Yes, that’s right, 8th March is indeed International Women’s Day.
If you’re not entirely sure what this is all about, please find out more here and spread the word.
This year’s theme is “Connecting girls, inspiring futures” and, well, isn’t that just brilliant?
I thought that this would be a great opportunity to do a feature on celebrating all things ladies in literature, with specific focus on the young adult scene.
To start things off, I want to take you back a few years when I was in Year 6 at primary school (aged about 10), and I picked up a book from the library and sat down to read it. It’s about this boy who finds out he’s a wizard written by a woman, you’ve probably never heard of her, called J.K Rowling.
Perhaps it’s a cliché to say this now after how much that series has changed…well, everything, but those books are quite possibly the reasons that I read at all.
Back then, I wasn’t a reader. Sure I dabbled in the printed word because I had to for literacy hour but those books are the reasons that I read for enjoyment. And I think there’s a huge difference between being forced to read and actually wanting to read.
I fell in love with the world, the writing, the setting, the magic and, of course, the characters. For you may have your Harrys and your Rons and your Dumbledores and your Siriuses and your Snapes. But I’ll always choose Hermione Granger, The Patron Saint of Girls Who Read, to be my best friend. She was the one who showed me that it’s not just OK that girls could be clever and work hard but that it’s bloody brilliant.
I could go on and on about how much I adore Ms Rowling’s literary heroines but I won’t. Trust me. I love every one of them. She sure knows how to write a strong, memorable female character.
And then pretty much a year ago to the day, I picked up another series. It was mostly research but it turned out to be my gateway drug. My skeleton key back into the world of Young Adult fiction, if you will.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
I simply adore Katniss Everdeen.
Since then I have read countless young adult fiction and I’ve met some absolutely excellent fictional ladies, but Katniss is still in my Top Five Literary Heroines.
I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say that J.K Rowling and Suzanne Collins, each incredibly different, have inspired me at two points in my life.
If it wasn’t for J.K Rowling, I probably wouldn’t have had my love for reading ignited at all.
And if it wasn’t for Suzanne Collins and that girl on fire, then I wouldn’t only not have started this blog but I also wouldn’t have convinced myself, as I stared at my countless Word documents of half-finished novel ideas, that maybe, just maybe, I could write something of worth too.
A few weeks ago I
forced politely suggested that my sixteen year old cousin should pick up The Hunger Games.
I am pleased to announce that she is now officially an addict. I have told her she can keep the copies I have lent her on one condition.
That she passes them onto her friends who will pass them on to their friends who will pass them on to their friends and so on and so on.
So now you’ve heard what connected this girl and inspired my future, I asked a few of my favourite bloggers which YA literary heroines inspire them, whether they are the characters in the books or the women who have created them.
Chachic from Chachic’s Book Nook.
I have a long list of favorite books, most of which have strong female protagonists in them. While I’m a huge fan of girls who can kick some major butt, I thought it would be a good idea to highlight women who show their strength in more subtle ways. Eddis and Attolia from the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, Sorcha and Liadan from the Sevenwaters series by Juliet Marillier, Verity and Maddie from Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and Harper from Saving June by Hannah Harrington. I love all of these girls for their inner strength. They have different personalities so each has her own way of showing courage in the face of adversity – it could be by fighting for what they believe in or by doing what they can for their loved ones. Happy International Women’s Day, everyone! Go read a book with a stalwart female in it.
Tesadora from Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta.We seriously need some older, stronger, confident women for teenage girls (and boys!) to aspire to! Society too often values a woman’s youth above all else. Where are all the attractive, kick-ass experienced women in YA? Tesadora is fierce. She’s difficult to get close to, dislikes power and corruption and most particularly men who abuse both. But she will protect those she loves with her life. Basically, the woman’s a warrior, a strong, admirable, female leader who doesn’t make any apologies for who she is.
Anne from Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.
Anne will always remain one of my favourite literary heroines. She’s a bit of a dreamer and likes using absurdly long words. She’s vain, impetuous, proud, and has one hell of a temper (don’t tease her about her hair when there’s a slate in her hand, is all I’m saying) and she’s continually getting into the most ridiculous and hilarious scrapes but I’ll always love her. What can I say? We’re kindred spirits.
Verity from Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.
Because she’s an interrogator and undercover spy in France during WWII! *Love*. Forever.
Lyra from His Dark Material’s Trilogy by Phillip Pullman.
She’s a wild tomboy. She’s fearless, stubborn, opinionated. Lyra likes nothing better than scrambling around on the roof tops of Jordan College, exploring the Catacombs or playing war with the gypsy kids and townies. She has a strong sense of right and wrong and is fiercely loyal to her friends. Her and Pan make the perfect team for sneaking around.
The Queen of Attolia from The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner.
I love her because she’s strong and ruthless, and her biggest challenge is learning to trust someone and be vulnerable. She’s a very hidden character: she says very few words and only appears in the books maybe a dozen times. But every time she shows up, it’s intense. Her every action seems to have meaning. Her scenes are the most memorable for me.
Flannery from The Readventurer.
Jaclyn Moriarty is freaking hilarious. Fact. Her books are an absolute pleasure to read because she creates quirky sets of characters and each one of them is funny in their own way (the books and the characters). She uses the epistolary format so her readers get to see the pen pal letters, the refrigerator notes, and the diary entries that her characters write, often to each other. My favorite book of hers is definitely Finding Cassie Crazy (also known as The Year of Secret Assignments). In it, we read the pen pal letters between three guys and three girls at different schools in the same town. Moriarty is talented enough to make each one of them sound unique and I looked forward to hearing from every character. (though I will always have a soft spot for Seb and Lydia) Read it and love it. I promise you won’t regret it.
My favorite female YA character is Carly from Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar. Carly starts this book in a state of desperate loneliness—one where an act of kindness is sometimes unbearable and where, as she puts it, her basic needs are met but there is nothing to work towards or, I hesitate to say live for…except surfing. Something awful happened to Carly on her school break in uni and after that she wasn’t herself anymore. She dropped out and has been living near the shore, working as a cook and surfing every day but she is almost completely isolated. In the book, she develops several relationships but the primary one is with Ryan, another surfer she meets. The book is amazing overall but seeing Carly come to terms with her past, open up to someone, and figure out how to move forward is moving. She is a wonderful, caring character and I loved seeing her interact with others.
Pandora Braithwaite from Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend.
The ultimate over-achiever. Thinking back to when I was an actual young adult reading young adult (even though it wasn’t called that back in the day), I have to say, she’s up there with the best of them. OK, she’s has her annoying traits (ambitious to the point of being a tad deranged, condescending, pushy, a bit of a snob), but remember, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole etc. was written in 1981, a time when, in middle England, women’s expectations could be mocked and down trodden (see Adrian’s mum, Pauline), but for 13 year-old Pandora this didn’t even register, and I took delight as I witnessed Dr. Pandora Braithwaite squish and overtake all the inadequate men around her through the decades. Plus, she puts up with Adrian for years, and, as much as we love him, let’s face it, he’s a bit of a twat.
When I first started recently YA again and dabbling in a spot of creative writing (before dabbling turned into an obsession), one of the first books I picked from the library shelf was ‘What I Was‘. I’d heard about this thing called ‘voice’ and nodded like I understood, whereas most of the time my brain going DUHHH. And then I read this book. I could not believe it was NOT written by a snarky, posh, adolescent little oik and dug up from the 1960s. And I have yet to come across a more convincing, powerful voice in YA.
I know I’m not alone in the blogging world in lavishing praise on this lady. I was very naive when I started writing my book. I didn’t even know that YA consisted of edgier, more complex, character driven tales. I saw a Young Adult workshop advertised at my local writers’ centre run by a certain celebrated Australian author. Me, being a sheltered Brit, and yet to tap into the vast ocean of Aussie YA out there, thought I’d better read a few of her books before I attended. And, at risk of upping the cheese factor, this changed my life just a little bit. Not only does she give great advice, she also gives great word – I swear towards the end of ‘On the Jellicoe Road‘, my heart properly stopped for several beats. I had to be revived with hot sweet tea and doughnuts. Fact.
So many YA heroines inspired me in some way, usually by being smart, resourceful, and strong, but Kate “Puck” Connolly (The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater) stands out even among them. She is that character who makes me want to sit up straighter in my chair, make some hard choices and then stick with them, because that’s exactly what Puck did: she chose to expose herself to public scrutiny and even ridicule in order to help her brothers. Even though it’s been a while since I finished the book, I still think about her silent bravery and willingness to do anything it takes to save her family She never backed down and never showed weakness, not even when she had to confront the entire island. I still wish I had the courage to do something so admirable.
Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables (by L. M Montgomery), because she’s intelligent, feisty, creative, ambitious, confident, imaginative, quirky, caring and just all-round awesome. Case in point: She breaks a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head because he teases her about her hair. To my young, ginger heart, that was incredibly validating. If I couldn’t fight back every time someone called me a “red-headed rat rooter” (the standard ginger insult back in the day), Anne Shirley would – in my head, at least!
Frankie Landau-Banks (from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart) because: “It is better to be alone, she figures, than to be with someone who can’t see who you are. It is better to lead than to follow. It is better to speak up than stay silent. It is better to open doors than to shut them on people. She will not be simple and sweet. She will not be what people tell her to be.”
Sing it sisters:
Melina Marchetta is one of the most celebrated Australian authors there are. Her books and scripts have received numerous awards and accolations. Each book contains numerous, varied, strong female characters with amazing spirit and personality. This intelligent, thoughtful writer deserves to be recognized for her dedicated representation of women. Also, she is awesome sauce.
Penryn: Angelfall by Susan Ee
Katniss: The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collines
Karou: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Eon: Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
Sophie: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Stephanie from Cuddlebuggery.
My favorite heroines seem to change from day to day depending on my mood. But one thing always remains the same: I love a strong heroine who can defend herself. A few that come to my mind are Rose (Vampire Academy), Penryn (Angelfall), Triss (Divergent), Katniss (The Hunger Games), Karou (Daughter of Smoke and Bone) and Hermione & Ginny (Harry Potter). Give me a girl who can throw a right hook in a battle! All of those heroines are girls who hold their own, requiring little to no rescuing. No damsels in distress here! Their characterization isn’t dependent upon the male love interest. Instead, they strive to be defined by their actions and you can’t help but to respect them for that.
My favorite author at the moment would have to be Susan Ee (Angelfall). I just love how even though Penryn was completely human, she somehow ended up saving Raffe several times. It’s refreshing to see that. However, I’ve recently started Finnikin of the Rock and Melina Marchetta is becoming a strong contender right now!
And of course, I can’t forget about the fact that three of my favourite literary heroines were written by… *gasp* men! Lyra from His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, Viola from Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness and Deryn from Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. Hurrah for men who appreciate brilliant heroines!
Other ladies who you need to get involved with: Courtney Summers. Zoe Marriott. Sara Zarr. A. S King. Siobhan Dowd. Laini Taylor. Cath Crowley. Rachel Hartmann. Sarah Dessen. J. Anderson Coats. Celia Rees. Sita Brahmachari. Shirley Marr. Mira Grant. Malorie Blackman. Cynthia Hand. Jacqueline Wilson. etc etc etc etc….
All of these ladies (and men!) that have been mentioned in this post have continually inspired girls and young ladies all across the globe to pick up a book and read it, to start a book blog when they thought they had nothing to say, to love fall in love with reading no matter how old they are or what genre they want to read, to pick up a pen, grab a notebook and jot down their ideas [even if they’re a bit sketchy] and believe that one day they could be part of the greats.
So, thank you and please… never stop writing!
Of course this is such a small list in comparison to the brilliant ladies that are making waves in the literary scene at the moment.
So tell us, who did we miss out? Are there any authors we simply must read? Who are the characters who we just have to meet and that we’ll become best friends with?