If you're into young adult books at all, you've probably read at least one story about a girl who has been on the path to college forever--she's got the grades, the extra-curriculars, the after-school job... But, since a story needs a conflict, a couple things might happen. She could go through something that takes all that away from her (her parents lost their jobs, she got in an accident and can never play soccer again, her family moves across the country).
OR she gradually, throughout the novel, realizes that she's more than grades or a college, and she begins to be more spontaneous, less of a perfectionist. This is the case in Melissa Kantor's Better Than Perfect, which I read last week and loved. I was completely engaged the whole time, and I found myself wanting to be friends with almost all of the characters.
However, there was a little nagging thought in the back of my mind the whole time I was reading. While being obsessed with grades/college to the point that you're pushing away friends and family isn't something I'd advocate, I'm usually a little disappointed in the main character by the end of the book. I mean, all too often, the girl gives up some of what she's worked for--whether it's because she wanted to join a band or just wanted to spend some time hanging out with friends.
Now. Again, there is no problem with taking breaks and doing something enjoyable with your time, and if school is stressing you out, I understand the want to do something else. BUT I'm having a lot of trouble finding books about a smart girl character where the girl keeps working towards college or whatever her original goal was.
Maybe that's the point--maybe YA fiction is telling me that it isn't enough to be smart; you have to go out and experience things. But shouldn't we have some examples of smart girls who retain their hardworking ways by the end?
Of course, I'm not ignoring Hermione Granger or Annabeth Chase characters, but their stories weren't based around them being smart girls. Hermione had to help Harry fight Voldemort, and Annabeth went on quests with Percy, to save the world. Both exceptional things--but not exactly a story written about the smart girl trope.
All I want is a story about a straight-A student who wants to get into college, has some conflict, and remains on the track she started on. It seems like reading too many stories where a smart girl gives up her hardworking ways could send the wrong message to the smart girls reading them.
(By the way: I really, really liked Better Than Perfect. And I've generally enjoyed other books like it. I wasn't so much arguing against those books--because I do think they have a valid point--as much as arguing for more variety in the "smart girl" character.)