Strong Young Women at the End of the World

By Jason Bovberg

A few years ago, I picked up Alden Bell’s The Reapers Are the Angels, and it changed the way I read post-apocalyptic horror. The book’s world-weary protagonist, Temple, had a distinctive voice and a strong presence. She was a jaded survivalist, and yet she was beautiful in her humanity. She was young, and whip-smart, and captivating.

That was the book that I call the major influence on my book Blood Red. I wanted to explore a brutal, weird, end-of-the-world scenario from the perspective of a kid, too. In the case of my book, I wanted to test the mettle of a spoiled teenager, Rachel. I wanted to see how she could handle an unprecedented and utterly horrifying new reality, thrown like acid in her face. I wanted to see her grow up in a hurry.

I knew she would make some rash decisions, from simple lack of experience in the world. I knew she would fail in some ways. (Some BIG ways, it turns out.) But I also wanted her to have a basic level of intelligence that might help her achieve a leadership role in her new world. Where everyone else is succumbing to panic and horror, I wanted Rachel to keep her head—against all odds—and be the smartest person in the room.

In Blood Red, 96 percent of humanity has fallen to the ground, unresponsive, and these bodies are becoming something altogether new and terrifying—and it’s this mystery that Rachel needs to address, even as she desperately searches for her missing father. Is she up to the task? Perhaps, but she’ll have to let go of a lot of old baggage, as well as her persona as a “child,” to become the heroine she’s meant to be.

For me, there’s something elemental about casting a young woman as the protagonist in an extreme horror story. Perhaps I’m also influenced by such horror films as Halloween (in which Jamie Curtis is the iconic teenaged babysitter stalked by a supreme evil) and Nightmare on Elm Street (in which Heather Langenkamp is the girl facing an unspeakable dream monster) and Hellraiser (in which Ashley Laurence faces the demons of Hell). Yes, young women like these encapsulate the notion of innocence lost, but they’re also excellent everywomen, letting the audience easily identify with their childlike fear of the unknown or supernatural or monstrous.

I asked several of my fellow Permuted Press authors to add their voices to this article. All of these authors have also chosen to use young women or girls as their main characters, and they all have interesting thoughts about doing so.

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