Set in a Catholic boarding school in Paris, this beautifully illustrated children’s book tells the story of 7-year-old Madeline. She was not afraid of mice or the tiger in the zoo, and she loved winter, snow, and ice. And despite being the smallest one, she showed great courage and composure even when her poor appendix burst in the middle of the night.
For some reason, a lot of precocious girls in children’s novels are redheads like me, and 9-year-old Pippi is one of the most fun. She has no parents telling her what to do, a horse lives on her porch, she has a monkey as a best friend, and she lives a life full of adventure. Like a female Peter Pan, Pippi doesn’t want or need to grow up, nor does she have much use for silly grownup ideas, either.
Anne of Green Gables
L. M. Montgomery
“I went looking for my dreams outside of myself and discovered, it’s not what the world holds for you, it’s what you bring to it.” This quote is just a glimmer of why I love Anne Shirley. This orphan-turned-beloved community member is a bright, imaginative, talkative, carrot-top who inspired me to follow my dreams and accept my larger-than-life personality.
Louisa May Alcott
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship” is perhaps the line that gets at the heart of this gem about four sisters—Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth—who live with their mother and without a father during the Civil War. While they all pitch in to keep the family afloat, they work together to survive through hardship and, at times, familial strife, showing different kinds of strength that women (and the others in their lives) can possess.
The Diary of a Young Girl
“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” My first introduction to the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust was through the innermost thoughts of a girl not much older than myself. Discovered in the attic where she lived with her own and another family, 13-year-old Anne’s typical teenage feelings and mature and hopeful disposition in the face of such devastating conditions taught me the power of the human spirit within us that even the youngest possess.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” Jane Eyre certainly has quite the revolutionary spirit! The plain, bookish orphan, whose position as a governess is the best she could have ever hoped for, has such a strong sense of self, and when she falls in love with Mr. Rochester, her passion inspires her to reach for a wider, richer life than someone of her station was traditionally allowed in Victorian England.
The Scarlet Letter
“Do anything, save to lie down and die!” America was born out of the harsh puritanism of the pilgrims in New England, and this story tells the particular brutality that women of the time faced—especially after an adulterous affair and having a child out of wedlock. But Hester Prynne draws strength from her inner core, despite the scarlet letter she’s forced to wear after her private life is made public for judgment by everyone in her community.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
“Towanda!” is a siren song of broads who don’t or won’t fit into female expectations in this story of female friendship and endurance. Fried Green Tomatoes’ Idgie Threadgoode is not your average 1920s girl—she’s independent, stubborn, and has her own sense of right and wrong. And no one can stop her from being who she wants to be.
The Joy Luck Club
Another book that enlightened me to the fact that not all women’s experiences are created equal, this multigenerational novel shows four sets of mothers who immigrated to the United States from China, as well as their American-born daughters. Jumping between the older generation’s experiences—both their suffering and triumphs—and their Americanized children, this novel shows the bond of female friendship and that special connection between mothers and daughters.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Lisbeth Salander is a marginalized, misunderstood, and misanthropic genius. She’s also a total badass. When she finds herself working on a missing person’s case that involves the abuse of women, she becomes a vigilante hacker who will take any step necessary to find out who’s responsible and punish them. She’s every woman’s revenge-fantasy spirit animal.
The Handmaid's Tale
Offred is a Handmaid in the new Republic of Gilead. This means that she’s potentially one of the few fertile women in a dystopian fundamentalist America and has become the potential child-bearer of The Commander, a married male leader. She’s no longer allowed to read, live free, or work. This book is her diary of those harsh conditions and a scary imagining of what it would be like for a formerly liberated woman to become an object and a possession.
We Should All Be Feminists
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adapted from her TEDx talk, this award-winning author lays out what it means (for both men and women) to be feminist today. About women, she says: “We make [girls] feel as though being born female they’re already guilty of something. And so, girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. They grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think.” But her definition of feminism is meant to liberate the boys, too: “Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.”
I’ve been a bookworm since I can remember. Whether I was naturally attracted to books that reflected my latent feminism, or the books I happened to read helped shape the values I have today, I can’t say. Regardless, here’s a chronology of the feminist literature that inspired my strong sense of girl power.
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