March is Women’s History Month, and tomorrow we’ll be celebrating 10 women writers to watch in 2012. But today is all about some of our favorite fictional women.
I bet we can all relate to this feeling: While reading a book, we feel a certain kinship to, or admiration for, a particular heroine. Or maybe we just think she’s really fierce.
Keep reading for a list of 10 female heroines* we’ve especially admired in recent years. Who else should be on this list? Let us know in the comments.
ALICE from True Confections
by Katharine Weber; Crown, 2009
Though I suspect readers are probably most familiar with Katharine Weber’s novel about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, my favorite of hers is the darkly hilarious and oddball True Confections, starring Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky. The story (which includes a Virgin Mary chocolate sculpture, a “Bereavemint” line of candies and many more absurdities) is about a family feud that’s tearing apart a dysfunctional candy company. Alice, an in-law to the family who has worked her way up to becoming CEO of the company, tells the story via an affidavit. She’s an unreliable and kooky guide, but her cut-throat personality only makes the reader root for her success.
ANJALI from Miss New India
by Bharati Mukherjee; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
Miss New India is a coming-of-age story set in Bangalore. Its heroine is Anjali Bose, a rebellious 19 year old who flees an arranged marriage and tries to make her own future away from the provincial low-income life she was born to. Anjali gets a promising job at a call center, but her personal reinvention isn’t as simple as just running away from home. This is a fascinating look at contemporary India and a memorable main character with big dreams.
BETHIA from Caleb’s Crossing
by Geraldine Brooks; Viking, 2011
Geraldine Brooks tells a story of crossing boundaries and quiet strength in Caleb’s Crossing. Narrated by Bethia Mayfield, a Puritan minister’s daughter, the novel is based on the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard—in the 1660s. Bethia and Caleb strike up an unlikely friendship, and Bethia manages to use her cleverness to slyly gain knowledge, even though women were denied an education at this time in history. This is a satisfying historical novel told in the voice of a woman with a hungry mind.
DR. SWENSON from State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett; Harper, 2011
Dr. Marina Singh—a scientist at a pharmaceutical company who journeys to the Amazon to figure out why the heck her coworker died on a visit to a research lab—may be the main character of State of Wonder, our favorite novel of 2011. But it is Dr. Annick Swenson, Marina’s former mentor, who wins the “best character” award, at least in my book. Not only is Swenson strong, incredibly intelligent and fearless—she’ll run scientific tests on herself, if it means she might figure out how a drug works—but her relationship with Marina provides the primary tension in the novel. So many books about women focus on their love lives; we appreciate this look at a complicated relationship based on mutual respect, science and survival.
HANNAH from When She Woke
by Hillary Jordan; Algonquin, 2011
Hillary Jordan’s dystopian retelling of The Scarlet Letter offers a worthy successor to Hester Prynne: Hannah Payne, a brave woman who is punished for having an abortion (she is “chromed” and her skin is turned red)—then goes rogue instead of quietly accepting her punishment. This is an exciting story about standing up for your beliefs and challenging those you love most.
MA from Room
by Emma Donoghue; Little, Brown, 2010
Who could forget the protagonist from from BookPage’s favorite book of 2010? The mother in Room is placed in an unimaginably horrible situation: She is kidnapped, raped and held captive for years, forced to raise her son within the confines of a single 12 x 12 room. Though part of what makes this novel so memorable is the child narrator (the story is told from five-year-old Jack’s perspective), it’s Ma’s resourcefulness, resilience and fierce love for her child that is truly inspiring and powerful.
MARGO from Once Upon a River
by Bonnie Jo Campbell; Norton, 2011
Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River brings to mind a hybrid of Annie Oakley lore and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Set in the 1970s in southwestern Michigan, the novel is about 16-year-old Margo Crane, a brave young woman who sets off alone down the Stark River to find her mother. It takes courage, stubbornness, the ability to wield a rifle and knowledge of the natural world for Margo to survive her quest. Readers will not forget her harrowing journey.
MARINA from The Realm of Hungry Spirits
by Lorraine López; Grand Central, 2011
Lorraine López’s The Realm of Hungry Spirits introduces readers to Marina Lucero, a fierce Latina heroine who longs for peace in a world of chaos. Though spirituality eludes her, Marina opens her home to the broken-hearted and the beaten in San Fernando Valley. Readers will appreciate the life lessons and the friendships depicted in this story, but it is Marina—and her humor, kindness and hungry spirit—that will stick with you long after finishing the novel.
ROSA from A Good American
by Alex George; Amy Einhorn Books, 2012
The character who stuck with me the most from Alex George’s epic, heartfelt story of a family who immigrates from Germany to Missouri was Rosa Meisenheimer, the daughter of main characters Frederick and Jetta. She’s a misunderstood hypochondriac as a child, then grows to become a chess whiz, joke teller, book lover, crackerjack teacher, keeper of a important secrets—and a joy to read about.
*We loved Lisbeth, Katniss and Minny and Aibileen as much as you did. But since we figured those characters are practically synonymous with “fierce female heroine” these days . . . we wanted to spread the love.