Strong Female Protagonists (who you want as your best friends)

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by Laura Resau, YA author of The Red Glass, What the Moon Saw, The Indigo Notebook and upcoming, The Star in the Forest.

When Melissa asked me to write a guest post about strong female protagonists, I loved the idea. I always have books to recommend. But as I started brainstorming ideas, I had to stop and think. What exactly makes a strong protagonist? Being tough? Being active rather than passive?  Having self-knowledge? Acting bravely? Kindly? Wisely? Embarking on a mission to find something bigger and deeper than just “getting the guy?”

Once I thought about it, I realized that many of my favorite heroines don’t start off strong; they discover strength on their adventures.  It’s inspiring to read about strong girls, but we also want them to be relatable somehow—to have weaknesses which they explore over the course of the story, and hopefully overcome by the end.  The readergirlz website (a fabulous source for book recommendations for teen girls) includes this promise as part of its “manifesta”: “I vow to surround myself with friends who embody traits of good book characters.”

I love this idea. Some of my closest friends and best role models have been book characters. These fictional girls find strength to be true to themselves, treat others with compassion, and stand up for what they believe in. With these traits in mind, I sifted through the best books I’ve read lately, and settled on Katniss of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.

Any middle or high schooler (or adult) reader would love to be friends with Katniss! In this dystopian story set in the future, teenage Katniss volunteers in place of her little sister to participate in a barbarous ritual mandated by the government. Twenty-two teens must fight each other to the death, while the event is captured in a twisted version of reality TV.  To survive, Katniss must use her physical strength, skills, and wits; ironically, she must also learn to trust, love, and connect with some of her teammates.  Ultimately, her strongest (and inadvertently rebellious) act is to choose humanity and compassion over the demands of the corrupt government.

In the sequel, Katniss finds herself unwittingly thrust into the position of the symbolic leader of a revolution. Within this social upheaval, she has to work through complex moral dilemmas to figure out how to act honorably and compassionately in her new role. Although Katniss begins the series already possessing a great deal of toughness, her real strength comes from the human connections she forms and her burgeoning social conscience.

I can’t resist recommending some other great books featuring girls who find strength on their journeys—all girls you’d love to be friends with, of course!

Shannon Hale’s books (middle and elementary school, fairy-tale-based)— Rapunzel’s Revenge is a fun graphic novel that turns the Rapunzel tale on its head and places it in the Wild West.  This Rapunzel (aka Punzie) uses her long red braids as whips and lassos, frequently saving her leading man from danger.  A hilarious, wild feminist romp.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (middle school, realistic)—Stargirl follows the beat of a different drummer, practices random acts of kindness, and bewilders and charms her fellow middle-schoolers.

Graceling and Fire by Kristen Cashore (older high school, fantasy)— Different protagonists, but both are very tough—skilled fighters and feminists who keep the upper hand in their relationships with men. Lots of action and intrigue.

Theodosia series by  RL Lafevers (elementary school, fantasy)—Spunky, witty, clever Theodosia battles evil magical forces in museums and ancient Egyptian tombs. Delightfully creepy.

Impossible by Nancy Werlin (high school, fantasy.)  Lucy is victim of a family curse that has plagued her maternal line for ages.  To overcome the curse, she must draw on inner strength and loving support from her adoptive parents and her boyfriend.  Based on folklore related to Scarborough Fair, this story is filled with suspense, magic, romance, and ultimately, triumph over seemingly impossible odds.

Happy reading!

Several years ago, my good friend Kristen gave me  her copy of What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau.  I absolutely loved it.  It reminded me of a House of Spirits for young adults – the kind of writing that sticks with you for days and years, memorable in every way.  As a fan, I’m so grateful that Laura Resau would share her thoughts here on Imagination Soup.  I asked her to write about female protagonists because her books’ characters are strong, inspiring and believable. Laura writes (my favorite) books for young adult and middle readers filled with magical realism, Latin American culture, a thread of philosophy (The Little Prince, Rumi) and timeless themes of self-discovery, family and friendship.  To learn more about Laura and all her books, visit her blog and website.  Very honestly, her books will compel you to read, to think and to dream.

Thank you, Laura!

P.S. You might want to read the discussion about what age is appropriate to read The Hunger Games.

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  1. i love this list, but it’s not complete without the harry potter series! hermione is such an awesome and strong main character, but rowling also weaves in so many strong women in varying roles throughout the series… tonks, lily potter, professor mcgonagall, molly weasley, ginny weasley, luna lovegood… on and on. there isn’t a bella swan among them (thankfully).

  2. My 11-year-old daughter and I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, (part 1) this weekend. Hermoine and Ron have a devastating fight that ended with Ron leaving and Hermoine visibly upset. In the next scene, however, Hermoine is working hard to find a horcrux. My 11-year-old daughter says: “Hermoine just had a horrible fight with her boyfriend, doesn’t know if he’s coming back or not, and she’s composed herself and is working hard to continue searching with Harry for the horcrux. Isn’t she great, Mom?”