The entire purpose of young adult literature is to connect with the unique experiences of preteens and teenagers. Successful authors seek to uncover the raw, emotional reality behind these tumultuous, angst-filled years and tell a story that resonates with readers in an organic way. The problem with YA novels, however, is that it is impossible to cater to every unique identity and every particular life struggle. Authors that expand their representation may be viewed as pandering, or their attempts to address particularities may read as inauthentic or forced. They may be met with criticism from parent groups, religious sects, or school boards when the representation presented stretches beyond what has been previously deemed acceptable. Yet when a YA author can successfully, authentically, and unabashedly deviate from the typical trope, the results are both magical and refreshing––particularly for those readers who have always existed outside of that trope in the first place.
The most impressive element of Ruth Tenzer Feldman’s Seven Stitches lies in its bold representation of underrepresented communities. This includes its deviation from a typical YA trope, as Feldman seeks to prove that a strong, independent young woman can change the world, and she can do so without a man by her side. Casting aside the typical “girl-meets-boy, boy-helps-girl, girl-accomplishes-something-amazing-but-somehow-this romance-is-still-the-endgame” ideology, Seven Stitches actually manages to avoid romance altogether. Even when the female protagonist, Meryem, has a fleeting moment of romantic interest in a male character (trying my hardest not to spoil it, guys!), it never comes to fruition. I’d even go so far as to argue that she was not romantically interested in him in the first place, but rather she felt a connection because of being so lonely for so long in a post-earthquake disaster area, stuck with insufferable aunts and her best friend, the goat.
As an individual who could have seriously benefited from a YA novel without a girl-meets-boy plotline, I applaud Feldman for her blatant deviation. On behalf of myself and others like me who fall outside of the typical YA heterosexual spectrum, I’d like to thank her for unapologetically avoiding the norm. If young adult literature is meant to promote representation and expose the emotional truth of what it’s like to be a preteen or teenager in all its angsty, sweaty, uncomfortable, awkward glory, then it is in the hands of the authors and the publishers (by extension) to tell a tale that is both unique and relatable. It is important to recognize that not every reader is straight or white or religious or interested in romance or close with their parents. It is important to tell those stories so that they can resonate with those who need them most.
Meryem Zarfati is a strong, independent, self-sufficient young woman who devotes her life to helping her family through a time of crisis. She cares and she gives and she works tirelessly with little to no assistance, and ultimately she uses her passion to benefit the greater good. Meryem is an ideal female role model for a young adult audience——particularly because her story has nothing to do with romance. Linking her with a male love interest would take away from her focus and, quite honestly, would cheapen her success while lessening the impact of the incredible story that Seven Stitches seeks to tell.