Round Table: Strong Heroines

Hi, and welcome to our second official Round Table. Today, we got together for a chat about strong heroines in YA literature. We realized pretty fast that it was a HUGE topic – too big to really cover. But here are some of our initial thoughts, including what we think makes a strong heroine and examples of well done strong girls in YA.

Brenna: It’s funny, I haven’t really thought about it much before we started talking about using it for an RT topic. I know that’s strange because it’s such a kind of obvious thing to think about, especially when it comes to YA fantasy

Tessa: lol – I’ve been thinking about it longer than I’ve been seriously writing. We talked about it a lot in my AP English class (as my all-girls Catholic high school) and then I was a gender studies major/graduate student….

Brenna: When it comes to strong girls, I actually know a lot more about what I don’t like in fiction.

Tessa: Reverse definition time!

Brenna: I get really anxious and turned-off when stubbornness or impulsiveness stands in for strength to me, strength is taking the time to make good decisions, not just railing against the powers that be

Maggie: I feel like there is book-strong girls and real life-strong girls, and it’s hard to find one standing in for the other.

Tessa: Agency is key for me. Strength of character is 1) actively making choices, and 2) using individual talents AS strengths. So, what’s the difference you see in book-strong verses real life-strong, Maggie?

Maggie: Book-strong tends to involve leather, rivets, and kung-fu action.

Brenna: and sass, lots of sass

Maggie: real life strong, to me, is more like . . . resilient.

Tessa: cough*Grace*cough

Maggie: Why, thanks. In real life, we don’t often have big guys with supernatural powers lurking outside our windows. And so strength in the form of being able to twist guys’ heads off while laughing sarcastically about it . . . well, maybe lots of women have it, but I personally haven’t encountered it. Which doesn’t mean I don’t know strong women. Honestly, my rant? I feel like we often think of book-strength as a female character displaying traits commonly given to male characters instead.

Brenna: When I think of strong fictional girls I admire, I think of Melina Marchetta’s characters. Her characters have these TRUE strengths.

Maggie: Yes!

Tessa: Yes, because in our society strength is still considered a masculine trait.

Maggie: No, it’s because masculine strength is more easily identifiable. Ripping a guy’s arm off: looks pretty powerful to me. Not falling apart when someone dies: harder to point out

Brenna: it can be overt and measurable

Maggie: crickets…something about ripping people’s arms off does that to a conversation.

Tessa: It’s because I start visualizing and having fun and getting distracted by the gore.

Brenna: fiction-specific (JELLICOE ROAD because I am a fan-girl) Taylor Markham is a huge coward about a lot of things, but she’s really strong, because she faces them anyway

Maggie: Another Melina character: Francesca from SAVING FRANCESCA, because she gets herself together after her entire support network goes AWOL.

Brenna: Yes, F spends a lot of time being afraid, and then acts, even though she is afraid

Tessa:There IS a place for women in fiction who do those things that are associated with male strength, it just can’t be the only kind.

Maggie: As someone who drives a flaming red muscle car, I believe you. Okay, here is another problem I have with the way a lot of women characters are in urban fantasy: Emotional distance or callousness is portrayed as strength. Which I don’t think is true in either gender.

Tessa: It’s the default, because feminine strength isn’t valued as highly. Not falling apart when everything else around you does isn’t what early English epic poetry was about. Our culture views strength as fighting bad guys with your big sword and then bragging about it. Not staying at home and looking after the kids, not emotional strength. That’s changing, but it IS something we’re still having to struggle against. What is VALUED.

Brenna: yes, and where my head goes with that is Katniss Everdeen

Maggie: Well, it’s changing now, too, because people are figuring out that the guys that go out there and hack with swords and make it home then have to have the strength to not fall apart too.

Tessa: yes.

Maggie: Oh, Katniss from Hunger Games

Brenna: part of THE HUNGER GAMES for me is Katniss figuring out that being emotional and affectionate and vulnerable are all strengths too

Maggie: I agree totally. So the question is, as a writer, how do we portray that? How do we make sure that all readers will pick up on something that we all admit is disgustingly subtle?

Tessa: Metaphor! lol. That’s my go-to answer for most everything.

Brenna: I think at the core, it’s being able to show the fear/risk, and also the benefit

Tessa: Choice. Like, back to JELLICOE ROAD, when she chooses to go into that tunnel at the end. (Is that non-spoilery enough?)

Maggie: It’s pretty damn spoilery, but the court will let it pass.

Brenna: she chooses something horrifying to her because of how much other people have come to matter to her. I think part of it is seeing how her old horror has been replaced by the new horror of losing important relationships. (I’m being ridiculously vague, looking back at that)

Maggie: Back to how we do this, because I have to say, I have SHIVER reviews that say Grace is incredibly strong, and then I’ll have others saying "she makes feminism a thing of the past" and it’s clear they didn’t get what I was trying to do.

Tessa: Basically, it’s the same answer to every question about how we do something as writers: write complete characters.

Brenna: Yes, and then have them struggle to manifest their better selves?

Maggie: Do you think that everyone agrees on what strength is, though?

Brenna: Short answer: no

Maggie: I think part of the prevalence of arm-loppy-characters is because it’s shorthand — everyone can look at that and say, "A-yup, that babe is rockin’ powerful."

Tessa: Yes, it’s easier in a lot of ways, because it’s more obvoius.

Brenna: what I personally value is almost all levelheadness, the ability to be sensible, analytical, and that’s not going to be top priority to everyone. I like characters who take calculated risks, and only sacrifice when there really is no other option

Tessa: I want characters to think, too, Brenna. I need introspection, at some level.

Maggie: Relationships are important to me. I find it very hard to think that a character who is strong and cold is not just broken. I want someone who is strong and strong in relation to other people, able to take care of them but also be vulnerable.

Brenna: back to Katniss, what I like about her is that she kind of is broken, but not irreparably

Maggie: Right, because Katniss works her way back into interpersonal relationships, and I don’t mean just the hubba-hubba kind.

Tessa: So, do we have examples of strong heroines in any of our MF stories?

Brenna: Sadly, a lot of mine are kind of busted. I tend to do that in the short form and save the strong ones for longer work.

Maggie: I have to think to separate the genders in my head. Mostly I try to do strong character in general and I don’t think about the gender after

Tessa: That’s a mostly good thing. πŸ˜‰

Maggie: Okay, "Wag. You and I were just talking about that, Tess.

Tessa: Yeah, she’s got that Katniss kind of strength, in "Wag." That desperate, doing what she has to to survive, but not giving in and finding her own way thing.

Maggie: It’s that thing where strength is because you don’t just give up when everything seems impossible.

Brenna: I liked my girl in "Midnight Comes," because she was so anti-being-anything-but-herself. She tries on a new person and can’t cope for more than like 20 minutes

Tessa: That’s a great example. I think my most recent girls that I would put under here are the narrators in "The Summer Ends in Slaughter" and "Devils of Our Better Selves." My "Devils" girl chooses the hard way, instead of the shiny fairy tale way. Because she LIKES who she is and doesn’t want to e changed.

Maggie: Yeah, that’s true. I think strength and self-confidence/ self-acceptance often ride side by side.

Tessa: Three cheers for self-confidence. Srsly.

Brenna: yes, that embracing of the true-you makes me respect characters, (only when it’s not done in a selfish screw-everyone-else way). To clarify: I love it when it seems deep and genuine, rather than petulant

Tessa: Me, too, and I think a lot of that comes down to taste. Or perspective, rather than taste. SO, what are our favorite strong heroines in YA books? One of my favorites is Sophie in HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE.

Brenna: mmmm, yes!

Maggie: definitely yes. Polly in FIRE AND HEMLOCK

Brenna: Alice in THE MAGICIANS

Tessa: Every girl Tamora Pierce ever wrote.

Maggie: Francesca from SAVING FRANCESCA, duh. Whatsherface from HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT.

Tessa:I still haven’t read that

Maggie: you should. Ignore that I can’t remember her name. It’s excellent. Nimira in MAGIC UNDER GLASS too.

Brenna: yes, I liked her a lot

Tessa: Yelena in POISON STUDY. OH and Aerin from THE HERO AND THE CROWN, because yes, she fights dragons (and they almost kill her) but she does it by using her brain, her desire to help, to very slowly figure out alternate methods of fighting, instead of the accepted mode in her home kingdom. So she’s like this amazing combination of kick-ass strength and inner-resilience strength.

Maggie: I know exactly how to end this! GO HERMIONE!!! For being the only one who ever earned success in the HP books.

Brenna: For being brilliant and crying when she feels like it

Tessa: For loving books.

Maggie: For not giving up when things seem hopeless. And standing up in the face of bigotry.

Brenna: double-that

Tessa: That’s a great example of a character being strong, without it being her defining characteristic!

Maggie: Yeah. I don’t know why it took me an hour of chatting to remember her. πŸ˜‰

Thanks for tuning in! Let us know your favorite strong girls from YA in the comments, we’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions, Oh Readers!!!

Image from woodleywonderworks, via Flickr Creative commons

137 thoughts on “Round Table: Strong Heroines

  1. Without a doubt, Mae in Sarah Rees Brennan’s THE DEMON’S LEXICON. That she could come across as so strong (and so real) when the book was written from Nick’s POV (with his sort-of unreliable narration – no spoilers, people! *g*), is a huge testament to Sarah’s mad writing skillz. Book 2 will be out later this year and will be written from Mae’s POV… I cannot wait. πŸ™‚

  2. I’ve heard a lot about Mae, but I’ve failed to read that one yet!

    That’s such a great point about the strong girl not having to be the POV character, though. We want them everywhere – just part of stories like strong girls really are. They don’t HAVE to be the main character to think about their strength and how it works (and how it’s written).

  3. Right!

    And this is a very spooky piece of timing, but I swear I only just now saw that Sarah has written a post on this very subject. It just popped up in my google reader… *cue Twilight Zone music* As she says herself, Mae is not the protagonist of TDL but she is the instigator of events.

    Great topic, btw, Tessa. Cool discussion you guys had.

  4. Great thoughts! This is exactly why I love Lynne Ewing’s Daughters of the Moon series so much. All the girl protagonists are strong, but not in the “masculine” way. They have to use their inner strength to defeat evil and preserve hope, even when they feel utterly hopeless themselves. In fact, violence will just screw them over, since it only makes the evil they face stronger. (But that doesn’t stop them from wanting to use more violent means sometimes when things get REALLY desperate, especially for the ex gang member Jimena. So many great Overt Strength vs. Subtle Strength struggles with her…)

  5. Brenna: I get really anxious and turned-off when stubbornness or impulsiveness stands in for strength

    Yes!!!

    I think having female protags with physical strength has been and still is an important part of being a strong female character. Our culture assigns that sort of strength to men (in the sense that they SHOULD have it) and masculine women (who can be badass but also fall out of the dating pool). When we get female characters that are physically strong, the default is for them to behave like a man because we – the cultural we – have a hard time reconciling physical strength and femininity (yay, Buffy!). So, I get excited when I see a female protag who is both physically and emotionally strong.

    I’ll point to Katniss (HUNGER GAMES) and Tally (UGLIES) for these. Though I love pretty much all the character listed above.

    I agree with you Hermione is awesome, but she has all of the kinds of female strength that we find culturally acceptable for a girl to have – bookish, smart, nurturing, protective of oppressed creatures, so in that sense, she’s holding up with status quo. What I love about Hermione and what I think makes her such a great character and example of what you’re talking about is the fact that she is beautifully independent, makes her own choices, and doesn’t let Harry and Ron (or Malfoy for that matter!) run all over her.

  6. Interesting – a direct confrontation with violence = strength. I’ll have to check those out for sure.

  7. That’s true that Hermione isn’t exactly cutting edge. But I think I’m ok with that because at least it IS strength. And some of those things are things that are only in the last 40 years have been ok for women (like bookishness and smarts, and fighting for causes). So it isn’t like she’s preserving old ideas that women can only be strong inasmuch as they nurture. But the most important thing is what you (and Maggie above) point out: that she is independent without being self-destructive. Also, she’s BETTER than all the boys at the things she’s good at. And she’s extremely fierce, too. Aww, Hermione.

  8. I’m going to mention Deryn from Westerfeld’s LEVIATHAN. I loved her character, because as ‘done’ as the whole girl-pretending-to-be-a-boy-in-a-sexist-society is, I really enjoyed her character. She was tough enough to pull off her ruse but you never really forgot that she was, in fact, a girl. Along the same lines is Jacky (Mary) from the BLOODY JACK novels. Those books are an enjoyable juxtaposition of Victorian Georgian morals, doing whatever it takes to survive and OH BUT I DO ENJOY BEING A GIRL SOMETIMES YES.

  9. “I get really anxious and turned-off when stubbornness or impulsiveness stands in for strength”

    I second this! To me, bold/impetuous heroines are more stupid than strong. I think strength comes from experience: strong heroines are those who overcome difficult pasts/presents, and use those lessons to become better people (and save others when the world is falling down, haha).

  10. I am currently watching the TV show “Fringe”, and in doing so have realized something about myself and my relationship with female characters I love. I am also reading Maria V. Snyder’s books (the first is called Poison Study, and it might have jumped into my top five books of all time), and the main character in the books, Yelena, is everything I love.

    (And she is impetuous and stubborn, but she also knows her own strength, not to mention the strengths of those around her, REALLY WELL.)

    I’ve learned that my favourite female characters are those who are coming into their powers (whatever that power is), who don’t whine about it, ask for help at the right times, and generally kick ass when it comes down to it. I do like it when they are also surrounded by gallant males, and females who serve as teacher and then later confidants.

    Oh, and without spoiling the plot, MAJOR GIRL POWER AWESOMENESS in the “Poison Study”. I may or may not have jumped up off the couch and run a victor lap of the living room when we got to that part.

  11. To the three of you – THANK YOU SO MUCH for doing a roundtable on this! I don’t have any add’l female protags to add to the list, but I just had to say that I loved seeing this being talked about. As a feminist, I want to see strong female characters, but I too have grown weary of the “look at me, I kill things and don’t cry” girl as the default. I appreciate that all of you talked about the other ways women (and men!) can be strong – emotionally, interpersonally, etc. πŸ™‚

    P.S. to Maggie – I got so pissy on your behalf when I read that blog and its meanie posts a few months back about SHIVER being anti-feminist. Such clueless, clueless folks!

  12. Strong female characters in YA are seen in L.J. Smith’s Secret Circle and Night World series. Cassie in SC is weak willed and easily manipulated, but she does stand up for herself in the end. A lot of strong female characters are seen in Night World, such as Jez in Huntress, Rashel in The Chosen, Keller in Witchlight and Hannah in Soulmate.

    My favorite YA strong female character though has to be the heroine in the book ‘The Only Alien On the Planet’. It was probably the first book I was ever amazed by and such a real portrayal of people.

  13. How about Meg from A Wrinkle in Time? Her emotions end up being her strength in the end, not any sort of physical prowess. Plus, she’s kick-ass at math.

  14. Agh, I can’t believe I forgot to mention Katsa from Graceling, one of my favorite heroines ever. Like Katniss she has a lot of physical strength, but Katsa has learned to fear her own strength, because she feels like it makes her into a monster. Part of the story is her learning that she can use her physical talents for other things than killing and hurting people.

    She also has trouble with love, because people fear her and she doesn’t have much family to speak of. In her society, marriage means ownership, so she refuses to marry, but she learns over the course of the book that this doesn’t mean she can’t love, as an equal. That’s one of my favorite things about the book.

    Brb, off to read Graceling again…

  15. I love Jacky Faber so much. She’s impulsive, sometimes thoughtlessly so, but she’s so clever and charming that she usually finds her own way out of a situation. I just love her daring. And the fact that she has one True Love that she wants to marry, but she looooves to flirt. The books get kind of ridiculous at points, but they always make me want to go back and change people’s attitudes so Jacky can have her little shipping company and sail around the world.

  16. Clary from Mortal Instruments I found to be strong and handled herself well.

    Deirdre Monaghan from Lament

    Katniss of course was amazing.

    Rose from Vampire Academy is another person who handles herself well.

    Schuyler from Blue Bloods Series

    Ever from The Immortals

    Camelia from Deadly Little Secrets

    Great topic!

  17. This was awesome, and you might have just caused a breakthrough for my own character. πŸ˜€ So MUCHAS GRACIAS, Merry Sisters!

  18. Jenna from Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier. Pretty much all of Marillier’s female characters, though her Sevenwaters Trilogy isn’t marketed as YA.
    And I love Hermione! And Luxa from Gregor the Overlander! What a wonderful character Suzanne Collins created! I can certainly see the early glimpses of Katniss in Luxa.

  19. I’ve always loved all of Tamora Pierce’s female characters just because they always exhibit so much fortitude and resilience in any situation they encounter. But they do kinda fit in with the whole “if i can wield a sword i am badass and therefore strong” club.

    I also love Kristin Cashore’s Katsa and Fire. Katsa because she fears her strength and is discovering that other attributes can be counted as courageous or as a form of strength. One of my favourite scenes was when she chose not to hurt somebody, mostly because she was discovering her own internal worth and strength as more than a thug, and because she saw that someone who can’t fight or kill standing up for those that he loves can be strong too. The other heroine Fire is another favourite because she shows that empathy and personal sacrifice may be more powerful than any physical strength, also reiterating in a powerful way the common theme that “it’s what’s inside that counts”.

    All of Melina Marchetta’s heroines are fantastic, for all of the reasons you guys have mentioned. There’s also Melissa Marr’s females as well, dealing with their places amongst the fey, learning to play their games and win or trying to escape from them in one piece. Leslie was the powerful character there, but she did end up broken in the end. The good part was that while she was broken, she still knew that she could heal herself, could survive and pick up the pieces.

    Katniss Everdeen, again incredible for all the reasons you spoke of. Also Bertie from Eyes Like stars is an example of a strong and inventive heroine. I love Eve from My Sister Clare, who is so different to her sisters, in personality and sensitivity, but who ends up becoming both beautiful, strong and in the end happy.

    There’s also Maia from ‘Journey to the River Sea’, who is a loyal and adventurous heroine, also bookish, accepting, strong. Novalee Nation from ‘Where the Heart Is’ becomes strong, especially for her daughter, as the story progresses and she discovers her own worth and builds lasting relationships. She shows that strength may be learnt or developed, that how we view ourselves affects how others see or treat us.

    Also Some of Marian Keyes characters, not all but some – specifically jojo Harvey from ‘The Other Side of The Story’ and Claire from ‘watermelon.’ Jojo is brilliant and gorgeous, has an actual appetite and epitomises the strong, independent and working woman (i just love her sense of humour and smoking habit. also her assistant).Claire is a lot of fun and also becomes strong throughout the book i think.

    But by far the most powerful and strong – emotionally and physically, while also being vulnerable, is i think Isaboe, from Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock. She is just so great at doing strong female characters who always seem to have powerful presence.

    These round table chats are definitely a hit with me, and i don’t hesitate to say everyone else! It’s so much fun reading what you guys have to say about both the way you write and the characters that you love. It gives great insight into the why’s behind everything and broadens my perspective about all of these different themes and stereotypes, processes and characters – the lot! Yay! can’t wait for next time!

    X Neishya (sadly don’t have a code/watcher name yet!)

  20. I totally agree with Lyra and hermonie but with putting in my two cents I would like to add max from the maximum ride series because she leads and cares for a group of kids who can fly, fights evil (and kicks it’s butt), and deals with some normal teen drama like first love and doubt.

  21. I’m always sorry that these discussions forget the classics. I’ve just finished (re-)reading Rilla of Ingleside, and what a wonderful, beautiful heartbreaking book. It’s set through the Great War, and every character is real and every female is a different face of strength: fierce Faith, quiet Una, steadfast Anne, faithful Susan, and the ever-changing, ever-growing Rilla. My soul grows every time I read this.

    I was also watching the new BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility (containing what is arguably the best scene of Austen ever filmed). Elinor Dashwood. That is all.

    Catherine Gilbert’s characters – Princess Ben and DJ Schwenk – are wonderfully relatable because there is nothing ostensibly special about them: they are ordinary girls but their enemies are their own weaknesses, and you really live their struggles. I had all these moments with DJ where I’d be urging her to speak, ‘come on DJ, say it, say it! You can do it!’

  22. Fire from Kristin Cashore’s “Fire”.
    She struggles to push away who she is because she sees herself as only a monster. And in her mind monsters only cause harm. Eventually she realizes that it is not what you can do that makes you who you are, but how you use your capabilities. Fire possesses a mental strength that I admire.

  23. Oh, I don’t think that Hermoine is entirely status quo. There is no rescuing involved, and to my mind, that is the status quo. Or the chick from Sherlock Holmes. Her fake brand of strength.

  24. Hee, I love clever heroines (hello, Hermoine) but I do think that sometimes Devastating Female Wit often stands in for strength too.

  25. *cheers Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle, and the YA hivemind*

    I loved Fire in, well, you know, Kristin Cashore’s Fire, which took to its limits and examined the idea of a woman as a beautiful monster. I also love Chloe in Kelley Armstrong’s YA series, who is shown as shy (as many are at fifteen!) and learning to build strength, learning to find and rely on the strengths she already has, in a way I think it’s great for readers to see.

    Also Laura Chant in Margaret Mahy’s the Changeover OMG everyone should read it.

  26. Ooo, Deryn, yes. I’m a sucker for that trope though, the girl pretending to be a boy. Total sucker. It doesn’t even have to be awesome for me to love it.

  27. I agree, for boy characters, too. Overcoming difficulty, and learning from them, yes! Learning from mistakes is a great marker of strength! I wish I’d thought to put it that way. πŸ˜‰

  28. That’s what I mean. She’s partly status quo, but only in one sense. She uses the status quo as a starting point and not defining point, which is why she’s awesome and I love her. πŸ™‚

  29. I watched the first few episodes of “Fringe” last year when it premiered, and the thing I liked most about it was the lead woman because she was totally.. herself. In a bad-ass, smart, take care of it but not listen to everything her male superiors say and also wholesome kind of way. heheh.

    I ❀ POISON STUDY, too. And I've read MAGIC. Yelena is up there on my list! I like that she pulls herself up from desperation and uses everything she possibly can to survive and better herself. I also liked the dynamic between her and Valek, because of how the trust did and didn't develop.

    Re: the spoilery thing, I liked that… but I really wanted more explanation of it. Maybe it comes later, but to me it's just sort of thrown in there without any depth or meat of discussion. I felt like I was left hanging a little.

  30. We could probably talk about it for DAYS. LOL. I’m sure it will come up again. Thanks for the feedback. πŸ˜€

  31. She uses the status quo as a starting point and not defining point

    That seems even MORE awesome to me, because grounding a character in the “status quo” and then breaking her out of it can be very eye-opening and revolutionary.

  32. I don’t think I’ve read ANY of those! *bad tessa!*

    I also appreciate it when a character starts off weaker, and grows into strength. That’s an important thing to watch, too.

  33. Katsa’s character-journey was very interesting, bc to me, she started off not very strong at all (other than physically, etc) because she had so much fear. She didn’t trust herself at all. So it was about self-discover and learning to believe in herself.

    (And YAY STARBUCK. Who.. is not strong. She’s kind of broken, actually. But ❀ her.)

  34. I’d love to get into a discussion about Dee from LAMENT sometime with people who’ve read LAMENT and BALLAD, because I think that Maggie does some fascinating things with point of view commenting on strength (or lack thereof) of character.

  35. Yay for character breakthrough. I love it when that happens (esp when it comes from surprising places)!

  36. I loved the Sevenwaters Trilogy! Good point. I haven’t picked up Wildwood Dancing yet, though. Will do.

  37. I haven’t read all of those, but BERTIE! Yes, totally. I loved how her power played out in that book.

    And thanks! I’m glad you’re enjoying the RT. We’re having fun with them. πŸ˜€

  38. I think it’s probably because we’re usually talking about the current YA market for the most part… but you’re right, there are some (few) strong girls from older classics. Anne, for real.

  39. FIRE is on my TBR pile, and I can’t wait. I also haven’t read Armstrong’s YA series, but I love Elena from her adult books, and several of her other characters – I should totally check that out.

    *adding books to my pile*

  40. Re: the spoilery thing, there’s a bit where Yelena sees two souls, which I took as my explanation. Maybe there’s something else in book three.

    I think I fell for Fringe at the exact moment when Olivia yelled at her boss about how a) men always say women are too emotional and b) how being emotional makes her good at her job.

    (edited because grammar is my friend!)

  41. i love yelena!!!! but in snyders other books the glass series, Opal is amazing. She might make mistakes and seem like a silly girl, but under all that and everything that shes been through she is strong!

  42. Thanks for letting us peek in!

    I’ve not read all comments, so this may be a repeat.

    I’ve always loved Meg, from A Wrinkle in Time. She has so many faults and so little self-confidence, and so — even vociferously — doesn’t want to have to be strong. And yet she is oh-so-very strong when it matters most.

  43. What! I love Emily! She does have her moments, it’s true, where she is wet-raggy, but I always thought those were moments when LMM kind of screwed up and projected too many of her own issues onto the poor girl. It never quite felt right. I need to reread them.

  44. I love these discussions! It’s sort of like an idea I had but haven’t been able to execute because of RSI and such. I keep coming back to see what the new comments are.

    And thanks for the Nimira shout-out. =)

  45. So happy to hear about the varying kinds of strength of character. I love kickass heroines just as much as the next reader (totally a Buffy generation girl), but I get so tired of people using examples of masculine strength every time they discuss strong female characters. Emotional strength is so important. That’s actually what made Buffy so relatable and amazing. And yes, HERMIONE!

    Trying to think of another example… Clare in THE CHINA GARDEN.

  46. Buffy love!

    This is kind of a spoiler but whatever: One of my all time favorite Buffy moments is at the end of the first season when all she wants to do is go to prom, but she puts on her prom dress and goes off to fight evil and die instead. So much emotional strength there – that’s what that whole show is about. Finding the emotional strength and friendships to make the physical strength manageable. ❀

  47. Good point about boy characters! I know we weren’t talking about them in this specific conversation, but I think what I really meant was, I see irrational stubbornness as a weakness rather than a strength in any character (not just the girls).

  48. OMG, The Only Alien on the Planet! I was starting to think I imagined that book, because I’ve seriously never heard anyone else mention it! I especially love that Ginny and Caulder are friends–true, real friends, with no sexual tension and no implication that they need to date each other, and Ginny doesn’t have this tendency to fling herself around being tragic. Great example!

  49. Meg is one of my absolute favorites from childhood! My personal favorite in the series is A Wind in the Door. I love how she’s able to overcome old hurts and fears a resentments, to stop fixating on them and have a larger perspective on the world!

  50. Yeah! I just started Poison Study and I love it so far. Can’t put it down.
    Other heroins I adore are Grace (Shiver), Katsa (Graceling by Kristin Cashore), and Clary (The Mortal Instruments series).
    And I have to say I absolutely love Anne Shirley who is “old school” YA, but I’ve always wanted to move to Prince Edward Island and live with Marilla growing up.

  51. Katniss is a really strong female character, even if she can be totally clueless, she’s fierce and determined and a survivor by all means. I also love Isabelle in the Mortal Instruments and Annabeth in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Izzie is incredible, her whip-wielding powers know no bounds. And Grace in Shiver is really strong too, although i do tend to prefer Sam’s point of view.

  52. Exactly!

    In the first book, she may ultimately be fighting for the macrocosm, but it is embodied by Charles Wallace, whom she loves without reserve.

    In the second book, she must find ways to love what is foreign or even distasteful. Further, she names the Nothing. That requires… I don’t want to say love or respect, for neither is quite accurate. But it requires acknowledgment and recognition that seem to me to inherently hold a level of intimacy that is somewhat terrifying.

    (Wow. I know lots of big words. **rolls eyes at self**)

  53. I think Katniss is really strong, although she’s a little clueless at times, but that makes her more human. She’s a survivor, witty, clever and cunning. A bit like a fox. Also Lisbeth Salandar from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Annabeth Chase from Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and Isabelle Lightwood from the Mortal Instruments are great heroines. Izzy rocks, she’s strong, both physically and emotionally and she’s amazing all-round. She also rocks a golden whip!
    Grace from Shiver is really strong too, and I love Tori and Chloe from Awakening by Kelley Armstrong

  54. I really should read those books again – I’m sure I never thought about the second book that hard, even though I loved it. She’s definitely a great example of love = strength.

  55. I have FIRE STUDY in my TBR right now, and after that I’m into the Glass books. Can’t wait! πŸ˜€

  56. I should get back to the MI books. I only read the first one… gah, so much to read!!!

    And I love Annabeth (and Percy), but I’ll admit that mostly I just love Apollo in those books SO MUCH. The bad haiku! ❀

  57. I wanted to live on Prince Edward Island, too. Marilla is ANOTHER strong lady. There are tons of them in all those stories. I miss “Avonlea.”

  58. Great point about Katniss being fallible, too. Weakness is important for believability and completeness. Those are all great characters!

    I’m definitely going to pick up THE AWAKENING.

  59. Noooo! Emily is quietly awesome!

    I’m thinking about it now, actually, and I never did like Emily as much as Anne – she was TOO airy, too elemental – but then, I am thinking of her in the later books, and she pulls a bit of an Elinor Dashwood in the last. And I love Elinor Dashwood. Last word in strong female characters – she does what she has to do, no matter the cost to herself.

  60. I’m more bothered by the fact that girls don’t read these anymore – it seems to me like…girls growing up on fast food. Fast food should not be regular food – it’s something you have every so often, but you LIVE on wholesome food – the porridge and potatoes of fiction. A sweet tooth is not itself a bad thing, but a lot of the current YA is just slop – it really is.

    A vast deal of current YA will be lost and forgotten within a decade, if not less. A handful – no more than that – will endure, and eventually join the ranks of the classics. But there’s a REASON that they endure, being that they have some actually substantial content – the kind of content that transcends its context and gives it a certain ageless, timeless appeal.

    I’m not sure how Twilight fits into that, though – it doesn’t have much substance (only an Edward), and I don’t doubt it *will* endure. And then, wouldn’t you rather have girls know the REAL Edward that Edward Cullen was ripped off from? Reading Twilight et al. is all well and good (well, perhaps not exactly, but you know), but it isn’t a complete meal-plan. It’s more like…dessert, or a snack.

    I notice no one is mentioning Bella as a strong female character πŸ˜„ Which says it all, really.

    Sarah Dessen always produces these wonderful protagonists – every single book she’s written has multidimensional characters who LEARN resilience and strength over the book, and in some ways, that is much more meaningful, because it takes you on a journey of the process of becoming. It tells you ‘you can do this, too’.

  61. I just watched the second film (Anne the Sequel or something) for the first time (after a cycling re-read of all the books again)…and it was meh! A complete mash-up mess full of fictional characters! I mean, they were MORE fictional πŸ˜„

    I always wanted to go to PEI. I had this vague idea I could see all the places Anne talks about.

    That reminds me of another YA female – not fiction – but Anne Frank, no? Again, one of those books I read many many times, and at an impressionable age. Likewise with Sara Crewe in A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett). And also! Lucy Pevensie! I always wanted to BE her…she had charm and the strength of her convictions. Lucy’s strengths are not the kind that are well-written anymore: her character now would be written either as a Cassandra (unheeded prophetess), or a charming child, not to be taken seriously.

  62. Maybe there’s something else in book three.

    I have just finished reading “Fire Study” and, uh, it gets explained. AND IT’S AWESOME!

  63. Starbuck is broken in a way that’s fascinating to me. I don’t like how they ended her storyline, but then my issues with the finale are many.

  64. I think Leslie from Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr is my ultimate example. She’s pretty much hurt in one of the worst ways imaginable, but she doesn’t fall apart. Somehow she finds the strength to carry on AND she finds the strength to leave a very tempting dark faery king. For me she’s one of the strongest female YA characters in recent memory.

  65. I think girls are still reading them! They’re still in school libraries and on reading lists, parents love them from when they were kids… and things like that.

    “You can do this, too” is SO important.

  66. The girls I know aren’t reading them! They think Twilight is the bees’ knees and the apex of literary prowess. They think the classics are frowsy and boring – they aren’t even on library shelves anymore (I should know, I worked in them and during my tenure they were all taken off the shelves due to lack of issues. Then I bought them, of course XD).

    Interesting point you make about parents, though: the girls I’m speaking of are many of them second-generation Asians (by which we mean ‘from the Indian Subcontinent’!), so their parents *haven’t* read these books, and likely don’t read much by way of English books at all…they have nothing to inherit in that sense.

    I had a conversation with one of my tutees a few days ago, where she tried to convince me that Twilight was the best book she’d ever read, and I had to be all like, have you ever read any other books? And she said ‘ya off coss! Wicked Lovely et al.!’ – except she didn’t say ‘et al’. It troubles me that this wave of paranormal romance is almost the only thing available ON THE SHELVES to buy or borrow.

  67. I think Dee faded into a non-character in Ballad…and don’t get me wrong, I loved Ballad, I thought it was delicious…but Dee seemed to have come completely unravelled – possibly both as a character, and also as a person.

    I feel really rude criticising a character in the face of her author O_O Sorry O_O

  68. Hermione is a brilliant choice to conclude with. For a slightly younger set, Coraline – who feels the fear and goes ahead anyway.

  69. I didn’t even think of her, but I love Coraline! Even though I enjoyed the movie a quite a bit, one thing I found so disappointing was that they gave her a “helper” character, when in the book she did almost everything by herself and that was one of the things that was so impressive about her.

  70. You just smacked your finger down on my complaint about the film, too. They wanted a boy character to appeal to boys. To which I say Phbbbbbbt.

  71. Without a doubt, Rae from Robin McKinley’s Sunshine. I mean, she’s totally the type that’d run from anything that even looked non-ordinary, she sucked up her ass and fought for her vampire Con (who is my Romeo) who may have eaten her while fighting against a coven of evil vampires and nearly unleashing terrifying vampiric hell on the earth! All while coping with her unpredictable powers.

    (Maggie, werewolves kick ass. )

    And just because I love them kungfu kicking, leather wearing girls, Katsa from Kristin Cashore’s Graceling. She’s my idol πŸ™‚

  72. Yes, Coraline! Yes! Strength in the face of creepy.

    Actually, this is another reason why I would love Hermoine, even if she was dumb as a board: she’s brave, like Coraline.

  73. The summoning is the first one, I think. I just picked up the Awakening in a second and store and loved it ever since. Chloe is pretty cool, But I love Tori. Even f she can be whiny at times to some people, I find she has reason to be. And Derek is amazing too.
    Also Wanderer and Mel in The Host are strong leads. But I despise Zoey Redbird in HON. The girl is never happy/

  74. On a side note, I despise the fact that certain authors think that all a female protagonist has to offer is her ability to drool over a decent looking boy. I do love the love stories (is that redundant?), but if the book is about a girl getting her DNA spliced and becoming a supernatura being, I don’t want 240 of the 250 pages of the book focusing on how she will talk to the guy. I want to hear about her struggle to overcome adversity, obstacles and so on so forth

  75. Werewolves are class! They have such a rich and vast history, you can really sink your teeth into it.

    *cough*
    sorry, couldn’t resist

  76. I love Sunshine. Especially the way the progression from “normal” to “magical” was done with regards to her character.

  77. Oh! Was so happy to see someone mentioning The China Garden, that was one of the best-beloved & defining books of my teens. It doesn’t seem to be that popular which is such a shame as it’s a fantastic story!! And I agree with you: Clare is a fab strong character. =) She has mental & emotional & intellectual strength, and courage aplenty – and those traits really show up in how she deals with the emotions of being a teen, her relationships with her mother and Mark and Mr Aylward and everyone else, not to mention the main story about the mystery of the Benison … =)

    – Em (tempted out of lurkerdom for the first time!)

  78. I know! It was the one book I remember from my childhood that I would sign out from the library once every single year. Now it makes me want to take it off my bookshelf and read it again.

    I think Caulder is a great friend to Ginny, and I think their friendship is so genuine and real that it makes me really wish I had something like that while growing up. And Ginny has a good head on her shoulders, which sometimes is difficult to find in an YA heroine because they tend to be overdramatic.

  79. Since Fringe was mentioned, can I go back a decade and mention Special Agent Dana Scully? She did have emotional distance in the beginning, but as the series progressed we got to see more of her character and she was a beautiful, multi-dimensional character. Sure, she wasn’t exactly cuddly, but she could also be emotional, vulnerable, and still be able to perform her job in the face of all the awful things that happened to her. What makes her all the more remarkable is the fact that she’s one of the strongest female characters I’ve ever come across, as well as being a fully realized female character (which is rare) and she came out of a very misogynistic television series. I’m not sure how that happened but I think a lot of it should be credited to Gillian Anderson. I honestly find Scully to be rather an inspiration; if I could be half as strong and smart as she was…

    However, she also makes me yearn for older television shows. Golden Girls? Designing Women? Murphy Brown? Does anyone remember these shows? I would love to see more of anything featuring not just kick ass young women (like much of YA fantasy, which is a boon for girls these days) but also older women as well. However, I would settle for less reality tv and more 3D female characters, which is a sad commentary on the state of television today.

  80. I’m also a LONG-TIME fan of Tamora Pierce’s YA fiction — and new fan of Kristin Cashore’s — and of Jane Yolen’s YA fic., esp. the Goddess/White Jenna duet; Jean Craighead George’s nature-loving fic.; and Madeline L’Engle’s scores of YA fic. Other books I return to (again and again) for great YA female characters include classics like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Chronicles of Narnia, and (even if it’s not technically YA) Charlotte’s Web. Thank you all so much for sharing your faves — I have new authors and books to seek with delight at my local library!

  81. I’m also a LONG-TIME fan of Tamora Pierce’s YA fiction — and new fan of Kristin Cashore’s — and of Jane Yolen’s YA fic., esp. the Goddess/White Jenna duet; Jean Craighead George’s nature-loving fic.; and Madeline L’Engle’s scores of YA fic. Other books I return to (again and again) for great YA female characters include classics like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Chronicles of Narnia, and (even if it’s not technically YA) Charlotte’s Web. Thank you all so much for sharing your faves — I have new authors and books to seek with delight at my local library!

  82. If we can mention TV/film characters, I have to put in a plug for alot of the women in the more recent Star Trek incarnations (and, of course, for Nichelle Nichols in the original!) — even if they are almost all pointedly hetero *and* fixated on macho male co-characters — and even for Maggie O’Connell in Northern Exposure (circa 1980s-90s) except (spoiler alert) when she does things like caving in to make all-pairs, all-around in the final episode. And, altho the movie kind of sucked, Elektra in graphic-novel form was AMAZING, as was Jean Gray/Phoenix in pre-film X-MEN. Also, speaking of graphic novels, and some true-life bits, how about “Persepolis” and (not so YA) “Fun Home”? And, finally, as for a few more classic (am I that old already?) women-centered TV shows, how about “One Day at a Time” and “MAUDE”?

  83. AH! THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND. ❀ Yes. I read that about once a month one year when I was 10. Jane Yolen is another I should have thought of. Thanks!

  84. I recently (about two years ago) watched the entire series of X-FILES, start to finish. And yes, I agree with you about Scully. Good call. Though, in the later seasons, she really needed to punch Mulder in the face. I have to admit I lost some respect when she continued to let him treat her like a doormat.

    And, because I can, the most kick-ass woman in my debut novel is the grandma. Gram Judy. Totally. πŸ˜‰

  85. I’m old-fashioned in my utter love for Dakin, the girl from The Farthest Away Mountain.

    Her insight, resourcefulness, determination, and most importantly empathy shaped her as a heroic person of her own right.

    She is the reason, to this day, I love gargoyles and look for the remarkable in seemingly unremarkable things.

  86. Loved reading this! You gals are awesome (but you knew that)! Not only have I been reminded of some fantastic female characters, but I’ve got a list of books with more great female characters to look into. YAY!

    I like Ariel from The Farwalker’s Quest (and soon The Timekeeper’s Moon ) by Joni Sensel. I know Ariel is a MG character, but the YA characters I love have already been discussed here. =) Well . . . there is Mary from The Forest of Hands and Teeth, but I still haven’t decided if Mary’s character pulled me through the book or if it was more the feeling of being chased by the undead that kept me going. πŸ˜‰

  87. Thanks!

    I haven’t read Joni’s books, but I should! I really enjoy a great MG every once in a while.

    And haha, re: Mary. I think either way, she’s a survivor. I’m looking forward to the next book.

  88. I thought that you guys had some great ideas and insight into some of the YA characters. I totally agree with you about Grace, Hermione, Katniss Everdeen, and Taylor Markham. It’s no surprise that these are four of my fav books of all time! You are all great writers, and your input with this issue was extremely helpful. I’m ready for more!

  89. I agree with Skittles001 that Wanderer and Mel are strong leads for the Host by Stephanie Meyer. They both are willing to fight to survive and to fight for the peole they care about in their lives. Wonderful book wiht action, romance, and some sci-fi.

  90. why thanks!

    If you look, there are plenty of great heroines out there. Thanks for reading!

  91. I got the same impression about Dee in Ballad, which is why I figured there has to be another sequel in the works…how do you go from Dee in Lament to the lost, broken Dee in Ballad, and then just leave her like that? It surprised me that Dee would so completely fall apart just because a certain person is not in her life anymore, so I assumed that she has more character growing to do.

    (And I mean, yes I know it sucks to lose your boyfriend, but there’s normal grieving and then there’s falling apart to the point of uselessness. For example, Suze in Meg Cabot’s Mediator series would be an example of the former, and obviously Bella from Twilight would be an extreme example of the latter. Dee wasn’t that bad, but she did seem to have lost her purpose in life or something.)

  92. Sophie’s great. How many other teenage girls would, upon finding herself enchanted into the body of a ninety-year-old woman, march out to seek her fortune, barge into a fearsome wizard’s castle and announce that she is his new cleaning lady, all because she can’t stay at home and needs a place to sleep? πŸ˜„

  93. Janie in “Wake”, Eddi in “War for the Oaks”, any girl ever written by Holly Black (Kaye!), Malinda from “Speak”, Kristen Cashore’s characters (especially Fire), and Elizabeth Bennet.

    If you guys haven’t read ANY of these, you would love them.

  94. Thanks for the recs! I’ve read and loved FIRE, all of Holly Black’s, and WAR FOR THE OAKS. ❀ And agree, they're excellent.

  95. I know, she’s one of the best crime heroines out there. I also like Michelle from David Baldacci’s sean and Michelle saga! She’s brilliant, but messed up.

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