There has been a lot of talk about bullying lately, most notably as a result of the unfortunate situation with Amanda Todd. There’s so much that I could say on this subject, but I’ll refrain from sharing my rants about how cruel kids can be towards each other and instead veer towards today’s topic – the Top Ten Books with Kick-Ass Heroines (or KAH). Everyone needs a role model; that character that inspires you and subtly encourages you to stand up for what is right and just in the world. Considering that so many of our young people need those advocates to inspire them in today’s social structure, I think this is a great topic. While I’d love to do a list for both males and females, I’ll limit today’s discussion to the women in fiction at all levels – from picture books to university classics.
Pirate Girl by Cornelia Funke
This charming tale of a young girl named Molly who is kidnapped by Ferocious Captain Firebeard and the cruel crew of the Horrible Haddock reminds us that size doesn’t matter – and that determination and confidence will always prevail. The pirates expect Molly to shudder in fear; instead she sets out to disrupt their life aboard ship, calmly telling them to just wait until her mother arrives. Also worth checking out is the companion book, The Princess Knight – perfect for that determined young girl in your life!
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
Elizabeth may live in a castle and wear fancy clothes, but she certainly isn’t a pushover. When Prince Ronald fails to rescue her from a dragon that burns down her castle, she steps up and rescues herself. This is a perfect tale of self-reliance and believing in your own abilities, and it’s no wonder why it’s become such a classic.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
A classic tale of a young red-headed girl who lives on her own with her pet horse , has super strength and a wealth of untold riches, Pippi was originally a beside story to keep a sick child in bed. Instead, she’s grown to be a wonderfully flawed heroine. Probably the only KAH on my list who isn’t an “ordinary” girl, Pippi also has the unique quality of being a little lonely. I always thought that Pippi must have missed her father very much, and that she was a little lonely without her family around her. Still, her fearlessness came in handy as she rescued her friends from one scrape after another.
The Harry Potter Series (Hermione Granger) by J.K. Rowling
While Hermione might not have the moves of a Quidditch player, she does have brains in spades (that sounds a little awkward), and she’s not afraid to use them. Acknowledged early on by her peers and her professors as the smartest student in her year, Hermione is even trusted with a time turner in order for her to take on TWICE the course load of an average student. That isn’t to say that Hermione isn’t good in a physical fight – when the occasion calls for it, she can fire off spells and defend herself with the best of them. Smart, capable and funny, Hermione’s a great addition to the KAH list.
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
Eon has been a student of Dragon Magic, hoping to become of the celebrated apprentices. However, Eon has a secret – he’s actually a she! Eona is sixteen and has hidden her true self for four years as she vies for the opportunity to become a Dragon-eye. Her quest is not without danger – women are forbidden from becoming Dragon-eyes, and the punishment is death. When a centuries-old dragon picks her, she must use all her wits and wisdom to survive. Strong female fighting against cultural norms? Check. Non-Caucasian character? Check. Ability to survive against the odds, including a physical impairment? Check. KAH qualifications – complete.
Divergent/Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Okay, I know that everyone will have this one on their lists – but that’s because Tris truly is remarkable. She has the courage to stand up and declare herself to be different, and to survive the dangerous training that Dauntless assigns to her. Initially, you think that Tris is able to survive because she is different; the twist is that Tris is able to survive because she is Divergent – namely, a mix of more than one kind of person (much like us all). Like Katniss in Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games series, Tris does what she needs to do in order to ensure the survival of those she loves, and that level of selflessness makes her a KAH in my books.
Bitten by Kelley Armstrong
Elena Michaels (later Danvers) is one determined woman. Despite falling for the ultimate bad boy in Clayton Danvers (spoiler: he’s a werewolf), and being turned by said love of her life by being bitten, she moves on with her life, finding a way to balance her need to live a human life with her supernatural needs. She’s smart, funny, determined and not afraid to kick her partner’s butt when he’s being too domineering. If the young girls I know end up half as smart and focused as Elena (okay, without the whole werewolf aspect), then I’ll be a happy woman.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Lisbeth Salander) by Stieg Larrson
Strong, independent, resilient, incredibly intelligent and more than capable in so many areas, Lisbeth Salander is a true survivor. She lives life on her own terms, and doesn’t take stick from anyone. Having survived traumatic abuse and neglect that would cripple an average individual, Lisbeth uses this as the source of her determination and power, as she will never live her life that way again. While you may not approve of her methods, you can’t help but admire her ability to survive.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Jane is every-girl – an intelligent, honest and plain girl who suffers inequality and hardship. Jane remains determined to self-advocate and constantly asserts herself and her beliefs in social justice, gender equality and personal morals. Jane is one of the strongest characters of her time, constantly advocating for the rights of women and the poor. In today’s society, Jane would be a high-level cabinet minister, fighting for the rights of the underprivileged. Perhaps we all need a little Jane in our lives…
Honourable Mention: Real Life KAH
The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara
As a twelve-year-old girl living in Sierra Leone, Mariatu lived a fairly quiet existence, until the day she ventured to a neighbouring village, only to encounter rebel soldiers who attacked and torturing her, finally releasing her only after severing her hands from her arms. She managed to stagger through the jungle, finding a mango seller who gave her a taste of his fruit (hence the title). Alone, placed in a refugee camp and struggling to get by, Mariatu managed to make her way out of the camps to Freetown where she begged to survive. Her eventual journey to Toronto and to the life she lives now makes her one of the most remarkable women I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Truly, if we were to name real life heroines, Mariatu Kamara would be top of my list.
Who are your KAH? Who inspires you in your fictional reads? Leave your suggestions below.