Wendy is a lawyer who works a lot. She’s extremely professionally successful. She’s also emotionally damaged. Her parents are dead, and she’s an only child who basically raised herself. An aunt she loves but doesn’t have a ton in common with is her only surviving family. As a result, she’s extremely loyal to her crew of best friends. She doesn’t have the time or the inclination for romance—or so she thinks!—so she keeps things in that department confined to friends-with-benefits types of arrangements. Wendy also doesn’t mince words. She’s famous for her potty mouth (her friends keep trying to set her up with a swear jar), and if she is displeased with you, you’ll know it.
Wendy is what we might traditionally call “unlikeable.” We throw that word around a lot in Romanclandia. It’s supposed to be a bad thing in a heroine. (As an aside: here’s a secret about Wendy. She was originally a heck of a lot more “unlikeable.” In the first draft of this book, she was actively trying to derail her friend Jane’s wedding. I was thinking of her as a spy almost, conducting her mission of sabotage from the inside. But my editor gently—and correctly—pointed out that trying to ruin your best friend’s wedding and sabotage her happiness is actually kind of a terrible thing to do, even if you have your reasons! It’s not just unlikable; it’s unredeemable.)
So Wendy flirts with unlikability, perhaps. You know who else was “unlikable,” at least at the beginning? Cameron, the hero of One and Only. If you read the book, it probably took you a little bit of time to warm to him. He was kind of a jerk in the beginning. You had to hang in there, peel back the layers, and understand why.
But we don’t usually call heroes “unlikable,” I’ve noticed. It goes without saying that there’s a double standard at work here. Heroes are “grumpy” or “cranky,” and—here’s the kicker—we usually like them for it.
What if we stopped classifying heroines (and maybe women in general!) based on whether they are worthy of our regard and just used specific words to describe them, the same way we do heroes? Is she unlikable or is she cripplingly shy? Or singularly career-focused? Or maybe prickly?
Or even prickly presenting, which suggests that she might not be exactly what she seems—that there are layers to peel back, just as with jerky heroes.
A prickly presenting heroine feels like something I can get behind, and increasingly so. Maybe it’s the explosion of interesting, less traditional romance made possible by the e-book and indie publishing revolutions. Maybe it’s living through the era of #MeToo.
Or maybe I’m just becoming prickly in my old age.
Whatever it is, long live the prickly presenting heroine.
Jenny is giving away copies of It Takes Two to two lucky US or Canadian readers. Make a comment below to be enter in this drawing.
Jenny Holiday is a USA Today bestselling author who started writing at age nine when her awesome fourth-grade teacher gave her a notebook and told her to start writing some stories. She lives in London, Ontario, with her family. For more on Jenny and her books, please visit jennyholiday.com.