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mae cooks
I know it has been a while since I started waggling my arms around yelling 'Ladies in books! Let us SPEAK of them!' but today that time has rolled around again.

I am afraid I am also going to have to talk about my own book a lot, with spoilers! Which is not to say that I think I am the One True Feminist Icon for this age (sadly, far from it) or that my book is without any of the unconscious weird things that end up in everyone's books. But, I can speak for my own feelings in a way I cannot speak for anyone else's. As I have not yet been dipped in toxic waste and gained the power to read minds.

Also a lot of the responses to girls in my book has made me think more about the responses to fictional girls in general. So I find them a good starting place.

I would also like to say that I love young adult books. It is my genre, and I will be discussing it! (Though not exclusively.) It is awesome that it's a girl-dominated genre, too. It's unusual to have a boy narrator in YA.

There are still all sorts of problems with them. There is the problem that a lot of said girls are concerned with their dreamy boyfriends and nothing else. (Which is indeed a problem: as someone who definitely lost a ton of readers by writing about a family drama with some romance rather than a romance, believe me I know.)

If someone said, Sarah, I am in the mood for some fabulous lady-centred books! I could not recommend my own. I would say, Come back in a few years, I hope to have something for you then! In the meantime, take Margaret Mahy's The Changeover, Diana Wynne Jones's The Time of the Ghost, Justine Larbalestier's How To Ditch Your Fairy, Karen Healey's upcoming Guardian of the Dead, Saundra Mitchell's Shadowed Summer, Malinda Lo's Ash, Holly Black's Valiant and Alaya Johnson's upcoming Moonshine and you know, get down with your bad self. They are all extremely good. They are also books I'd classify as lady-centred (a girl's point of view, who cares about a lot more than her boyfriend and has issues unrelated to him, and girl side-characters as well).

Now, sometimes books have ensemble casts full of boys and also girls, and sometimes they are likewise awesome. Like Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix, which are alike in that both have a great heroine whose relationships with boys gets the most page time, but who also have several important ties to girls and aforementioned great heroine.

And then there are books who are boy-centred. I would count the Demon's Lexicon trilogy among them - for me it does expand into an ensemble cast and the second and third books are from a girl's point of view, but since the running thread of the trilogy is about Two Brothers and Their Relationship, and the majority of the main characters are boys, I think we shall leave it there.

However this does not mean that boy-centred books do not have to have girls in them who are important, because no books in the world should be dismissing half the world. (Just like the girl-focused books I mentioned above have many excellent guys in them. ) Since that is gross and insulting and also means the books are not as good as they could be, which is a shame. We should be able to read anything and not have it contain insulting terrible things, but since such is not yet the case: without further ado here are some boy-centred books which I think also have good treatment of ladies.

Naomi Novik's Temeraire series is a boy-centred book: the two main leads are boys. (One is a fine gentleman in a cravat. One is a dragon.) She's obviously thought about women in it, though: carved them out a place in the dragon corps very specifically, has an awesome scarred officer lady, a plucky girl trainee, a naive young captain lady, and a girl who lives in normal Napoleonic-era English society and has to make her own decisions based on the life she is confined by, independent of her feelings for a guy.

Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series, starring Miles Vorkosigan, lunatic accidental leader of a mercenary team in space. Which at first consists mostly of dudes, and Miles's strongest emotional tie seems to be to his killer bodyguard and his killer daddy issues. But he does have a childhood friend turned fellow mercenary, and the most awesome mother of all time. About whom there are prequels. And women crop up more, and more. Being people. Refusing to marry Miles all over the place! And once, proposing to him.

L.K. Madigan's Flash Burnout is a boy's point of view, with a strong boy friendship - which is also about being wanted by two girls. A nice situation in theory, but very complicated given that girls are individuals, and have needs and problems our teenage narrator doesn't fully understand. It doesn't work out well for any of them: they all emerge with dignity.

Holly Black's White Cat, which has a boy narrator and is deeply concerned with his relationship with his two criminal brothers, but which also has an extraordinary heroine, a fascinatingly terrible mother, and all the ladies have agency and quite obviously lives independent of guys. I can say no more because! It is not out until May.

As you can see I think all these books are awesome too. (I also think said books are awesome because sometimes readers will gravitate towards boy-centred books, perhaps because they have issues about girl-centred books, and then the girls being cool in that series will make them more receptive to other books in which there are ensemble casts or girl-centricness.)

So I already have two essays about girls in books, and our responses to same: Ladies, Please! and Ladies, Please Carry On Being Awesome. If you have not read them, do so, for they contain many of my points! Reasons why girls are awesome, and reasons why people might be biased against them.

After examining how boy-centred narratives are much more awesome for having girls in them, I also have some stuff to say about the excuses people make for why they don't like the girls or how the girls are not awesome. (Yes, sometimes these excuses are known as 'reasons.' But I see them so often, I begin to think of them as 'excuses.')

I Add A Disclaimer Here: Not liking some girl characters, including one or all of those written by me, does not mean people are prejudiced! Some people (for instance) don't like Mae, some don't like Jamie, some don't like Nick, and so on. Dislike away! But I still do feel that these reasons are used often enough that they're worth examining.

1) One of the very strangest to me is 'Maybe the writers do not like their girls as much as they like their boys?' I just don't believe many writers feel that way. I love mine. There has never been an instant of time in which I did not love them as much as the boys, and now since reading the responses people use about all female characters, and which they naturally use about mine too? She's too perfect/kind of a ho/just not as well-written/not necessary to have her there at all/too awesome for me to relate to/maybe the writers don't like them as much/she should be more 'something'/girl characters are constrained by the writer existing in a sexist society/not as well-developed as men. Well, in a protective fury, there are moments I love the girls much more now. But from the start, as much. Of course, as much. It would be bizarre not to! Most writers write their character because they love them. So thinking about why said writers love them might help other people love them too!

2) She's Too Perfect. I see people say this while talking about how they also don't like the girl's flaws! Demon's Lexicon exampleCollapse )

3) She's kind of a ho. Everyone gets to make out with whoever they want, people. Unless they have made a prior commitment to someone else, it is only their own business! Also, make sure you hold up guys to the same standard of morality.

Also: girls should be judged by their romantic relationships to dudes alone! Really, now?

4) Not as well written. This is a judgement call I cannot make for people. I can only put up my hand and say, same amount of effort put into writing each character. I presume this is a general-writer-thing rather than a Just-Crazy-Me-Then thing, unlike the fact I survive on thirteen cups of tea a day.

5) Girls Are Not Important to the Plot: I have heard this said about Mae, that Demon's Lexicon could have been done without her. It is not true. She is the instigator of the entire plot. (She is not the protagonist, however. I've heard that, too, that she's the main character and the book is about everyone wanting to date her. I... don't know what to say about that!)

Further Details, Spoilers for Demon's LexiconCollapse )

6) Too Awesome For Me To Relate To: Honestly this just makes me want to cry. Girls are awesome, often! Boys are awesome, often! I don't actually often relate to characters, so I may be missing the boat on this one, but most days I can look at myself and think 'room for improvement, but not at all bad.'

Even today, when I am writing a blog post instead of going to the bank. While wearing, I will conceal nothing from you blog readers, a pink ruffled dressing gown. Very girly. And awesome: it's fuzzy. (And my six-foot-four weights fiend brother bought it for me, because he thought it was awesome.) You are probably awesome, girl reader! You can relate to the awesome all you like. And you are probably awesome, boy reader! (I know my brother is.)

7) She should be more kickass/patient/understanding/strong. All perfectly relevant criticisms! But, I see them levelled at girls more to the extent where what I hear is 'like a boy.'

8) The Sexism, it Exists! We are all undone, undone!

There is a feeling that because sexism exists, writers are hampered in their writing of women, and therefore said female characters are necessarily limited.

Well, I mean, yes. It does exist. We've all noticed.

There are also issues with writing people with disabilities, people of colour, people who are gay. There are even issues with writing straight white guys, because they too live in a world where inequality exists, and this affects them too! All these issues! That's why it is impossible to ever write any characters at all. And so all my writing goes like this 'the void... BLANK PAGES ... the void... BLANK PAGES.' It's very deep.

Oh no, wait.

So - yes, I am confined by my desire not to be sexist. And not to be racist or homophobic! And this applies to all my characters. Not just the girls. Or the gay ones. All of them! Until I write a book set in a strange Everyone Is Equal Utopia, and let us face it, probably that won't work out well. (See George Orwell's Animal Farm, a book about lots of animals trying to live in happy equality on a farm without humans. You can assume it does not end well from the fact it has left me with a life-long distrust of pigs.)

The Terrible Constraints of An Imperfect World: SpoilersCollapse )

9. She's not as well-developed as the boys. Again, this is pretty much a judgement call, though sometimes characters develop Over Time. Further thoughts: SpoilersCollapse )

The summary of all these tangled thoughts is this: all kinds of books can be awesome, and one of the most important factors in their being awesome is to try and write all characters in them as individuals, and with respect.

With that in mind, do think of all the reasons not to like women that are applied to fiction, and every time, do try to think about whether it's a reason or an excuse. Also, name me boy-centred, girl-centred and ensemble cast books where girls are done right!

For my part, I will keep trying too!

Comments

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ex_kaz_maho
Jan. 25th, 2010 05:30 pm (UTC)
I think Nina Kiriki Hoffman writes some amazing girl characters. They have often come through very difficult times, and yet they fight to overcome these things and work hard to take control of their destiny. A lot of her stuff is YA-friendly, even when not specifically written for teens.

Of course, you know how I feel about Mae... ;) And, of course, she has pink hair which = bonus!awesome! points.

*ahem* I would also like to say that I try very hard to write awesome ladies, myself. The protag of THE IRON WITCH, Donna, was the deciding factor that inspired my agent to rep the book and my editor to buy it. I can only hope that readers feel the same about her... O.o At least I have another year to worry about that. LOL.
greenlily
Jan. 25th, 2010 05:40 pm (UTC)
I love your essays and the discussions that arise from them!

I've been re-reading Diana Wynne Jones' novels in more or less constant rotation for about fifteen months, having been assigned to write DWJ fic for Yuletide in both 2008 and 2009. Without thinking about it too hard, I opted to write girl-centric stories for both assignments.

DWJ's female characters of all ages are wondrously characterized on their own. (Two of my favorites, Awful and Polly Whittacker's Granny, are well outside the age ranges that YA readers are supposed to appreciate, and their books are all the better for it.) She also writes male-female relationships in which we learn more about both parties by how they react to each other than by how the omniscient narrator describes them.

(Or, in the case of the Magids books, how they describe themselves. Deep Secret and The Merlin Conspiracy continue to strike me as unspeakably brilliant: two characters trade first-person narration and tell us all about themselves by how they talk about each other. Roddy's less compelling than Maree, to my mind, simply because TMC contains more and clumsier deus ex machina than DS, but both of them come wonderfully alive for me as we see them through other people's eyes.)

Edited at 2010-01-25 09:04 pm (UTC)
hanelissar
Jan. 25th, 2010 05:47 pm (UTC)
Your essays on women always give me the Happy Smilies. Although they also make me sad because despite how I call for awesome women in fiction and people to stop judging, I always realise that I end up judging all the women I read so much more than any of the men. If a female character makes a mistake I automatically get much angrier with her than if a male character does, and as a woman that upsets me a lot. I don't know when I managed to get indoctrinated to think that, but it makes me sad.

The only solution is to keep reading books full of awesome female characters, clearly. Can it be May soon?

Whenever I am in need of some awesome Girl Power I tend to turn to Sarah Waters - there are both men and women in her books and the women are always completely awesome. They are too busy falling in love with each other to pay any attention to the foolish men and actually think escaping from mental hospitals and socialism are much more important things to be getting on with than trying to be a stereotype.
sarahtales
Jan. 25th, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
Society has put some kind of dreadful ideas in all our heads! But not so dreadful that people can't see Fingersmith is a superlatively excellent book. ;)
speak_candidly
Jan. 25th, 2010 05:48 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure if some people would claim it's a cop-out, since it's historical fiction and, you know, a FACT that she actually went out and did stuff, but Rebecca Tingle really saw the potential for girl awesomeness rather than writing Princess Aaethelflaed as a tool tossed around by The Men in Her Life. Have you read The Edge on the Sword?
themadpoker
Jan. 26th, 2010 11:42 pm (UTC)
Butting in to say I love that book! I think I bought it back in elementary school and I've reread it many times since. It's fantastic. <3
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evilangel101
Jan. 25th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
An awesome!girl I love is Alice in the recent SyFy retelling of Lewis Carol's novel. This Alice is far better because she, unlike her 19th century counter-part, has the opportunity to be in control of her situation (she's a judo black belt :D ) . Though her original motivation is saving her boyfriend (and dear lord I love girls saving guys) by the end she's grown as a character and helped save a country that has become really important to her. I may be just a tad biased by my love of kick-ass-girls and boys-who-wear-eyeliner (see Mad Hatter who is spectacularly British and lovable) I really think Alice deserves a place in the girl-centric fandom hall of awesome (which may or may not exist entirely in my head >_>)
sarahtales
Jan. 25th, 2010 05:55 pm (UTC)
I adore Alice and Hatter with a passion, and have watched it twice already. Agreed on Alice the black belt swinging from her chandeliers, on a rescue mission, and having a relationship built on trust. They are the best!
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penrynsdreams
Jan. 25th, 2010 06:02 pm (UTC)
I believe you also wrote a post about how we judge female characters differently and more harshly. I agree with you wholeheartedly on both counts and think there's a strong connection between several of the reasons you mentioned (particularly the judgment call ones) and the fact that we are so, so critical of girls.
bookshop
Jan. 25th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)

I VEHEMENTLY ENDORSE THIS POST.
elanor_x
Jan. 25th, 2010 06:15 pm (UTC)
I read the first book of A Song Of Ice And Fire series and *loved* it. Good characters and several great female characters too, which are part of the group of the main characters, from which point of view the story is told. Have you read them? If no, highly recommended.

Also LM Montgomery's Emily Starr's series about the beginning writer and a poet from her childhood to marriage. The idea of progress since childhood to one's own children resembles what she did with Anne, but I liked Emily's books more. There is much there about the difficulties and progress in writing, the importance of both skill and talent. Nitbit: Her teacher (and personal friend) is a failed writer.
heatherbird
Jan. 25th, 2010 09:21 pm (UTC)
I love Emily!
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golden_catseye
Jan. 25th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC)
The Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud has some pretty awesome girls in it - Kitty, one of the main characters kind of annoyed me when she first appeared but turns out to be amazing. The main narrator is a djinni who is quite obviously in love with a boy from several thousand years ago, and I wanted to hit the main boy, Nathaniel, over the head with a book initially, but (lo, the character development!) he comes up trumps. It's a great series, go and read (but not in public, because then when you die of laughter people give you funny looks and won't sit next to you on the bus).

Regarding girls and their boyfriends, this is why I am not a fan of Twilight. Because yes, they are epically in love and meant to be etc, but my god they're boring because they have nothing in their lives except each other.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 25th, 2010 10:04 pm (UTC)
I totally had the same reaction to Kitty. I was severely disappointed with her from the beginning. What a twat. I almost groaned the first time a chapter popped up from her perspective. Having finished the whole trilogy, though, she rivals Bartimaeus himself as my favorite character. Well, not rivals. Because Bartimaeus is awesome. But she's a close second. She makes several big mistakes for all the right reasons, and has her heart exactly in the right place. She doesn't understand what's going on, but she wants to, and damn it, she does her best to learn! She's wonderful.

Also, you forgot the part where laughing makes people give you funny looks, but openly weeping makes them avoid you like the plague. Oh, the heartbreak. The anguish. I couldn't sleep after I finished it.
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melodylemming
Jan. 25th, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC)
I read a lot of novels from the 1910s, including a lot of romance novels and girls' books written by women, and as I was reading this essay, it suddenly occurred to me that they never have this problem. The girls are awesome in kind of low-key ways (which I love--instead of running around being badass--not something I have a problem with--they're just quietly and matter-of-factly ten times more competent than anyone else) and the boys, while pretty awesome too, are a lot more distant. Female writers then were a lot less confident about writing about men, I think.

So I'm wondering how much this distrust of female characters has to do with the largely female audience wanting to get inside the heads of people different from them, i.e. boys. Because it's a relatively new thing, female writers really being willing to get into boys' heads. There's a novelty factor.

And also I want to recommend a couple of books:

The White Linen Nurse(1913) by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott. It's an arranged marriage plot, mostly, but the heroine is strong and capable, and stays focused more on her sense of self than her husband, even through the happy ending.

A Woman Named Smith(1919) by Marie Conway Oemler is one of my favorite books. Sophy Smith is a thirty-something year old secretary with self-esteem issues. There's a romance (and a couple of mysteries and some adventure) but mostly the book is about her finding out what she's capable of, and gaining the respect and friendship of the people around her.
kilerkki
Jan. 26th, 2010 05:51 am (UTC)
I just spent a good chunk of the evening reading A Woman Named Smith, and for all its flaws--it's very much a product of its time and culture--I sort of fell in love with Sophy herself. Possibly because, in a bizarre way, she gave me hope for myself. Thanks very much for the link.
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regicidaldwarf
Jan. 25th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC)
A boy centered trilogy that has awesome girls in it is the Rai-Kirah trilogy, by Carol Berg (Book titles Transformation, Revelation, Restoration). They're adult fantasy not YA but while reading I was continually impressed by her ability to make all her characters real, even the women. (Gasp!) Other awesome things include amazing word building (an empire that actually feels like one!) and a great relationship between the main character and the prince of the Empire (...I did say it was boy-centered after all).
dreamwaffles
Jan. 25th, 2010 06:34 pm (UTC)
I know you've read it, but I've got to plug Rae from Robin McKinley's Sunshine. She's a snarky coffeehouse baker who's a self-admitted wuss and yet accidentally winds up turning into Buffy, which she is very, very unhappy about. And yet she gets shit done. Admittedly with a lot of flailing and general reluctance, but when it comes down to it she wades right into the vampire-killing!

The Honor Harrington books by David Weber are also pretty awesome. It's Horatio Hornblower in space, but Honor's a woman, and she is badass. She's got pretty much a suicidal devotion to her duty to the space navy, and she can command like no other. The books do have some flaws here and there, but the ladies are awesome.

I have more but I also have class, so thanks for writing this up, I enjoyed reading it!
lady_moriel
Jan. 26th, 2010 07:41 am (UTC)
Yesss. I adore Rae.
greenfaeriedust
Jan. 25th, 2010 07:01 pm (UTC)
Oh Sarah! You do always manage to make me feel terrified that I am unfair to female characters. : ) I think my only injustice is having higher expectations of them than I do of the boys. I have higher standards for my own behaviour and I guess that extends to that of my gender. As far as men are concerned, I suppose I allow them more room to make mistakes, a lot more than I would allow myself! :S

But my favourite character will always be Mia Thermopolis. I just adore her, she is entertaining, flawed and very very human. Plus I love her insane thought processes and morality lessons. *loves her* She may even beat out Derek & Draco, which you know... Not easy! : )
rockinlibrarian
Jan. 25th, 2010 07:04 pm (UTC)
There are also issues with writing people with disabilities, people of colour, people who are gay. There are even issues with writing straight white guys, because they too live in a world where inequality exists, and this affects them too! All these issues! That's why it is impossible to ever write any characters at all. And so all my writing goes like this 'the void... BLANK PAGES ... the void... BLANK PAGES.' It's very deep.

Thank you for this paragraph. It's like you got into my brain and pulled the insecurities out for us all to laugh at, making the insecurities seem silly.

But anyway, on topic:
It still amazes me (as it has from the first essay you wrote on the topic) that there ARE people who don't like female characters. I don't get it. I have a slight theory now though; as it seems to be coming from the people who prefer romances, might it be that these people are only READING looking for characters to crush on, and if they crush on boys, then the girls are just in the way? I mean, obviously if it's a REAL romance (as discussed in another of your recent posts) you're going to have two cool real people interacting and that, but I mean that the people who have a PROBLEM with the girls aren't READING to see a beautiful romance unfold realistically-- they are just specifically looking for a guy to crush on, literary character interaction be damned. This is the ONLY possibility I can think of.

Me, I read so much YA, and actually, so much Middle Grade and young-YA (where romance is scarce anyway), that I'm no stranger to the awesome female character. MOST of my favorite characters are female, and most of THOSE are from middle grade or YA fiction. In fact the awesomeness of my favorite female characters of childhood is currently inspiring me to write a new book ABOUT awesome female characters (if I can just, you know, START WRITING). My favorite character that no one else seems to have ever heard of, darn them, is Richard Peck's Blossom Culp (Ghosts I have Been) being the best of her books). Yes, written by a man, even. I loved her so much that she was my IMAGINARY FRIEND when I was 13. She is awesome and well-rounded and hilarious and also awesome. And maybe even awesome.
nessreader
Jan. 25th, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC)

Shelf Discovery (it's one of those books made out of internet webpages, in this case from the jezebel series about YA fic. The book is bloody obsessed with Lois Duncan) has a whole essay about how fab Blossom Culp is. And on the original webpage, lots of comments dozo Thanks for reminding me to go find a copy to read.
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ravelled_ribbon
Jan. 25th, 2010 07:06 pm (UTC)
7 reminds me of a seminar I took part in, in which a supposedly feminist theory of language came up. You see, because men are dominant it obviously follows that language was created entirely by men and thus that when women talk they use mens words and concepts and thus there is no such thing as a female voice. In fact it is impossible for women to have one. Except maybe when they are all alone together talking about only female things. Like weaving. Or laundry. Having babies.

This theory made me so incoherently angry it robbed me of my ability to rebut it.
ivynights
Jan. 25th, 2010 07:48 pm (UTC)
I think the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer is a good example of a boy-centered stories with great girls: Holly is an awesome female character, truly one of my favorites of them all. Juliet and Commander Vinyaya are likewise cool. Angeline Fowl always seemed a bit damsel in distressy but in recent books we learned she has a secret fierce environmental activist core & she jumped in importance at the end of the last book in a significant way that I will keep vague bcs of ~spoilers.
It's not perfect though, I admit Opal is not so 3D, but not in a lame female development way, just in a not particularly well developed villain way. Also, Minerva sort of seemed just to exist to be the female counterpart of Artemis, so.
Holly's seriously awesome though.

Also I want to bring up Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, which is girl-centered. But every female in that book is drawn wonderfully. Sal, Sal's mother, Phoebe, Phoebe's mother, Mrs. Cadaver, etc... they're all really 3D and have all got their own motivations and stories going on. It's so good.
radioactivepiss
Jan. 26th, 2010 08:12 am (UTC)
Agreed on the AF front! Holly is really awesome and the books try and tackle sexism in a way that I think works well for younger readers, too. And while Opal may not be well developed, at least she is kind of awesome in a very insane way.
hamsterwoman
Jan. 25th, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
an awesome scarred officer lady, a plucky girl trainee, a naive young captain lady, and a girl who lives in normal Napoleonic-era English society and has to make her own decisions based on the life she is confined by, independent of her feelings for a guy.

Not to mention the bratty-yet-irrepressibly-entertaining handful that is Iskierka and the brilliant-and-won't-let-you-forget-it Prescitia, who quickly became my favorite character in spite of only making an appearance in the last book. Hey, if Temeraire counts as a male character, the lady dragons should count too! :)

Somebody upthread mentioned Pratchett in passing -- I think he's actually the author whose females I tend to love most consistently (Daphne from Nation, and from Discworld, Tiffany Aching, Sybil Ramkin, Nanny Ogg, and Granny Weatherwax especially, but actually all of his females are pretty great).

And seconding Tamora Pierce's heroines (who I'm surprised have only been mentioned once so far -- is that because they're too obvious a choice?) I can't say I'm a fan of ALL of them -- Alianne, Dove, and Sarai in Daughter of the Lioness actually didn't work for me at all -- but I love Keladry and Beka Cooper has really grown on me in Bloodhound, so I'm expecting she'll become an equal favorite once the series is done.
aesthetistician
Jan. 25th, 2010 10:21 pm (UTC)
I second the Perscitia love - something about an argumentative scaredy-cat mathematician cannot help but speak to me.

I also propose love for Lady Allendale. She's not a major character, by any means, but by golly she just quietly rocks on and makes polite small-talk with the enormous dragon in her garden and supports her son in the face of her husband's freezy disapproval and sends gifts to her not-actually-but-she-thinks-so illegitimate grandchild. And that's great, I think.
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nessreader
Jan. 25th, 2010 08:25 pm (UTC)
Antonia Forest did some boarding school stories - Attic Term, Cricket Term, End of Term and Autumn Term that are - if you bullet point them - kinda Malory Towers, but if you read them, they're adult novels. Those 4 were part of a huuuuge family saga, but the boarding school ones were girl casts.

Morris Gleitzman does very laddish stories for 8-10s, but among them is a great thing called Blabber Mouth, about Rowena, Australian, mute, stroppy and cursed with a theatrically dressed dad who sings country and western to the horrified neighbours. Which I recommend madly. The sequel was a bit of a schmaltzfest mind you: made me cry reading it. Book one is pure joy and frog cruelty.

Gillian Avery did a lot of historical fics aimed at middleaged children (9-11?ish), set in victorian times, with girls in the spotlight but ensemble family casts of brutal siblings. Greatest Gresham and Huck and her time machine, for instance.

I'm old so my main girl characters in books are probl out of print. Christine off Flambards, Alanna the girl knight by Tamora Pierce, Linda Newberry's 3 generation trilogy with the 1st world war granny 2nd world war mum and 60s daughter, or Hester Burton's heroines. Is Yelena from the Snyder Poison Study series too romantic for this list?



ETA: Gah. Am late to the thread with Alanna. Sorry.


Edited at 2010-01-25 08:37 pm (UTC)
sarahtales
Jan. 25th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)
I absolutely love Antonia Forest! And Christine from Flambards, though I remain crushed Will died and left her to unworthy Dick and unworthier Mark.
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nocoward_soul
Jan. 25th, 2010 08:44 pm (UTC)
So I seldom read YA that isn't historical.
Karen Cushman writes books with varied heroines. My favorite is Matilda Bone, but I imagine that's unusual.

Beyond the Western Sea has a awesome, prudent, courageous, kind, Irish Hufflepuff heroine that I would sell my soul for fanfic of. And a floating church and Anthony Trollope shout-outs.

The Lady Grace mysteries have simple plots to an older reader, but the historical details, the narrator, her friends, and Queen Elizabeth make up for it.

Sally Lockhart is amazing. (I squee every time I see an Eleventh Doctor icon because Jim Taylor is one of my biggest literary crushes.)
icastlecaptured
Jan. 26th, 2010 02:11 am (UTC)
Re: So I seldom read YA that isn't historical.
I just wanted to say YES to two things on your list.

The first is Matilda Bone. That was the book that first got me fascinated by the middle ages, but she was also one of the first characters that really stuck with me, close to the heart, when I read it. On the surface she was so alien to me, but I loved her and admired the way she was able to open up and care about those around her without ever loosing her sense of herself as an individual.

My second point is, of course, that I love Jim Taylor too. And that the idea as him as the Doctor fills me with glee every time I think about it.
lavinialavender
Jan. 25th, 2010 08:48 pm (UTC)
Both your books and essays rock. Keep them up. Such a strong presence of misogyny in fandom, especially with the large female population, is so distressing.

Okay, so one of my favourite scenes in my book is this one. (Nobody else has ever mentioned liking it at all, though I did once read it out once to an adult audience who laughed a lot! So it's entirely possible the scene is terrible.) My hero is lying about being deeply seasick. My heroine has come down to check on him and make sure he doesn't choke on his own vomit (ah, l'amour).
That scene was definitely awesome - just the visual of them lying there with the iPod. And I want to re-read the whole book now. Alas, college.

ETA: As for recs, I can only point again at my favorite book in younger years: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. She rocked so hard and even in a vaguely IC way for a Victorian teenage girl.

Edited at 2010-01-25 08:54 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous)
Jan. 25th, 2010 09:30 pm (UTC)
I think what is meant by "too awesome" is that the girl seems too perfect. She has little to no flaws and is good at almost everything she does. Case in point, Nancy Drew. Too perfect. I can't stand her. But I didn't like Harry Potter much either, for the same reason (the character; loved the series). So at least I can say it's not a double-standard.

As far as your books go...Well I have to confess to not liking Mae as much as the boys. Do not take this the wrong way, however! I still like her. It was mostly just that she didn't strike me as the type to shine her brightest being the center of a love triangle. She had her moments even there, though. I'm specifically thinking of when Nick was looking down her top. She was a little annoyed but then started finding it a bit funny. That's just how a normal teenage girl would react, and I loved how unashamed she was about it.

I loved how protective she was of Jamie, but as Nick was generally apathetic about it, and he was our point of view, there wasn't as much of that as there probably could have been. I mean that in the nicest way possible; I also love that Nick doesn't care what happens to Jamie as long as Alan is safe. That sort of thing is what creates realism. And yes, sometimes characters get slightly shafted in the deal, but it makes them look better in the long run. To me, anyway.

All in all, I came out of it feeling somewhat fond of her, eager to see how much more awesome she was going to be in book two, but not crazy about her. And I mean that as a compliment. The book was about Nick and Alan, it shouldn't have left Mae as the lasting impression. So personally, I think you're right on track.
sarahtales
Jan. 25th, 2010 09:34 pm (UTC)
the type to shine her brightest being the center of a love triangle

Entirely unsure what you mean by this!
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melusinahp
Jan. 25th, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing these posts in support of female characters. I find myself falling into a despair at hearing all the excuses you mention said over and over again by women who are smart and really should know better. It's so good to see this all written out.
quintus_severus
Jan. 25th, 2010 10:20 pm (UTC)
I love so much reading your blog and sort of getting hundreds of pennies for my thoughts and awesome book recommendations and an energising dose of your frantic but intelligent humour!

My favourite YA female in a reeeeeally long time (possibly ever) is Katsa from Graceling; she completely blew me away. She's so fiercely individual and independent and unrelenting, and yet is also very flawed in a very real way and has doubts about herself, but then defies them to prove to herself that she can! And she's a FEMALE with COMMITMENT ISSUES. I feel about that flaw in Katsa as I think you expressed you felt about Draco's cowardice. Aaaand I could go on for far too long. :D
sarahtales
Jan. 25th, 2010 10:23 pm (UTC)
Graceling didn't quite mesh for me, but I love Fire. Highly recommended!

Edited at 2010-01-25 10:36 pm (UTC)
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laliandra
Jan. 25th, 2010 10:33 pm (UTC)
Ohmigosh, Sarah, I cannot believe that no-one has mentioned that scene to you! I cannot believe I did not mention that scene to you! Very remiss, self, poor form. That is the scene that tipped me over from "Hey, Mae is pretty damn cool" to "Mae! MAE! ILHER!". Because I express my love through incoherency.

As for awesome ladies, you are so right, and I think it's so good that we are actually doing this, actually sitting down and going "girls, stop it, stop hating on yourselves," because that is poison. The thing is, I think in terms of really good female characters, there are lots more in books than in TV and film, which is pretty upsetting. I mean, it's great for books, but I still really smacks of that horrible "reading is for only for girls" that is so sexist both ways. But anyway, there are only ever going to be more awesome ladies in media if we stop telling writers things like "Oh, they are Too Awesome". Pff. If such a thing exists, I'd rather have a too awesome lady than no lady at all.

My most awesome ladies growing up were two Marys, Lennox and Poppins respectively. They were amazing and competent and totally saved the day! They had interests! They had friends who were boys! They had real, interesting flaws!

More recently I was very struck by the matter of fact way that cool, competent ladies were scattered all over the place in Scott Lynch's The Gentlemen Bastard books. And also Uhura (I want to be her when I grow up) from the Star Trek reboot and all Terry Pratchett ladies ever. I also love Celeste Temple from GW Dalquist's (excellent and steampunky!) The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. She is tiny and loves cake and cares about her green leather boots and gets scared but never gives up because her two male accomplices are in trouble!
(Anonymous)
Jan. 26th, 2010 02:38 am (UTC)
Ahmahgood the Terry Pratchett ladies! They are so amazingly amazing. Sybil! Angua! SUSAN! Anathema! (She's from Good Omens which was also Neil Gaiman but STILL) Cheery, with her skirt+beard combination, will always win my heart. And others, both major and minor. But seriously, I can't get enough of his female characters.
nocoward_soul
Jan. 25th, 2010 11:29 pm (UTC)
Sarah, if you haven't already, you must read Fly by Night. It's a Ruritanian fantasy about words, names, politics, religion, and floating coffeehouses.

I kind of love Lord John Grey's mother Benedicta. Gabaldon has dozens (no, literally) of great female characters.

I love the Boston Jane trilogy for the way it inverts the typical historical-YA-heroine character arc.
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