These four (actually, six characters from four authors) literary loves of mine played vital parts in my young feminist awakening. Plus, they are steeped in nostalgia. I haven’t read these books in years, but they’re all seared in my mind.
Note: these are four white women authors. While I adore all of them, it would be remiss of me as an intersectional blogger not to comment on this fact. I have four things to say about this.
1) This is a systemic failure. Why was it so difficult for me as a little girl of color to find books written by authors of color?
2) It just goes to show that kids of color have always related to white characters. Why isn’t it possible the other way around? (IT IS.)
3) One of these books has characters of color, written by a white author. And while I adored it as a kid, I wonder what it’d be like to re-read it again as an adult, through a more conscious lens? Non-marginalized writers CAN write beautifully about marginalized people. But we can’t ignore the power differentials.
4) Again, people can be critical AND celebratory. This is a post about books that made a difference in my life. Books I loved to my core. I’m not popping my own bubble by commenting on the lack of diversity—I’m complicating and elevating the dialogue.
So, introducing… Julie’s childhood feminist faves!
Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women
Jo March was restless, fiery-tempered, and idealistic. She was too blunt. Too careless about some things—and about other things, cared so much that her heart nearly burned with the sense of it. She was selfish in the way that dreamers are. She loved literature. She dreamed of being a writer in a world that told her people like her couldn’t be writers. I was Jo March. I still am Jo March.
Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series
Alanna, red-haired and sword-wielding, was probably a feminist awakening for many young lovers of fantasy literature. I followed her through her quartet and beyond, rooting for her as she fought for her knighthood and eventually became a legendary hero. I flipped the pages eagerly for Alanna’s cameos in Pierce’s other books.
Shaharazad and Marjan from Susan Fletcher’s Shadow Spinner
Drawn by the gorgeous cover, I picked this book from the shelf of my library when I was ten, and thus ignited a lifetime of obsession with Scheherazade and the 1001 Nights. This middle grade novel is told from the perspective of Marjan, a disabled serving girl who is drawn into the lives of these legendary figures. As an adult, I breathe stacks and stacks of Scheherazade-based feminist literature, especially written by Muslim scholars. As a kid, I remember relating deeply to Marjan—a fierce but quiet girl who yearned to be a storyteller.
Addie and Meryl from Gail Carson Levine’s The Two Princesses of Bamarre
Before Anna and Elsa, there was Meryl and Addie. These two were the bastions of how badass and feminist sisterly love could be. I always yearned to be a Princess Meryl type—a sword-wielding action hero. But it was Addie who truly taught me what courage meant. Cos being quiet and full of fears does not preclude you from being a BAMF.
Have you ever read any of these books? I’d love to know who are YOUR favorite literary feminists, both now and way back when!