A high school media specialist cornered me during a conference for the American Library Association two years ago and thanked me for creating a strong female lead character in my book series. She mentioned that this character, Triana, seemed to represent a lot of positive traits that I emphasized with my non-profit foundation.
That was by design. When I wrote The Comet’s Curse, the first book in the Galahad series, I intentionally created an action/adventure series with a sixteen-year-old girl as the lead character. You get the sense that Triana is attractive, but that’s not the overriding image you take away. Instead, what you grasp is a young woman who shoulders more responsibility than any other character, someone with very-human doubts and insecurities, but a strength that is inspiring.
So, yes, the characters in the Galahad book series reflect something that I believe is critical in working with today’s students: understanding that Smart Is Cool. It’s a slogan that we use to explain the message of my foundation, The Big Brain Club.
Too many young people sacrifice their future for the sake of trying to fit in with some ridiculous notion of what’s cool; they can’t visualize how the academic decisions they make today affect their tomorrow. Some people mistakenly believe that this is primarily a “boy” issue, but no. Blowing off education is a problem that afflicts both boys and girls. They just do it for different reasons, although both are tied to image and perception.
Boys (in general) are mostly concerned with how manly they’re perceived. It’s why so many of them abandon books at an early age, because in their minds reading is a “chick thing.” They tend to default to sports and other macho activities, a type of chest-beating that doesn’t seem to allow room for academics.
Girls, on the other hand, are strongly influenced by pop culture, and there’s no question that the message they hear - over and over again - is that the hotter you are, the more popular you are. Sadly, too many young women blow off their education - and often substantially dumb down - to fit society’s tragically flawed image of cool and “hot.”
Triana’s looks? Secondary, on purpose. My subtle message to girls: Yes, take care of yourself physically, but your brain will serve you long, long after you or anyone else is worried about your looks.
The Big Brain Club helps young people to become the best version of themselves, no matter what their calling may be. We recognize that boys and girls are deflected from their academic path for different reasons, but with the same tragic consequences.
So while conventional wisdom may hold that boys are more likely to dump their education for the sake of being cool, girls feel equally strong - yet distinct - pressure from the confusing world around them. It’s our job as authors, educators, bloggers, and friends, to provide the counter-pressure. Smart Is Cool.
Dom Testa is the author of the award-winning Galahad series of YA books, beginning with The Comet’s Curse, a Top Shelf choice by the American Library Association. Find out more at www.DomTesta.com.
He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people recognize that Smart Is Cool. You can find out more - and support the cause! - by visiting www.BigBrainClub.com.