This is a subject that we have been thinking about for a long time. There are so many contenders that fit into the title of epic ladies (and really, if you try hard enough, you can find something epic about most characters) and we wanted to do the subject justice so consequently this will be a long post. So sit back and enjoy this collection of our favourite ladies in literature. We love them all for various reasons – we want to be them, we want to have the adventures they have, we want their unbearably adorable love stories – but mostly we think they’re cool chicks that we would be friends with if we met them.
Historically, resiliant young women have always been present in children’s literature. Predominant, some may argue. From the likes of the Paper Bag Princess (by Robert Munsch) and Clarice Bean (by Lauren Child) in picture books through to the truly intriguing and resourceful girls of children’s literature, they are everywhere. This is our, far from complete, list of epic girls that we shelve in children’s but are always inspirational reading.
Jo from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Sara from A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Mary from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Katy from What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
Lottie and Lisa from Lottie and Lisa by Erich Kästner
Heidi from My Father’s Daughter (originally published as Father’s Arcane Daughter) by E.L. Konigsburg
Meg from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Pippi from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Bobbie from The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit
Leslie (and May Belle) from Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Anne from The Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield
Rebecca from Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Over the course of the past year or so we’ve introduced you to a lot of our favourite epic women of young adult literature. Here’s some of them that we’ve mentioned before:
Our admiration for Karen Healey has been mentioned here. We love her heroines because they are ordinary young women who find themselves in a dangerous situtation where, when faced with the option of fight or flight, they choose to fight. They make mistakes, they get things wrong, they doubt themselves, they’re beautifully flawed but they still choose to take on the dangers of the world just ’cause it’s the right thing to do. We hope we could do that given half the chance.
We mentioned these epic ladies in this blog post and this one. Quite honestly, we’ll keep recommending these books until you all read them. Kristin Cashore’s heroines are born extraordinary but it is their actions that make them epic. All three are extraordinary in very different ways, all epic for different reasons, but who are all embarking on major ’save-the-world’ quests. All three go through a transformation as they work out who they are, what their place is in the world, and accept the power they have (in this case, a literal power that no one else has).
These incredible wartime heroines have had a post all to themselves before, which you can find here. We love them not only for their outstanding deeds of courage under horrific circumstances but also because they tell a deeply moving tale of friendship. So many of the friendships between women are depicted as competition, which of course at times it is, but we feel there’s a lot more to them than that. Elizabeth Wein set out to tell stories with friendship at the heart of them and she does such a wonderful job! We love these ladies because we recognise the best aspects of our own friendships in them and thus, they really do “infest your heart.”
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is another book that we will keep recommending again and again until you all read it. It’s that great. As we’ve mentioned here and here. Frankie is one of the most fierce, resiliant and independent teenage feminists we’ve ever read about, and we love her to bits. She’s not perfect though (the best characters never are) which makes her even more relatable. Just like Ruby. Where Frankie takes on the secret society at her school, Ruby’s just trying to work out the secrets of high school. She has an agonizingly funny perspective on the trials of friendships, parents and boys as she learns there is (thankfully) a world outside of high school.
We have already dedicated an entire post to the epic ladies of graphic novels (which you can find here) but we’re going to make a special mention to Superhero Girl from The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin-Hicks.
Superheroes usually have to deal with things like an arch-nemesis or a tragic past that inspires a life of crimefighting. Superhero Girl struggles with these things, as well as less intense superhero problems like forgetting to take her mask off. And some more everyday relatable problems like forgetting to update her mother on her life and accidentally shrinking her cape in the wash. In the process Faith Erin-Hicks creates the funniest, most down-to-earth, almost ordinary superhero we’ve ever seen and subverts all the tropes of superhero characters. We love her.
And now for some more epic ladies from young adult literature:
Eleanor from Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor & Park has been winning all kinds of “best of 2013” awards, and for good reasons. Eleanor, while she is described so uniquely, is so representative of how so many girls, including us here at the Teen Blog, have felt at some point in their own lives. We can’t help but feel just a little too close to the story. Eleanor faces a very rough home life which affects how she is seen at school – she is a complete outsider. But she’s tough. Eleanor bares it because she feels she has no choice. Despite the dire circumstances she finds herself in, she doesn’t let this define her. She is still able to let someone – a specific someone named Park – slowly, slowly into her private world where she no longer has to face her troubles alone. We love that Eleanor is one tough chick, but she knows that she can still reach out for help, and that doesn’t make her weak.
These books take on serious issues, eating disorders and rape respectively, without pulling any punches. Laurie Halse Anderson provides a powerfully honest perspective on these issues through resiliant protagonists. They go through hell, often feeling very alone, and come out the other side. They are stories about the importance of speaking out, about the power of words and they convey that message without falling into the realm of unbelieveable and preachy. The heroines of Speak and Wintergirls are relatable protagonists; love em or hate em, you’ll understand the pain they are going through. Trust us, reading these books is an emotional roller coaster but it’s definitely worth it and it’s a testament to Laurie Halse Anderson’s skill as a storyteller.
Gemma from A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
It’s kind of like a Victorian, elongated Gossip Girl, but with fantasy bits. Gemma Doyle has grown up in India, until she has a spookily true vision of her mother’s death. She is then shipped off to Spence Academy for girls in England, where she encounters an exclusive clique. Rejected by the group as well as her less glamorous roommate Ann, Gemma blackmails herself and Ann into the clique. After that things get weird and complicated because of an interesting mythology. At it’s heart though, this book is about friendship. It’s fulfills some of the tropes of girls at boarding school (which Enid Blyton encapsulated so exstensively) but along the way there is rollicking, and at times, terrifying adventure to cement Gemma’s friendships.
Carmen, Tibby, Lena and Bridget from The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares
This is another we love because of the way friendship is portrayed between these equally epic ladies. The first (of four) Sisterhood books kicks off as the girls are about to part ways for the summer. In order to stay in touch they form the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, vowing to send the same pair of jeans (and news) to each other at their various destinations. Each girl goes on her own personal journey of discovery but throughout it she is supported by the Sisterhood. The loving support the girls give one another is why they are epic and why we love them.
Ash and Kaisa from Ash by Malinda Lo
In the wake of her father’s death, Ash, consumed with grief, is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Her only hope is that someday, in her dreams, the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted. However, Ash takes her fate into her own hands when, after meeting Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, she learns to hunt. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love. We love the eerie yet fascinating atmosphere Malinda Lo creates with her lyrical prose and richly described settings. She interweaves fairy tales and traditions of her own into the story and creates a world you will fall in love with.
Phew! Hopefully now you have have miles-long to-read lists overflowing with tales of our favourite epic ladies, and perhaps some of your own discoveries too. If you have some favourite epic ladies that weren’t on our list, or you just love the ones we have included, let us know in the comments!