Books are great for a variety of reasons. They look pretty on shelves, they’re useful for pressing flowers, they smell amazing. But one of my favourite things about reading book is uncovering great female protagonists (lead characters). The type who overcome the odds, the type who exceed expectations or the type who refuse to apologise for who they are.
Unfortunately, there aren’t as many books as there should be where the protagonist is a woman – and even fewer with girls. One study found that in 6000 children’s books, only 37% of them had female main characters. Since it was Day of the Girl on Tuesday and we are all about celebrating the sisterhood, we thought we’d have a look through our bookshelves and find our favourite literary girls.
1. Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games
If Destiny’s Child’s Survivor was written with someone in mind, it would have been Katniss Everdeen(yeah yeah, we know it was written before the Hunger Games, but you get what we mean). We all know she’s tough, but perhaps the most wonderful thing about Katniss is how deeply she cares for her sister, Prim, for Rue and Peeta and Gale. And let’s be honest, isn’t it best to have a bit of both?
“Pity does not get you aid. Admiration at your refusal to give in does.”
2. Liesel Meminger, The Book Thief
Sometimes just thinking about this book can be enough to bring on tears. It’s set in WW2 and narrated by Death (stay with me). It’s a wonderful, quirky book about nine-year-old Liesel, who steals books but at the same time knows more about loss than anyone should ever have to.
“…She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on…”
3. Scout Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
Despite being published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird is still shockingly relevant today. Scout is the daughter of a lawyer who is defending a black man accused of raping a white girl in the deep south of the USA. Scout is a fearless young girl who refuses traditional ‘feminine’ behaviours and is generally an all around kicker of ass.
“I felt the starched walls of a pink cotton penitentiary closing in on me, and for the second time in my life I thought of running away. Immediately.”
4. Frankie Landau-Banks, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
This is a lesser-known (and in my opinion, better) book from e. lockhart, the author of We Were Liars. It centres around a girl called Frankie, who is enraged when she learns she can’t join her boyfriend’s all male secret-society at their boarding school. So, in the manner of a totally awesome lady, she created a society of her own.
“‘You have some balls.’
Frankie hated that expression, ever since Zada had pointed out to her that it equates courage with the male equipment…”
5. Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables
Feisty orphan Anne is sent to live with a grumpy middle-aged brother and sister on a farm after a slight communication error (it was the early 1900s, so Whatsapp wasn’t available). They had actually requested a boy, but Anne quickly shows them that anything a boy can do, a girl can do better. Including totally win their hearts.
“There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.”
6. Jo March, Little Women
Little Women follows the adventures of the four March sisters as they grow up as girls in 19th century America. Tree-climber and playwright Jo is the most headstrong of the four, if she were around today I think her report card would be decorated with unsubtle pleas for her to “keep her temper under control.” The March siblings are all pretty kickass in their own ways, but Jo takes the cake.
“I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle – something heroic, or wonderful – that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all, some day.”
7. Matilda Wormwood, Matilda
If you can read this book without spending at least 20 minutes staring at inanimate objects hoping to move them with your mind, I salute you. Matilda has pretty crappy parents but when her teacher Miss Honey notices how clever she is, she discovers her magical powers. And we’re talking actual magical powers, guys, not just ‘believing in yourself’. Though of course that’s great too.
“Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable…”
8. Natasha Kingsley, The Sun is Also a Star
This book is about a girl who loves science and a boy who loves poetry. It’s a book about love, sure. But it’s also a book about Natasha, an illegal immigrant, who is about to be deported along with her whole family. Natasha is willing to fight really damn hard for her future – and when she meets Daniel, she’s willing to fight that little bit harder.
“He closes the file and pushes a box of tissues toward me me in anticipation of my tears. But I am not a cryer. I didn’t cry when my father first told us about the deportation orders, or when any of the appeals were rejected.”
9. Lily Owens, The Secret Life of Bees
Set in 1960s America, Lily and maid / stand-in mum Rosaleen run away from Lily’s dad and end up living with the Boatwright sisters who make honey (hence the title). This book is more adult than YA, which makes Lily’s role as the female protagonist even cooler. Lily is an amazing chick who isn’t afraid to go out and find the life she wants.
“Knowing can be a curse on a person’s life. I’d traded in a pack of lies for a pack of truth, and I didn’t know which one was heavier. Which one took the most strength to carry around? It was a ridiculous question, though, because once you know the truth, you can’t ever go back and pick up your suitcase of lies. Heavier or not, the truth is yours now.”
10. Bee Fox, Where’d You Go, Bernadette
When her mother Bernadette grants Bee’s wish to go on a family trip to Antarctica (casual), she gets enveloped in the plans. One day Bernadette disappears and it’s up to Bee to find her. As she sifts through her mum’s emails and old documents, she comes across some incredible revelations about her mum’s past.
“My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.”
So go and and get reading – there is so much kick-assery to discover.