8th Jun 2012
My Three Favourite…Young Adult Heroines
When I was at school, young adult fiction didn’t really exist – there were children’s books and then at twelve or so you’d move onto grown-up novels.
Teen heroines were hard to find. I gobbled up books about the super-spy Nancy Drew, first conceived in the 1920s, who novelist Bobbie Ann Mason calls: ‘as cool as a Mata Hari and as sweet as Betty Crocker’ – an expert horse-rider, gourmet cook, bridge player, oarswoman, French-speaker and great shot who, in the later books, went on adventures to far-flung spots like Nairobi and Costa Rica.
Then there was tomboy Jo March in Little Women (written in 1868!) and, erm…. I only remember a couple of contemporary teen-heroines, in books by trailblazers such as Judy Blume or Paula Danziger, whose character Cassie in The Pistachio Prescription feels like the first ‘teenage bomb in captivity’, and battles with asthma and an addiction to nuts to run in the school election.
Now, thanks in part to the Twilight franchise and the success of Bella Swan, YA heroines are everywhere. My own, the cynical psychic Delilah Dark, is a kind of young Dorothy Parker, fighting an evil corporation with a crystal ball and a sharp tongue. And every week seems to bring some new kickass girl destined to fight dragons, witch-hunters or evil dystopian regimes. These are my three current favourites:
Obvious, but come on! Rebel, hunter, trader, archer – she can skin a lynx, live off pine-bark, identify wild berries and sleep up a tree. Katniss outwits the Gamemakers, refusing to simply accept their system, and becomes a revolutionary in the process – she’s a perfect heroine for 2012, with young women around the globe joining movements like Occupy to question the future they are being offered.
Katniss can kill, but she’s also kind: she looks after her family and the little tribute Rue, and gets to save the guy. As critic Manohla Dargis argues in The New York Times she: ‘isn’t locked into gender. She has assumed her dead father’s responsibility as the family provider and is also a mother surrogate for her sister, Prim. But Katniss doesn’t shift between masculinity and femininity; she inhabits both.’ Which makes her very cool indeed.
There’s nothing better than sinking into one of Rees’ sumptuous historical novels. This is the most fun of all – Savoy is an 18th century girl who rides out as a highwayman: testing the bravery of her suitors, giving the jewels to the poor and becoming a legend. I love the fact she always wears a plume of gorse for luck, and her struggles with politics and destiny in a time of great upheaval.
Rees said she was inspired by the real tales of brave women in that period, including Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote the radical feminist text A Vindication of the Rights of Women and was described as a ‘hyena in petticoats.’ As a poet, I also love the fact the book was inspired by an old ballad that begins:
Sovay, Sovay all on a day
She dressed herself in man’s array
With a brace of pistols all by her side
To meet her true love, to meet her true love, away she’d ride
Daisy from How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
My favourite YA novel. New Yorker Daisy is a flawed, lovely mess of a girl: she has an eating disorder and a defensive seen-it-all line in sarcasm, telling us: ‘I don’t get nearly enough credit in life for the things I manage not to say.’ But she’s brave enough to fall in love with her cousin Edmond, which in a time of approaching war might be the most dangerous thing you can do.
Daisy’s honesty makes her a heroine – as she tells us early on: ‘It would be so much easier to tell this story if it were all about a chaste and perfect love between Two Children Against The World At An Extreme Time In History, but let’s face it, that would be a load of crap.’ By the end you’ll care about her so much you’ll be crying like a drain.
Who are your favourite young adult heroines? Do you prefer the modern girls, or are you a traditionalist at heart? Let us know!
Guest Post by Evie Glass, author of The Discoveries of Delilah Dark