A recent article in the Atlantic spurred on by the popularity of the Hunger Games and Katniss the spectacular no doubt, is part of a new YA for Grownups feature at the Atlantic.
The article “The Greatest Girl Characters of Young Adult Literature” lists mostly books and heroines from children’s books. As soon as I read the list, I started thinking about the many great teen girls I’ve read about and loved over the years. How could they leave these out?
Meg from A Wrinkle in Time is an all time favorite. She is someone I identified with as soon as I read her story in sixth grade. Far from home, faced with a remarkable evil that had already taken her father and which was slowly turning her beloved brother to its will, Meg digs deep and uses her heart and mind to fight and win them back.
Thirteen year old Dicey Tillerman from the Homecoming and other novels by Cynthia Voight is deserted in a store parking lot by her mother, left with her three younger siblings and nowhere to call home. Shocked but determined to take care of them somehow, she begins a cross country trek.
Legendary eleven year old Lilah the Lost from Jonathan Maberry's Dust and Decay survives among the zombie hordes for years before she joins Benny Imura on his journey. Tough, she is determined to survive at all costs and she has much to offer.
Kristin Kashore's novel Graceling features Katsa who has been trained as a hardened assassin from a young age. Her gift or Grace of being able to kill people with her bare hands makes her a tool of her uncle. Secretly, she forms a council which acts in service of others in order to maintain her humanity.
Tally Youngblood from Scott Westerfeld's Uglies is like every other teen who is approaching her sixteenth birthday: eager to have the surgical transformation that will make her beautiful and perfect. A meeting with rebellious Shea changes her mind and her future. She is an absolute product of her carefully formed society who chooses a possibly savage existence over an easy but controlled life.
Enola Holmes is Sherlock's young sister. Abandoned by her mother and determined not to be put away in some school for girls, she uses disguise and brilliantly logical planning to elude her famous brothers and strikes out on her own. Nancy Springer's Enola is beloved by many for her ability to sleuth while remaining warm and vulnerable and a step ahead of everyone. The Case of the Missing Marquess is first.
Avi’s Charlotte Doyle is a wealthy young girl on a sea voyage that disintegrates into mutiny and murder. She becomes one of the crew, is charged with murder and becomes captain of the ship during the perilous voyage from England to Rhode Island. In the end, she can choose her old life or her new one. The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle leap from the page in one astonishing turn after another.
Fever Crumb lives in war ravaged London in the distant future. She belongs to the Society of Engineers, a cold logical scientific people. Revolutionary events sweep her from her comfortable existence and reveal that she may be a member of an ancient hated race.
Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons follows Salamanca Tree Hiddle on a journey across country with her grandparents. Sal hopes to be in Idaho in time for her mother’s birthday. Along the way, she tells them the story of another girl who is much like herself. Despite loss and a deep sense of guilt, they make the journey together. Sal’s imagination and determination to make things right somehow are heartbreaking and wonderful at once.
I read Meredith Ann Pierce's story of Aeriel and her Darkangel when I was young and thought it was so romantic. A young girl goes up against a beautiful cold vampyre with thirteen wives in order to save her beloved mistress. She tries to save them and herself by going on a series of magnificent quests. Through three novels she does what is required of her, keeping her love and her world safe. Her selfish vampyre never quite deserves her.
Sarah Byrnes is one of the bravest girls in literature, appearing catatonic to escape from her violent father. She feels she has to withdraw, and trusts no one, not even her long time friend Eric. Eric draws in others to help her escape the last drop into madness as her father tries to kill her at last. Chris Crutcher shows the price and peace of standing up for yourself and others in Staying Fat for Sarah Brynes.
Sabriel is the daughter of an Abhorsen. Abhorsen's work to keep the dead from re-entering the world of the living. When he is killed, he sends her his tools so that she may learn the craft and go across death to save him. Although she is born to be an Abhorsen, the dangerous process of learning by crossing into the world of the dead is almost too much.
Lyra Belacqua in the Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass does no less than save souls as she adventures across snowy wastes to deliver an instrument that she thinks will help her uncle. I loved her ability to make friends in any situation and to think quickly when presented with danger. Betrayed by those who should love her best, she remains loyal throughout.
In Tomorrow When the War Began, Ellie Linton goes camping with her friends. When she returns home, her town Australian town has been invaded and she and her friends need to scavenge food and eventually wage a guerilla war on the invaders.
Life As We Knew It ends for Miranda and her family when a meteor knocks the moon out of its orbit and closer to earth. Tidal waves, volcanoes that permanently blacken the skies and earthquakes that ruin what remains make it nearly impossible to survive. Somehow Miranda and her family keep going and find a way to be closer to each other than ever. Susan Beth Pfeffer wrote two other novels set in this near future as well.
In Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small Keladry of Mindelan works to become the first female knight. She endures the rigors of training and the harassment of some very sociopathic fellow knights in training. She not only survives, she becomes known as The Protector of the Small as she fights the battles of other students who are taunted. Small, tough, big hearted.
Harry Crewe leaves home to fight beside her brother Richard in Robyn McKinley’s The Blue Sword. She has gifts and fights well, entering a competition that shows her skills to all. With her Blue Sword Gonturan she enters battle in a high pass. Barely surviving she calls upon help from her heroine Aerin and her love Corlath. The sword activates its ancient magic and brings down ruin upon the invaders. Great fight scenes, I think this was the first time I read a book where a girl could be a sword wielding heroine.