In honor of the last weekend of National Women’s History Month, and the late celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, I have put together a list of some of my favorite female characters from the books I’ve read over the years. There’s no genre requirement here, the characters just need to be women or girls that I think are important to their stories and the world outside of the stories. This is not an ordered list, because I don’t really think it’d be right to rank which female character is more important or influential than the other. That’s above my pay grade.
1. Hermione Granger
-Was there ever a question? Hermione was, literally, everything I wanted to be while growing up. She was a book nerd, like I was. She was smart and valued educated the way I did. She had mostly male friends, which I did. She was celebrated. She was such a powerful, important, meaningful character in that series. She solved the problems the boys couldn’t, but never intended to be better than everyone (she just was!). I know that there’s been a ton of debate over this: but I love that she ended up with Ron. She went with someone who was real, had flaws, but felt really deeply. He wasn’t as perfect with his magic, but he was there and put that effort in. Their relationship made sense to me – he brought out the realism in her, while she empowered him to be better.
2. Annabeth Chase
-Annabeth is very similar in many ways to Hermione. When we first meet her, she knows she’s the smartest girl in the room, and she acts like it. But she’s not off-putting, in the way so many know-it-alls can be (male or female). She’s curious, energetic, and desperate for adventure. What person can’t understand that need for adventure, that pull for more, especially as a kid? Annabeth grows so much over the 10 books we see her in. (Yes, 10). Annabeth, who’s the daughter of Athena, highlights all of the great things about intelligence. She’s cunning, strategic, but also compassionate and aware of others. She’s not perfect – in comparison to Hermione, who I feel never necessarily wanted to show people up, Annabeth does. There are times where she wants to prove she’s better, and it often gets people into trouble. But if you’re in a tight spot, Annabeth is the one to have by your side.
3. Clare Abshire DeTamble
-Clare represents such a different strength than characters like Hermione or Annabeth. There’s the obvious different of she’s an adult for the majority of the book, which clearly changes everything. But man, does Clare understand adventure – and not always in a good way. With a husband who travels through time, Clare is required to be grounded, to have faith, and to exude strength. And it’s not easy. What I love about Clare is that throughout the book she never doubts her love. She digs in deep, and does everything necessary to keep herself happy along with Henry. For me, Clare is so wonderful. I love the way she deals with love. For me, Clare proved that true love exists and that it’s not just love, it’s work that makes a life with someone successful.
4. Dessen’s girls
-Okay, really, how could I choose just one? I went back and forth between Macy, Remy, and Annabelle. Each of them – the first three Dessen girls I ever read – have been really influential to me. They’ve each dealt with incredible losses: family members, innocence, dignity, friendship. And they all learned how to rise above and grow into who they could be. Dessen girls are real; they never shy away from the fact that they have problems. But Dessen also puts an incredible support system around these girls. Their friends, boyfriends, families, they all show that you’re never going through life alone, even if you might feel like it. And the journey that Macy, Remy, and Annabelle all take in their respective books highlights that it’s okay to grow from the person you were into the person you are. I just think it’s so important to see that lessen play out in stories – to see that growing is okay, and you’ll always have people by your side.
5. Lizzy Bennet
-The ORIGINAL important female in books. Let’s be real. Lizzy Bennet is an inspiration. She is a woman who won’t settle for a life of mediocrity, while still being incredibly realistic. I love her attitude, her relationships with her family and friends, and the way she imparts her values onto others. She never compromises what she believes, but there are also times she knows when it’s not her opinion that matters. I avoided reading Austen for a long time out of some strange sense of pride and rebellion, but I really loved finally sitting down and jumping into a world where Lizzy existed. Her relationship with her father was something I really connected to, as was her relationship with Jane. I feel like I’m rambling here – but Lizzy is the type of woman I want to be. She’s independent, but open. She loves, but puts her feelings first. She’s a great character.
6. Alice Cullen
-So this might seem like a strange choice, but I actually think Alice Cullen fits right in on this list. While Bella is ultimately an incredibly disappointing character (for me), Alice highlights the best of the females in that entire universe. She’s self-assured (which is easy when you can see the future…), and she has a real partnership with Jasper. I read Twilight in college, and among a string of questionable relationship/crush choices, seeing a relationship in books where two characters truly, innately understood each other and wanted the best for one another really woke me up at times.
7. La Mariposas (The Butterflies)
-So this selection, of four sisters who attempted to overthrow a dictatorship in Dominican Republic, is a true story. The book, however, is historical fiction. Called In The Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez creates four different and distinct voice for each sister: Minerva, Patria, Maria Teresa, and Dede. Three of them, unfortunately, are ultimately killed (accidentally, according to the country) in a car accident. Dede survives to raise their children, and keeping their memories alive. This story is an incredible one. With such bold personalities, these women show the importance of using your voice and standing up for what you believe in. Women have made a lot of strides in history, for sure. But there are still times, let’s not lie, where they’re silenced because they weren’t born with the correct anatomy. In discouraging times, women like La Mariposas are truly inspiring. Not everyone is going to use their voice to overthrow a dictatorship. Heck, my voice might never be used to overthrow anything. But remembering that my voice matters, even in the darkest of times, is something I can attribute to Alvarez and the stories she brought to light from these women.
-Another grouping, sorry not sorry! These two Shakespearean women have a perfect dichotomy in Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice skirts love, rejects love, but ultimately finds live in an unexpected place. Hero embraces love, and sees its ugliest sides. Obviously, that’s the point of the play – but it’s still important! Hero, younger, less jaded, is important because she follows her intuition. She innately knows Claudio is someone she wants in her life, and she makes it happen. But when Claudio is tricked into believing she’s cuckolded him, she breaks, like a real woman would. Women are not always strong, in the way Beatrice is. And it’s important, I think, that women see inspiration and influence in women who aren’t always strong. No one is strong all the time. And Beatrice, well, she highlights the pros of strength. She allows herself to grow into who SHE is, without the influence of anyone else. That’s real strength. Not just being hard. She understands who she is, and when she realizes that she does, in fact, love Benedick, she lets herself love him and find her own happiness.
-Gosh, I LOVE Arya from the Eragon series (aka Inheritance cycle). An elf, Arya was tasked with taking care of a dragon egg for many, many years. Even when she is attacked and almost captured, her sole thought is to protect that egg. That’s dedication! Throughout the four books, she keeps her dedication to the dragons and her people, and she exudes a beautiful confidence and understanding of the world and what’s happening. In a time of war, Arya shows what real leadership is. And how awesome is that when it’s a woman? Pretty awesome. Real leadership role models, even if they’re elves, is important! Arya rocks.
10. White Oleander girls
-I included the White Oleander girls because it’s a really incredible(y disastrous) mother-daughter relationship. I won’t lie, I had to go grab my book and look up these characters’ names. White Oleander was a book I read during college, but I was really affected by the dynamic between these two. And then, whether it was just from college or what, I put the book on my shelf and promptly forgot about it. I looked at it on the shelf when I was looking for this post, and was like OH WOW. THAT WAS A BOOK, WASN’T IT! Ingrid is Astrid’s mother, and the two have an incredibly co-dependent relationship. But then, Ingrid is sent to prison for murdering her boyfriend Barry after she finds out he’s sleeping with other women. Astrid is then sent to a series of foster homes. The book focuses on Astrid’s journey through these homes, and her relationships with other mother figures. The book doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff (obviously) and includes drug addiction, sex, illness, and suicide as well as murders. The relationship between mother and daughter is an insanely important one, so it’s pretty impossible to not feel affected by this book. The way Astrid maneuvers through her life after her mother is imprisoned is powerful, emotional, heartbreaking, and sometimes completely unproductive for her success. I don’t think Ingrid is a positive influence, but she’s an important female character nonetheless. It’s good to see the way selfishness, manipulation, jealousy, and greed can haunt you and your family way after you’ve made choices based on those emotions. Obviously, as in most stories, Ingrid is an exaggeration, but she’s a pretty powerful figure regardless.
So, as I finish up, I feel like I need to mention one litttttttttttttttle thing: It was really hard to find influential/important female characters in my bookshelf! I tend to think I read a wide, wide variety of books. But a lot of my females were from YA. I could have done 11 girls just from Sarah Dessen, but where’s the variety? Sarah Dessen’s books are all powerful because she imparts similar values and strengths into her girls, who all have different vulnerabilities. There’s definitely the question there of why I really had to search so far deep into my bookshelf to find those powerful female characters. I don’t really mean to start a war, but it’s an interesting thought. I’m sure there are plenty of classics that I haven’t listed here that showcase great female characters, there just weren’t as many on my bookshelf as I thought.