Our sensational posts from the South and West Branches this week got me thinking about books (ok, let’s be frank…almost everything get me thinking about books). I thought about previous posts on women whose literary contributions are continually under-valued by the publishing world, and women like Jeannette Rankin, who had to struggle all their lives to be the heroine of their own story. I was fortunate enough to learn about her in grade-school, and she had an indescribable impact on me.
And that got me thinking about the characters that we meet in growing up. How many books describe people becoming the heroes of their own story, and changing their world because of their actions? Any number of them…in fact, in a way, every book is a kind of coming of age tale…But how many of those books feature a woman, not just as a main character, but as the heroine? I don’t know about you, but it took me a moment to come up with some that weren’t genre-specific romance novels, or stories that forced women to survive impossible odds, like The Hunger Games…a sensational book, no doubt, but there is a difference between acting and reacting, about choosing and being chosen that I think is very important.
Perhaps is isn’t a big deal. If a book is well-written and the characters vivid enough, there is no reason that I, as a female, can’t relate to a male characters. I was entranced by, and cheered for Harry Potter as much as I did for Katniss Everdeen. Characters are usually human, just as I am human, and therefore, our emotions are, on some level, equitable, and our struggles share many common elements.
But there are things to consider here; because the truth is that it’s comparatively easy to be a hero. Privilege is a powerful thing, that often gets overlooked in many coming-of-age tales. Harry Potter isn’t judged for his looks, or ostracized for his intelligence in the same way Hermione is. He doesn’t have to prove himself and justify his existence day after day after day in the same way she does. Harry has challenges, certainly, but he is also given room to discover who he is and what he can do in a way that Hermione doesn’t. Also…what was the big controversy over Hermione’s character after the series’ finale? It was whom she (should have) married in the end. Ahem. I can think of plenty of other examples, but for now, in honor of a week of celebrating women being excellent, I thought I’d add a few books featuring heroines who are excellent, starting with some of the younger ones. So, without further ado…
IF you’d like some more heroines in your life, Then check out…
Matilda: This book was my salvation as a seven-year-old who was in the process of outgrowing fairy stories and felt utterly out-of-place in reality. And into the breach swooped Roald Dahl, and his wondrously wise, bookish, and charmingly out-of-place heroine. Stifled by parents who can’t appreciate her, and forced to attend a school with a head-mistress who is just this side of Satanic, Matilda uses all the untapped power in her brain to make the impossible happen, and to defend those around her who need her strength and courage. And though Matilda finds a forever-friend in her beloved teacher, Miss Honey, she doesn’t need anyone else in her life to make her the powerhouse character she is. I don’t care if this is marketed as a kid’s book…Dahl has the uncanny, and occasionally terrifying power to tell a story about a child in a way that will speak to all ages. And if you like this book, check out the musical as well. It’s one of the few musical adaptations I can say hit the proverbial nail on its proverbial head.
Catherine Called Birdy: Karen Cushman is just generally a sensation writer, but this book, especially, is something to remember. Catherine, called Little Bird, or Birdy, is the thirteen-year-old daughter of English country knight, whose keeps a daily diary. Cushman does a marvelous job weaving all the unchanging aspects of being a teenager–the agonizing process of trying to grow up, the need for approval and the desire to be different, the highs and lows of falling in love–with enough historic detail to ground this book very firmly in its medieval setting. Because this book is Birdy’s diary, her voice comes through every page, strong and clear, and despite the fact that her marriage and her fate is never, and may never be in her own hands, given her time and circumstances, there is no way this witty, sarcastic, and wholly original young woman will not be the one to tell her tale.
Alanna: The First Tale: Pierce was one of the first women to write fantasy novels about young women for young women that encouraged them to be precisely who and what they wanted. She never shies away from what it might cost these heroines in the process, but also ensures that the rewards for their courage and self-reliance can be truly great. This is the first book in her series about Alanna, the younger of two twins, who decides to become a knight so that her brother can go study magic. Becoming a knight means far more than sword fights, and armor, however, and Alanna herself turns out to be far more than a fighter–so much so that her story inspired a series, and a number of spin-off stories set in the same world.
I hope these stories inspire you to go out and be remarkable today! Happy Reading!