Julia – Unlikable Heroine?
Happy Groundhog Day! Tonight – Thursday, February 2nd, at 6 PST / 9 EST – I’m joining Jen Comfort, author of Midnight Duet, on Instagram Live (@jen.comfort.author) to discuss “Unlikable Heroines!” What makes a heroine unlikable to some readers, but not others? And why have a string of recent reviews dubbed my heroine, Julia Dunphy, to be unlikable?
[WARNING: major plot spoilers for The Catch ahead!]
I’m honestly not too sure, but I suspect it partially comes down to differences in life experiences and values. For example, many readers, including Yours Truly, grew up learning that a good woman puts everyone else’s needs above her own. Readers who are still invested in that world view might take offense at a heroine like Julia who places her own needs on at least as even of a plane as those of others.
As a teenager and a young woman, Julia refuses to compromise her vision of her own future. And she also refuses to let William give up the college scholarship he's worked so hard for, just to be closer to her. She honestly believes she's doing the right thing for both of them, and that they can make a long distance relationship work.
But when she and William discover that the strain of their separation is more than they anticipated, she has a painful choice to make between her lifelong dreams or a relationship that has already started to break down.
Some readers might applaud Julia's conviction of purpose, while others might see that as a failure on Julia's part to make the compromises necessary to sustain a relationship. The way I see it is that it was a first-ever relationship for both Julia and William. They were both young, inexperienced, and insecure in their different ways. They both made their fair share of both good and bad choices, and those led to the outcome we see. I can relate to that, and I have a lot of empathy and compassion for the painful lessons they both learned.
Later, in the 2006 section of The Catch, Julia makes other choices that some readers might find questionable or even inappropriate. Many of these choices center around her getting her own emotional needs met at the same time that she's also tending to her troubled daughter's needs.
In my experience, you can’t draw water from a dry well. It’s critical to take time and energy to replete your own well so you can then return at full capacity and be fully present. It took me quite literally losing my mind to teach me the crucial importance of self-care, and of occasionally putting my own needs first.
However, Julia never prioritizes herself over her daughter Paige where it really counts. For example, in 2006, Julia allows herself to accept love, companionship, and support from William, as long as she believes it’s not harming Paige. But ultimately, when the rubber hits the road, she refuses to prioritize her relationship with William over Paige’s mental and emotional well-being. In that moment, she honestly believes she’s doing the right thing for the one person who depends on her the most and whose immediate and very pressing needs must take precedence. Not to mention the things she’s learned about William in the meantime, and the conflict those revelations introduce into their relationship. I don’t see her arriving at her decision lightly.
I also think that if a reader has never experienced spousal abandonment and the subsequent prospect of raising your kids alone, it might be harder to relate to the feelings and unmet needs that Julia struggles with. Speaking from personal experience, which is different from Julia’s but still in the same category – terrifying is too mild a word for it.
The idea of having to raise your children with no emotional or logistical support from any party… or of going without romance, affection, or intimacy for at least the next ten to fifteen years because you’re supposed to put someone else’s needs above your own one hundred percent of the time… and all of this because of someone else’s choices, not even your own? That’s a fabulous recipe for despair. I mean, can you even imagine? I wouldn’t wish those experiences on my worst enemy.
And when you find yourself in that kind of predicament, it’s really difficult to resist an offer of support from someone you believe to be safe, trustworthy, and loving. That’s what William represents to Julia – the promise of emotional and logistical support, love, and affection. And if she honestly believes all of that about William, I don’t see how anyone can judge her too harshly for making the choice to bring him into her bed at night after Paige has gone to sleep.
But I realize that most people have never survived the kinds of experiences Julia has. Maybe that’s why some readers find it hard to empathize and relate to the choices she makes. And maybe that’s why they find her unlikable for occasionally prioritizing her own happiness in all three sections of The Catch.
What makes a heroine unlikable in your opinion?
If you’ve read The Catch, I’d love to hear your honest opinion of Julia – and please do bring it on, because I swear I’m not the kind of fragile writer who can’t take criticism! What did you think of the choices Julia makes throughout the book? Let me know in the comments!
And to hear me and fellow author Jen Comfort dig deeper into what makes a heroine unlikable, tune in tonight at 6 PST / 9 EST on Instagram Live (@jen.comfort.author)!