend just died.  Amy's one ball full of pain, anger and grief.  She also happens to be incredibly raw and real.    Poor Amy doesn't seem to have acclimatised to being a redhead ball of awesome as she describes her hair as "...the color red leaves are right before they rot."  She needs some love, people!

Other suggestions (via twitter)

  • Alan from Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Lexicon
  • Eliza from Shirley Marr's Fury
  • Gemma from Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty etc
Are redheads underrepresented in YA?  Are they over-represented as best friends?  Should we be waving our red head flag?  Who have I blindly left off the list?


Ynysawdre Elderly Residents Association said...

I actually dye my hair red so what can I say Red Hair ROCKS :D
Also loads of covers have girls with red hair on - Entangled comes to mind.

Miss Bookiverse said...

I love red hair, especialy on girls. If a girl has natural red hair I'd consider her very lucky. Did you know there is a special event in the Netherlands on which redheads from all over the world meet? I read about it the other day. The photos were great :D
You chose some pretty kick ass characters, my favourite would be Gemma and Clary :)

Booklady said...

My natural hair color is brown with red highlights. When I was kid/teen it would turn auburn on it's own if I spent enough time out in the sun. And yes I have the pale skin with freckles. After dealing with yet another sunburn and lamenting about being able to play connect the dots with my freckles, my Granny suggested I forgo the sun (which only worked during the summer anyway) and give my hair a little boost from a bottle. And I've been some shade of red ever since. It seems to me that characters with red hair are always more interesting. And in many stories they are the ones with all the magical ability/qualities.

Michelle B. said...

This character isn't from YA fiction, but I still feel the need to mention her because she's awesome!

Katy Kane AKA Batwoman; she's had more than one incarnation in the DC universe, but her current one is an amazing character. She's an ex-military who was kicked out because she's gay, so she turns to crime fighting instead.

Here are some pictures (the art in her comic run is absolutely amazing) in which she gets to show off her red locks:

Emma (the Expat) said...

YES! Alanna! Loved those books when I was younger, definitely one of my favorite redheads of literature.
This is a great post!

Alix said...

I think the whole Weasley Family fly the flag for red heads :)

I can't think of any more examples from books, but Dr Who's new companion (best friend), Amy, has red hair and is awesome :)

Shirley Marr said...

thanks for the mention Adele and hella yeah, redheads rock and are totally underrepresented positively in literature - I'm glad you made this post about it!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a long time lurker, but have to leave a comment on the redheads, as they seem to make great characters. A recent find was Kat from Lene Kaaberbol's Silverhorse, who is a fiery redhead. Great book. Also Margaret Mahy's Garland Maddigan from Maddigan's Quest/Fantasia. I'm fairly sure that Mahy has redheads in a few of her YA novels.

lanna-lovely said...

I have red hair (and my name is actually Alanna - I'm now tempted to read those books). It used to bother me when I was younger, but it turned a darker shade of red as I got older and I've never dyed it -- I kind of like having an uncommon hair colour and for it to be natural instead of from a bottle. =/

But anyway, it doesn't bother me at all whether there are too few redhead characters in YA or if they're often best friends instead of the main character it's just a hair colour. *shrugs*

Adele said...

Yes, red heads rule.

There's a lovely ditty on this that you should check out by comedian Tim Minchin -

Anonymous said...

Oh my, you just reminded when I fell in love with Lady of the Shallot too. I was re-reading my diary from when I was in high school and found pages of quotes from L. M. Montgomery. I was obsessed with her and have the whole collection of books. I'm so looking forward to sharing the journey with Sofia when she's old enough to read them.

Ruby said...

hehe I am as read-headed/curly-haired as they come and I am loving all this positivity. Cheers Adele :)

Alyssa said...

I've totally been noticing the redheads in YA lit recently. In fact, it gave me the idea for a blog! A blog I named Redhead Heroines.
Thanks for an awesome post!
PS: I'm "strawberry blond," so almost a redhead :)

Judith said...

Thanks for this post. It wasn't easy being a redhead at school a few decades ago, so positive characters will certainly help anyone else who's experiencing the same angst's I did over their genetic inheritance.

Thianca said...

I'm a natural redhead. But my hair isn't the typical red shade, it's golden. In the sun, it goes even more to the gold, and it really shines. But i love it. On the winter it turns more towards the red, and becomes darker. I've also got extremly pale skin, and i haven freckles and really blue eyes. The changes between dark blue/light blue. I hated it when i was little, but i've learned to love it. I've sometimes been called exotic, firelike, and all that, but there's a dark side to it. i got teased very much, called "ginger", "pippi" and so on. I did all i could to hide it. But now, i'm actually getting extensions with my colour, because i love it, and wants to have more of it to show ;)