Pick yourself first

“We condition young girls into believing the only thing that will give them value is to find a man. Not even to love them. Just to pick them.” Clementine Ford.*

Asa, Dirt Circus League’s kick-arse heroine, has zero interest in being “picked”.

female athlete fighter

Strong boundaries

Asa has her own “happy ever after” to achieve and it has nothing to do with romance. She’s not all that interested in a “happy for now” boyfriend either.

Asa has a strong sense of her boundaries when it comes to who she chooses to let near her body. She’s physically tough and strong and when she says “don’t touch me” she is not mucking around. She’ll back up those words with force if she has to.

That doesn’t mean she’s immune to physical attraction or that she doesn’t have internal battles to deal with when it comes to considering a what type of relationship she will choose for herself.

She is attracted to Quarter. She feels a strong connection to him. But when I was developing and writing her character I never considered this to be a romantic connection.

Sexual attraction is not romance

Dr Amanda Allen, an expert in romance fiction for young adults, agreed that Dirt Circus League is not a YA romance, regardless of the sexual attraction.

“The reason is that the amorphous concept of love—not sex, although sex is important in romance—is usually fundamental to definitions of popular romance,” Dr Allen said.

Asa thinks Quarter is sexy. She is immediately drawn to his aloofness and bad boy persona. There is a strong physical attraction that both characters feel even though they don’t fully understand it.

But she quickly dismisses any ideas of romance.

In chapter 10 she describes a “falling sensation” through her belly when she sees Quarter in the garden, describing him as “unearthly” and “beautiful”.

Then she quickly snaps back into reality, telling herself, “This was not the time for romantic fantasies.”

Sorting fact from fantasy

Asa’s physical attraction to Quarter was important because I wanted her to figure out the difference between sexual attraction and love and come to understand what was most important to her.

It’s really easy to frame someone in the way you want to see them rather in the way they really are.

And at first she does construct an unrealistic image of Quarter in her own mind.

As the story unfolds, rather than being blinded by the sexual attraction, she challenges herself to see through it and to sort fact from fantasy.

She does not blindly follow Quarter. She is not remotely interested in being his side-kick.

Although it takes some time for her to realise her own value and worth as a person, she never considers that her own self-worth is tied to what Quarter thinks about her.

love yourself

If you can't love yourself how the hell you gonna love someone else?

The number one thing I wanted for Asa as a character was for her to realise that she was enough.

Teenagers especially are at risk of believing that having a boyfriend/girlfriend/partner equals having value as a person.

The reality is that self-acceptance is much more important than being in a romantic relationship.

No matter what your age, it’s more important to understand who you are, where you belong, and to love yourself.

I wanted Asa to subvert the hetero-normative social conditioning that equates having a boyfriend with having value for girls and young women.

Through her actions and by reflecting on those actions, Asa discovers more about herself — the good and the bad — until ultimately she understands that she is enough.

Enough for herself, enough by herself.

*taken from an insta video Ford posted on 7 April 2021 – Don’t teach girls to aspire to marriage

More girl power reading

If you’re keen to read more YA where girl power rules, have a look at my list of favourite YA sci-fi/fantasy novels.