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March 31, 2010

Women's History Month - YA Writers

Women's History Month is about to end, but before it does here's another great blog from a great woman (who is sure to make her own history), Cleofaye...

In honor of Women's History Month, I wanted to write about famous women who inspired or affected me growing up. I wish I could say that my heroes were all activists or pioneers that changed history, but honestly, when I was a teen, I was too angsty to care about much other than my own high school experience. I spent my formative years depressed and miserable, trapped in a town that was too white, too conservative, and too culturally devoid for my tastes. No one understood me. I didn't fit in, and didn't have the energy to try. I spent my days isolated and alone, with the few friends I had never really getting me.

A Wrinkle in TimeI came home everyday and read. I devoured books, going through four or five in a week. I look back now and I can't imagine the money my parent's paid to keep me in supply, since our library was pathetically stocked. Books got me through my childhood. For a while I could forget who I was, forget who I wasn't, and live in another world.

So here are the women authors who wrote kick ass novels, with bad ass (or at the very least, not waiting-for-prince-charming) female characters. In the time of Twilight and Gossip Girl, we forget that Young Adult books can be good, they can be intelligent, and they can be feminist. These authors helped me survive some really shitty times, and this is my tribute to how amazing I think they are.
  • Madeleine L'Engle - Madeleine was born in 1918 and published A Wrinkle in Time in the '60s. I read everything I could get my hands on written by her. She had female characters that were not only smart, they were specifically good at math (!) and science (!?!). They always got the boy, but usually because they didn't actually care that much if they did. They were calm and centered in times of crisis and danger. They were, in a word, badass, and I've always wanted to be a member of the Murray clan.
  • Ready or NotMeg Cabot - Meg Cabot is best known for the Princess Diaries series, and don't let the Disney-fied versions of the movie fool you, Mia is smart, funny, and determined to find self actualization. She lives in the Village and has the street smarts that come with it. Later in the books she uses her royal authority to further environmental causes and eventually (HUGE SPOILER ALERT) convert the country of Genova to a democracy. However, my love for Mia aside, Meg Cabot will always have a special place in my heart for the book Ready or Not in which the lead character, Sam, a teen girl, explores masturbation, looks at the possibility of sex responsibly, buys contraceptives, asks her boyfriend to have sex with her, and doesn't get pregnant, doesn't get an STD, and doesn't regret it. Good job Meg.
    This Place Has No Atmosphere
  • Paula Danzinger - Paula Danziger wrote such classics as This Place Has No Atmosphere and The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. The Cat Ate My Gymsuit follows Marcy, a chubby, smart, high school teenager (who when I read it, was the most relatible character I had ever come across in YA fiction) as she finds her identity, with the help of a radical English teacher who gets put on trial by the school board for not standing during the Pledge of Allegiance. There is also a sub-plot of the heroine's mother becoming independent from her controlling and domineering father.
  • Ursula Le Guin - Ursula Le Guin, I'll admit isn't really a YA author so much as a sci-fi/fantasy writer who didn't mention sex too much, so I was allowed to read her books. In her Wizard of Earthsea Cycle, one of the main characters is Tenar, a young priestess who is more powerful than she realizes and given the sacred duty of protecting her convent's tombs. I loved fantasy as a kid and wanted to be her more then I can express. (Also, Le Guin gets major props for her more "adult" fiction such as The Dispossesed in which men and women are completely equal in a society that split from an earth-like planet after following the teachings of Odo, a woman!) She's also just completely badass for being an out, loud and proud feminist and taking on some authors of books that perpetuate the misogynistic stereotypes that are abundant in sci fi and fantasy novels.
    Both Sides of Time (Scholastic Classics)
  • Caroline B Cooney - Caroline Cooney wrote both The Face on The Milk Carton series as well as the Both Sides of Time series. Both had ordinary girls in extraordinary situations. The Both Sides of Time series dealt with the fate of girls that were deemed "unattractive" in society's eyes, as well as what happened when men divorced their wives in the 1890s. It showed how much more power and authority men had over women, and exactly what a girl from today would have to say about such ridiculousness.

The following authors/books I didn't read in grade or high school but found later (I worked in the Barnes & Noble kids and teens section through college). I wanted to include them because they are feminist or LGBT positive or just awesome.
  • Carol Plum-Ucci - Most of Plum-Ucci's novels have male leads, but they're all good and tend to have strong, if slightly damaged female characters. She gets a shout out for two reasons. 1. She's a Jersey girl like me, and most of her novels are set in Jersey (more than one take place in the ghost towns that are Jersey Shore towns in the winter). 2. What Happened to Lani Garver is a book that explores the possiblity of angels walking the earth, and if they did, what would they look like (since they are supposed to be genderless) and more importantly, how would we treat them? It is a fantastic book that shows what can happen to a kid who is too different in a small town.
    Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You
  • Dorian Cirrone - Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You is probably the best feminist YA book I've ever read. Kayla, the main character, is a ballerina, and a damn good one at that, but she also has a pair of D-size boobs, which prevents her from getting lead roles at the performing arts school she attends. The book deals with body issues, has gay characters (that aren't treated like being gay is their only personality trait) and even the title is taken from a poem that expresses the idea that girls who make too much noise get themselves in trouble. The feminist messages in it don't bash you over the head like in some books, but they make their point with characters you like and care about.

So those are my picks. I decided to only cover authors I have/had actually read, so I invite all the other members of the clique and all you sluts-in-training to feel free to add anyone I've forgotten. Tell us the authors you couldn't live without in your angsty YA days!

Click here for more blogs by Cleofaye or visit her blog Sex etc... where she discusses all forms of sex.


Melissa said...

I ADORE Madeleine L'Engle. Good post!

Wombat said...

Awesome list! In my middle/high school days, I couldn't have lived without Tamora Pierce (Kel in her Protector of the Small series is FREAKING AWESOME) and John Marsden (he writes a female main character in his Tomorrow series, but he does it REALLY WELL). I also love Meg Cabot. :)

Anonymous said...

Awesome! Meg Cabot does a fantastic job at female characters. I'd also like to note that, though Eoin Colfer is definately not a female writer, his female characters, especially Holly from Artemis Fowl, kick butt. :)

Jezebel said...

Okay, here are some of my picks:

~The Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series by Louise Rennison is adorable and hilarious. With titles like Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging and Stop in the Name of Pants!, how can you go wrong?

~Anything and everything Francesca Lia Block. Love her.

~Not written by a woman, but I have to give a shoutout to Girl by Blake Nelson. I remember reading it as a teenager and thinking there was just something real about it. Todd Sparrow!

cleofaye said...

I also wanted to give a quick honorable mention to Jerry Spinelli. His book Stargirl is one I would give to every girl growing up a little different in high school. Stargirl is a girl who gets a spot on the cheerleading squad, but cheers for both sides, she brings a table cloth, vase, and flower for her desk, no one understands her, but she is happy. When everyone convinces her to change, she realizes that being what everyone wants makes her miserable. An amazing message for anyone surviving high school.

Kacie said...

Great list! You should also really check out Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling series which starts with "Sloppy Firsts". Jess is incredibly intelligent, snarky and fun and there's just way too much in the series for me to name it all here. It's fabulous writing!

adi said...

Nancy Farmer! The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm and House of the Scorpion are both fantastic books about coming-of-age, post-peak-oil politics, and ethics; they're also really rousing adventure stories, and the former remains basically the only science fiction (YA or otherwise) I've ever read that did an African setting well.

Marlee said...

Great Post! I still read YA fiction (I'm 28), some of my favorite novels are YA. In the early nineties, when I was growing up, in Australia there was some absolutely amazing YA fiction coming out. He isn't a woman, but John Marsden wrote amazing female characters (the majority of his books are from a girl's perspective) and his 'Tomorrow' series and it's main character Ellie totally kick ass. (A movie of the first novel is about to be released, by the way.) I can't describe how inspired I was by her strength as a teenager. If you can find them, or any of Marsden's other books, read them. They are all brilliant and devestating and uplifting.
Also great Aussie teen books? 'Playing Beatie Bow' by Ruth Park and 'Obernewtyn' by Isobelle Carmody.