Words, words, words, art.

The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

Literature and women

March3

When I was of an age/interest to read Young Adult Literature, most of it was written by dudes, featuring dudes as the characters, and was directed and marketed at dudes. If female characters were present, they didn’t say anything, or were a designated love interest, or taught the Young Hero a Valuable Lesson. There were books directed at female readers but they pretty much sucked, featuring as they did date rape and cancer and orphanings and promising piano careers cut short, and did I mention the date rape and also the stalking? They were horrible, terrible, awful books.

There were a few bright spots, in my reading. Lloyd Alexander who roped me in with his Prydain books, for instance. His stuff was pretty male centric but he DID have the Vesper Holly books, books with a female protagonist who goes on adventures of the sort a male protagonist usually went on. Tamora Pierce’s Alanna/Lioness Rampant books were pretty trail blazing and inspiring, and shaped my world view in ways I’m still discovering. Meredith Anne Pierce’s “Dark Angel” trilogy (which apparently went out of print, with the final book being IMPOSSIBLE for me to find for YEARS) which flavored my dreams and my notion of what strength and love were. Robyn McKinley and Jane Yolen. Susan Cooper’s “Dark is Rising” series and sweet, strong Jane. Mary Stewart’s “Romantic Thrillers” with women who often didn’t know how to drive (my maternal grandmother, of an age with Lady Stewart, never learned to drive) but who still kicked butt and seized their own happiness.

There’s probably more, but in 30 years worth of reading, I’ve come up with what, seven names? Seven authors? And even then, most of Alexander’s work was male-centric, as was Cooper’s “Dark is Rising” books.

This is, now, changing.

Graceling is a book about a young woman “graced” with the ability to fight and kill. She hates it. She hates being under the control of her uncle the King, who sends her out as his bully and muscle. She hates hurting people. She hates herself. And over the course of the book she comes to better understand herself, and slip out from under the control of other people. She also Has Adventures and acts. She isn’t acted upon. She is a driving force. And she doesn’t end up married and with children. In fact she is opposed to marriage and doesn’t want children. How refreshing is that?

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a coming of age story focused on a young woman whose father is vanished and presumed dead, and whose mother essentially commits suicide in the first few pages. The protagonist comes to realize that the utopia she lives in is actually a dystopia built on lies and half truths, and must escape her fate and her world by launching into the unknown, leaving everything she knows behind. As she journeys, she faces her staggering ignorance and realizes the world is much larger, huger, than anything she could imagine. It’s hard to really describe this book and how much I like it without running into spoiler territory. As with “Graceling,” the protagonist acts more than she’s acted upon. She makes decisions and takes charge and runs her own life.

Lips Touch: Three Times is a collection of 3 short stories about first kisses. I am not and have never been a fan of romance, which makes me kind of a freak, I think. In the “Alanna” books, for example, when I first read them as a teen, I actively resented the romantic bits in the story. So when I say this is a collection of 3 short stories that have a common theme of “first kisses,” please understand that it’s also about a lot more than that. Each story follows a young woman at a turning point in her life. Each must take control of her destiny, her fate, her life, and make a decision about something and then live with the consequences. And each one does.

Some friends of mine are having a baby girl and, nerdishly, one of the things I’m most looking forward to is her discovering reading. I’m incredibly glad that there are books that are written for her; not just books that she can enjoy, but books that are written with her in mind, heroines that she can easily see herself as. I spent most of my childhood running around pretending I was Robin Hood and Taran Wanderer and King Arthur. In order to star in my own youthful fantasies, I had to be male, take on a male persona. I’m excited that literature is opening up and giving young women a taste of what it means to be strong, adventurous, heroic, and female.

If you’re looking for feminist/female-centric books, you might want to check out the Amelia Bloomer Project for lists and descriptions of books.

posted under books, feminism, fiction

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