I’ve always found myself especially attached to characters in stories. Protagonists, antagonists, I love them all, but there’s something to be said about the heroes and heroines of a story. Granted, I tend to throw many book characters under the bus because they’re half-developed cliches, but that doesn’t mean I hate all of them. In fact, there are a lot of great books out there with characters that I absolutely adore!
Anyway, a while back in my school’s Book Club, we had sessions where we’d prepare o a list of our favorite book things – sometimes characters, sometimes settings, sometimes couples (ah, but that’s a list for another day). For a while now, I’ve wanted to share some of those lists on my blog, so this week and next week, I’ll be sharing a somewhat condensed version of my favorite heroes and heroines.
Since I started with the guys in my lead singers series, this time it’ll be ladies first! (However, like last time, the lists are in no particular order.)
I could go into a ten-page long tirade of what makes a great female character, but I’ll save that for another blog post. However, since The Hunger Games became popular, it seems as though every single author is obsessed with this idea of a “strong female character.” (No hate to Suzanne Collins, she just managed to do it so well that everyone thought they could do it too. They couldn’t.)
But moving right along, the characters on this list aren’t flat, one-dimensional Katniss copycats. They’re unique, and have their own strengths and weaknesses. While I’ll certainly explain each one in more depth, I chose these characters because to me, they’re all amazing examples awesome women in young adult fiction.
Legend by Marie Lu
June Iparis could probably be considered privileged. She grew up a rich part of the Republic, a dystopian nation made up of the western half of the United States (more or less). Plus, she’s a prodigy, becoming a field agent in the Republic’s military by age fifteen. However, when she goes undercover in the poorer sections of the Republic to find her brother’s (alleged) killer, she learns there’s a lot more to the country than what she’s grown up knowing.
Over the course of the first book (and the rest of the trilogy), June never stops looking for the truth. She’s determined, smart, and independent, but she also recognizes when she can’t accomplish a task on her own. Without giving too much away, she becomes a strong leader later in the series, but she was never overbearing in the way that many YA heroines are. To put it short, while June may seem like the typical “strong female character,” she is well-rounded and certainly has her ups and downs, but she’s one of my favorites for that very reason.
Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter
I don’t know if it was ever established here on this blog, but I have a minor obsession with spies. Basically, I watched an episode of Burn Notice once and it was all downhill from there.
Cammie Morgan attends the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, a boarding school for spies in training. However, even though her school has the word “Exceptional” in it, Cammie is still a pretty normal girl. Sure, she has some unconventional skills (like tailing a subject in a crowd or speaking fourteen languages), but she never acts in a way that screams “I’M SPECIAL.” In spite of her spy status, Cammie is still a regular teenage girl who loves M&Ms and has to deal with guy struggles like everyone else. She’s ordinary in a way that doesn’t demand attention, unlike many young adult heroines.
Aside from breaking cliches, Cammie also has a great character. She’s strong and resilient, but she also knows when she needs help from her friends and family. It’s also great to watch her grow over the course of the series – For example, near the beginning, she’s somewhat insecure about who she is, but she later becomes more confident. All in all, Cammie is a great protagonist and an awesome example, especially when you consider these books are intended for middle/high school girls.
Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld
Cleverness and sarcasm are two qualities that I can appreciate in just about any character. Most of the main characters in Westerfeld’s WWI steampunk trilogy had a witty line here and there, but Deryn really takes the cake on that one. She’s also smart and able to think on her feet – more than once, she’s shown herself capable of handling tough situations without panicking.
Deryn’s also determined. As I mentioned, the series takes place during an alternate version of WWI, and Deryn dreams of joining the British Air Service. However, because of the time period, women weren’t allowed in the military, and so Deryn must pose as a boy, Mulan-style. In fact, she manages to keep this act up for most of the trilogy. If that’s not determination, I don’t know what is.
Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Reyna may not be a main character in the series, but she certainly makes an impression. She’s first introduced in the second book of the series, The Son of Neptune, as the leader of Camp Jupiter, a safe haven for the Roman demigods in the series. Although she doesn’t play much of a role until later on, it’s obvious that she’s a strong leader and has earned the respect of those under her. She is very skilled at making rational decisions, and when her co-leader Jason suddenly disappears, she takes on the full leadership of the camp without complaint.
Later on, Reyna is shown to be sympathetic to other characters, especially those going through hardships. She also sticks by her beliefs, as shown when she intentionally ignores the rules and travels halfway across the world to help the rest of the story’s heroes. And if that weren’t awesome enough, her name means “queen.” Pretty accurate, in my opinion.
Stargirl (Susan Caraway)
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Stargirl is what I would call a contemporary novel. It doesn’t take place in a dystopian world or feature characters with superpowers, it’s just a normal story. In fact, Stargirl doesn’t exhibit typical “heroic” characteristics, and yet she still deserves a spot on this list.
Stargirl is a quirky girl. She sings to her classmates on their birthdays, decorates her desk with flowers for every class, and has a pet rat named Cinnamon. In a small-town high school where most of the students are the same, she sticks out. At first, her fellow students are somewhat amused, but they later become annoyed with her strange antics. Even so, she continues to be herself, going out of her way to make people happy and not caring whether or not she’s “popular.”
I like Stargirl because she’s confident in being her own person. She’s never hateful towards those who dislike her. Even when the whole school turns on her for being different, she never acts out of anger. And she’s always looking for opportunities to make others smile, even small things like intentionally dropping loose change on the sidewalk. While Stargirl didn’t save her country from destruction or end the zombie apocalypse, she’s definitely heroine in her own way.
These characters certainly have their differences. I mean, who ever thought they’d see a list comparing a quirky high school girl to a spy in training? However, as I mentioned before, they all have at least one thing in common: They’re well rounded characters who don’t rely on cliches and tropes in order to have a personality, and to me, they’re all positive depictions of women in fiction.
Of course, there are many, many other characters that I could have included on this list. Who are some of your favorite heroines that I left out? I’d love to start a discussion with you in the comments!
Be sure to come back next week for Part Two: My Top 5 Heroes! And, if you haven’t already, check out my guest post on Between Reality about Character Cliches I Could Live Without.
Until next time!