Friday Hoyden: Best Feminist Young Adult Books

A close-up image of a dictionary, focussed on the word *Feminism* (the word *Femininity* is just out of focus below it)This is a bit of a departure for Friday Hoyden, featuring a concept rather than a person, but it struck me as a great thing – Jessica Stiles from Ms Magazine is looking into YA books for feminists for an upcoming edition, and she’s set up a a GoodReads list where people can add and vote for their favourites.

So, vote early, vote often! Just maybe, once you have, you could pop back here and discuss your favourite fictional and biographical female protagonists, whether hoydens or not?

What was the first book you read and thought “wow, I never knew girls/women could do that“? Or alternatively, the first book you read and thought “why on earth would those people think girls/women shouldn’t do that?”. How did such realisations affect your subsequent outlook, observations and interactions with others?



Categories: gender & feminism

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8 replies

  1. Well, to start things off, I was always most fond of George from The Famous Five (or was it the one with the magic tree?) because she had a boy’s name, and was aggressive, and liked animals more than people. Even though everyone kept reminding her she was a girl, she ignored gender expectations.
    (Or so I remember, a few decades hence.)
    Matilda by Roald Dahl was probably my first “life-changing” book. I remember I got it for my 6th birthday, and was very excited. Matilda was clever and ambitious and a big misfit. I had two of the three down already, so “becoming clever” was the next thing on the list. If I could be clever, I thought, I could succeed at anything. Whether it’s right or not, the sentiment is still engraved on my frontal lobe.
    (Though I probably couldn’t stand reading it now because she was a huuuuuuuge swot)

  2. I loved and still love Margaret Mahy’s Changeover, which is the first book I remember reading in which a girl was presented as a hero on a hero’s journey.
    I’d also put in a good word for Isobel Carmody’s Obernewtyn series for a similar reason.
    I’ll head over to the Goodreads list and vote!

  3. AK, I too have fond memories of George from the Famous Five, but the first book I read about a young girl doing her own thing (to an extent) was the Laura Ingalls Little House books. As an older adult, Laura seems really a rather compliant child with a mild mischievous streak and some minor tomboy tendencies, which I guess shows just how saccharine some of the other girls in fiction were, that I found her so impressive at the time. Of course, I was still a child rather than a young adult when I first read those books (and Heidi and Anne of Green Gables).
    I remember being very, very fond of girl detectives when I was about 10 – Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. Plus those various jolly-hockey-sticks and wicked-larks boarding school books about twins whose names I no longer remember. Their independence and spirit of adventure appealed.
    The first girl I remember reading about who was on a hero’s journey? Probably the first Dragons of Pern novels, and the adventures of Lessa.

  4. Oh I LOVED Trixie Belden books. I believe I had a crush on her brother? (I always develop crushes on fictional characters). But I loved that she was described like someone who looked like a kid I could know at school (in my mind short curly/fuzzy red hair, lots of freckles), not the pretty-girl thing. She was adventurous, clever, boisterous and independent (at least that’s how I remember her). I also loved Anne of Green Gables. I have a bit of a thing for red hair and I sometimes think that’s from my love of those characters). Northern Lights by Phillip Pulman – I LOVE Lyra, I love her strength and wilfulness, I love that she’s allowed to be somewhat headstrong to the point of foolishness and childish rather than always being miraculously grown up…I don’t recall her being ‘punished’ for that in the book as I saw her being at the very end of the movie, but it’s been a while since I read it.

  5. George from FF I liked – but even then it really annoyed me that for all her bravery and being the same age as Dick, she was still always stuck sorting out the larder with Anne, while the boys did cool stuff! I still hate the idea that adult males should do all the ‘rough’ stuff, but I can kind of see where it comes from with men generally being bigger and stronger. But at age 12, I was much bigger and stronger than most of my same-age male friends – so I always felt George got ripped off.
    I was also very into the English boarding school books – was the twins one Pat and Isobel from Enid Blyton’s series? I love them! I loved their midnight feasts, sense of loyalty to each other and how the popular girls were the fun ones, not necessarily the prettiest.
    Second the others mentioned – Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew etc.
    One more I would add – although I haven’t read the books – is that last night I was semi-watching that Lemony Snicket movie. There are three kids, ‘an inventor, a reader and a biter (the baby)’, and I loved that the girl was the inventor. When they were stuck in situations that needed an ingenious invention to escape – they turned to her, and even her brother acknowledged that she was the expert and did what she said. It shouldn’t have surprised me – but it did! I don’t think I’ve ever seen it that way around, usually the boy is the active one and if the girl is allowed a skill she gets a semi-passive one, like reading. But it worked really well and she was great.

  6. Ooh yes, Lemony Snickett! I LOVE those books (A Series of Unfortunate Events). I read those to my son with a kind of guilty this-is-more-for-me-than-you pleasure!

  7. I have fond memories of the Billabong books by Mary Grant Bruce. Or more accurately I have fond memories of liking them, I can hardly remember anything about what happened in them. But I do remember I wanted to be Norah.

  8. I was a fan of George in the FF books, too: she was who I read for. I remember in one of the later books the boys told her that she ‘really had to settle down now and stop being so boyish’. I was clearly already a feminist because I was very very unimpressed about this. I think it may even have ended my enjoyment of the Blyton books.
    I liked Trixie Belden too, but my real favourite came in the form of the Song of the Lioness quartet from Tamora Pierce. I adored Alanna. I adored that she negotiated with her brother to swap so that she could run off and learn to become a knight. I loved that she managed to convince everyone that she was a boy for a long time. I loved that she made friends with the King of the Rogues, and that she had to negotiate, later, how, exactly, to be a ‘Lady Knight’, and her own desires for the occasional pretty thing. And her heroism, a lovely combination of courage, loyalty, fierce anger and straight-up stubbornness. Nice. Oh, and on the sex/love/romance front, I loved that she a) was configured as desirable, b) didn’t wind up with the first guy she slept with, c) had multiple lovers, and d) that her negotiation of these guys was transparent, so that we got to see how some couldn’t handle her knighty-ness, and others thought she was ‘really a girly girl, deep down’, and others, well, others wind up being, like Goldilocks says, just right. And now, when I go back and read them, I really respect Pierce’s construction of the narrative, still, even as I’m a little uncertain about the way that race and queerness are configured (or not)… And for me, back then, they made feminism feel possible and real and heroic and desirable. Which was useful for me, negotiating some pretty un-feminist spaces (and other books!). 🙂
    I’m seconding both of Rebekka’s votes, totally and all the way, although I haven’t finished the Obernewtyn chronicles, unfortunately. Maybe some day!
    As a teen, I did also like, from that list, Sabriel from the Abhorsen series, Meg from A Wrinkle in Time (though the later books were less engaging for me!). OH!! And the Wise Child/Juniper books were awesome! Pippi Longstocking I had read to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever got over the awesomeness of cleaning the floor by skating around on scrubbing brushes.
    I’ve read the Uglies series (Scott Westerfeld) since, and highly recommend (even if I have my misgivings about them!). And of course, Lyra from Northern Lights (Phillip Pullman)is probably one of the best girl heroines I’ve read about…
    I should probably mention, though, that the first books that told me that girlfolk could do pretty much whatever were A Paperbag Princess and perhaps even more so, Jane and the Dragon. IMHO, these books should be in every collection of picture books.

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