My Three Favourite…Tomboys

28th Mar 2011


Little Women‘s Jo March might be one of literature’s most beloved tomboys, but there are a handful of others that I adore almost as much. Here’s three of my favourites, and if you have any other suggestions of who we might have missed, then make sure to tell us in the comments at the end of the post…

George Kirrin from The Famous Five

With her insistence on using the masculine contraction of her birth name, Georgina, her short hair and smug satisfaction when strangers mistake her for a boy, George Kirrin is a textbook tomboy.

She competes with her male cousins in their assorted adventures, and her skills include sailing, thwarting smugglers, and finding evidence of foul play in caves, castles and secret passages.

Fiery-tempered and fiercely loyal, she and her dog Timmy are a formidable duo, and one I spent many a childhood reading session being insanely envious of, not least because George owned her own island and was allowed to romp off into all sorts of dangerous situations involving spook trains, hidden treasure and holidays in lighthouses.

And the diet of ham sandwiches and ginger beer? Sounds good to me!

Camilla Macaulay from The Secret History

The only woman in the tight-knit circle of Classics students in Donna Tartt‘s classic début novel about Hampden College, Camilla is strong, cool, collected and unapologetic, and I love the way narrator Richard Papen describes her:

Being the only female in what was basically a boys’ club must have been difficult for her. Miraculously, she didn’t compensate by becoming hard or quarrelsome.

She was still a girl, a slight lovely girl who lay in bed and ate chocolates, a girl whose hair smelled like hyacinth and whose scarves fluttered jauntily in the breeze.

But strange and marvelous as she was, a wisp of silk in a forest of black wool, she was not the fragile creature one would have her seem. In many ways she was as cool and competent as Henry; tough-minded and solitary in her habits, and in many ways as aloof.

Out in the country it was not uncommon to discover that she had slipped away, alone, out to the lake, maybe, or down to the cellar, where once I found her sitting in the big marooned sleigh, reading, her fur coat thrown over her knees.

Things would have been terribly strange and unbalanced without her. She was the Queen who finished out the suit of dark Jacks, dark King, and Joker.

She holds her own with the others, whether it’s with the constant drinking, the card games, croquet, manipulative power games or murdering, and for that she’ll always have a special place in my heart.

Tank Girl

A gun-toting, tank-driving, post-apocalyptic anarchist with a love of sex, violence, dyed hair and tattered and safety-pinned attire, Tank Girl is a post-punk pop-culture heroine.

Taking no shit from anyone and with a devoted mutant kangaroo boyfriend who’ll do anything for her (including all the cooking), she evades enemies with ease and has no hesitations about killing anyone who gets in her way.

Originating in independent comics and fanzines, today she is beloved by an international audience and has been featured in books, collections of the original comic strips, and even a film. For news and sneak previews of forthcoming issues, have a nosey at artist Rufus Dayglo‘s Tumblr.

What do you reckon? Have I missed anyone obvious? Tell me in the comments if so!

Jane Bradley


  • Nicole says:

    I’m so very excited to see Camilla from The Secret History on here.

    Another fictional tomboy: Finny from Justin Kramon’s Finny 🙂

  • Harri says:

    Arya Stark from George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire has to be my favourite fictional tomboy, she is ferocious, determined and magnificent (and only 8 years old). I can’t wait to see her characterisation in the up-coming series.

  • danny says:

    Here’s some you may have missed:

    Calamity Jane

    Carrie Kelly/Robbin in Frank Miller’s The Dark Night Returns

    Tulip O’Hare from Garth Ennis’s Preacher series

    And Jezebel St. Etienne in Jailbait Justice: The Girl with the Big Iron on Her Hip by that go-getter Danny Hogan

  • Lindsay says:

    I had to think about this for a couple of days because I knew there was someone at the back of my mind and I couldn’t for the life of me think who, but it came to me today – Alanna from the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce. I LOVED Alanna when I was growing up! They try to shove her into the girl-friendly field of magic, but that’s not for her, so she switches places with her twin brother and trains to be a knight. A fricking knight – AND she out-knights all of the boys!!

    I will always have a special place in my heart for Jo March as well though. And does Katy from the What Katy Did… series count? I don’t really remember them all that well, but I seem to remember her having a lot more spunk than all of her peers!

    • Luci says:

      What about these two?

      Dido Twite from Joan Aiken’s series of adventure stories – she first appeared in Black Hearts in Battersea, where Simon reappearing from Wolves of Willoughby Chase was the main character, as a real brat. However, Aiken was persuaded not to kill her off and she takes over for several books as the central character, including Night Birds in Nantucket, The Stolen Lake and The Cuckoo Tree.

      Mick Kelly in Heart of a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.

  • Rose says:

    Kate from The Mysterious Benedict Society

  • Lisa says:

    Karrin Murphy, from Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series, is one of my favourites. And I’m another fan of Arya Stark. 😀

  • Sara says:

    Oh, so many! As a kid, it was Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Charlotte from The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (most empowering book ever for little girls) and (in the end) Mary from The Secret Garden.

    These days I love Alice from PopCo and I’m so glad you said Camilla from Secret History. Also Hermione from HP, but don’t we all?

  • Claire King says:

    Stig of the Dump! The first book that ever surprised me.

  • Natasha says:

    Nancy Blackett from Swallows and Amazons was my role model as a girl; brave, strong and capable, I learnt to sail because she did.
    I also think Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables needs a mention. Her gender never limited her and she valued herself for her mind and her capacity for love rather than her looks.

  • Nicole M. says:

    Hands down, Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s “The Millenium Trilogy.” Lisbeth’s uniqueness, intelligence, and badass attitude are qualities I aspire to every single day; the girl gets me weak in the knees! This past Halloween, I dressed as Lisbeth and made all my friends listen to me explain why she’s so awesome (all while I emphatically sloshed beer around).

  • Lucy U says:

    Lyra Belacqua/Lyra Silvertongue from Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials was forever my favourite girl character when I was growing up. Takes someone special to take down the king of the bears and the entire magical world.

  • Aoife says:

    Fanny from Fanny and the Monsters by Penelope Lively. She’s tough and she spots dinosaur fossils in quarries before polite society even believes in evolution. Very good. She’s also always duffing up her brother and the neighbours’ kids. The tomboy-as-scientist archetype.

  • Sophie says:

    Sophie, from Dick King Smith’s “Sophie” series, starting with Sophie’s Snail – I loved those books.