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.
I 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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