I just realized the other day that I never followed up my 14 Amazing Leading Men post with any post on amazing leading ladies. So, here it is: a list of leading ladies that inspired me to greatness! Well… greatness someday… I hope 😉
Anne Elliot – Persuasion by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice is not my favorite Jane Austen book and Lizzie Bennet is not my favorite heroine. In fact, I found Lizzie a bit too snotty for my taste. Instead, I admire Anne Elliot’s fortitude and kindness. Some might call her a doormat, but at the end she defied family and friends to reach out and take what she had always wanted. Life lesson learned: good counsel can never replace your own instincts.
Queen- Queen by Alex Hayley
A heartbreaking story of finding a place in the world and claiming your identity. Queen’s endurance through rejection, racism, hardship, and the passing of decades reminds us that life’s course will bring us both beauty and ugliness. Life lesson learned: A dedication to family and education will help you triumph in the end.
Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
One of the few books I can read multiple times and enjoy each time. Jane’s unyielding spirit and great, untapped capacity for love brought home to me the reality of what the world’s discarded children go through. Not only that, but when you read the book as a statement on the care and treatment of such children, her “feminist manifesto” to Mr. Rochester takes on a whole new meaning. Life lesson learned: it’s never too late to reclaim a lost child.
Alanna of Trebond – Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce
Pierce’s no-nonsense heroine was one of my all-time favorite ladies during my teen years. I think what makes Alanna such a successful character is she is REAL. She has to struggle and work like a dog to get what she wants. Yes, she has some special gifts and is touched by divinity, but nothing is ever handed to her. Life lesson learned: The achievement of dreams requires sacrifice and endless hard work.
Matilda Wormwood – Matilda by Roald Dahl
Oh, Matilda. Probably one of Road Dahl’s finest creations, this sassy genius makes me wish Dahl had written a sequel so we could find out how she turned out as an adult. Plus she reads like a maniac, which is always heartwarming. Life lesson learned: Revenge, when done with wit and ingenuity, can be very therapeutic.
Tobin/Tamir – The Tamir Triad by Lynn Flewelling
This is probably one of my favorite fantasy trilogies simply because the characters are fantastically real. It tends towards the sadder spectrum of the fantasy scale (unlike Tamora Pierce’s books, which tend to be more upbeat), but I think that gives them a realistic, gritty tone. Tobin/Tamir is an amazing character, who struggles through growing up and claiming his/her destiny in ways that are familiar to all of us – in one way or another. Life lesson learned: to use a well-worn phrase – our character is our destiny.
Bridget Jones – Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
An often polarizing character, Bridget Jones is a woman you either get or don’t. Some say she’s an awful role model and reinforces an obsession with weight and negative body image. I say, Helen Fielding knew exactly what she was doing and created a character to both laugh at and explore society’s unhealthy view of beauty. Life lesson learned: One’s physical appearance does not define one’s character.
Astrid Magnussen – White Oleander by Janet Fitch
The often harrowing life of children in the foster system comes brilliantly to life as we follow Astrid through home after home after her mother’s arrest for murder. One caution: despite the picture I’ve used to illustrate this character, avoid the movie. Just read the book. While Michelle Pfeiffer is brilliant in it, the movie does not capture the nuances of the story and leaves A LOT out. Life lesson learned: You CAN overcome your past, no matter how tragic, if you choose to.
Dinah – The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
This was a remarkable retelling of a Bible story. Not even a story in the strictest sense of the word, more like an episode or aside. Diamant brings Dinah’s world and people brilliantly to life and creates a spiritual epic. Life lesson learned: The companionship and support of other women is what keeps most of us sane in an insane world.
Celie – The Color Purple by Alice Walker
I don’t know of anyone whose heart didn’t break reading about Celie’s awful life and eventual fight for independence. Walker ingeniously encapsulates the plight of oppressed people in this seemingly simple story. What’s so wonderful about Celie is that she represents more than African Americans, black women, or abused spouses. She’s a representation of anyone not allowed to live up to their potential and exercise their natural intellect. Life lesson learned: the labels others affix to us rarely have anything to do with who we really are.
Mixcatl – The Jaguar Princess by Clare Bell
I really wish a good publisher would pick up this book and reissue it in the way it deserves. In general, Clare Bell is a horridly underrated author and The Jaguar Princess has been lost to the literary shadows. Mixcatl, Bell’s shape-shifting Aztec slave, is the predecessor for many of our modern werewolf/shifter stories. But Mixcatl stands alone and, in my opinion, has never been topped. Life lesson learned: Cleave to your passion and it will lead you to great things.
Mercedes Thompson – The Mercedes Thompson books by Patricia Briggs
Mercedes Thompson is one of the best, if not the best, female character in modern paranormal writing today. She’s a fully realized character with flaws, passions, talents, and insights. While the first books in the series have her saying (more than once) that she knows she’s no match for… whatever big baddie is coming ’round the bend, Briggs has thankfully eschewed with that bit of nonsense now that Mercy has saved the day for the umpteenth time. Life lesson learned: Strength does not mean being made of stone; vulnerability is not weakness. And werewolves are pretty hot!
Sugar – The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Sugar the prostitute has got to be one of the most complicated heroines I’ve ever read. She is intelligent, sensuous, driven, and very self-aware. Her world is even more complicated. Faber combines the grim authenticity of Dickens, the rapid-fire story-telling of Stephen King, and a tinge of horror a la Edgar Allan Poe to create something wholly real, wholly disturbing, and entirely engrossing. Sugar moves through this terrible landscape with grace, cunning, and verve. Life lesson learned: The most interesting, enriching people you are likely to meet are often those you take pains to avoid.
Katie Welker – The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willow Davis Roberts
One of my favorite books when I was growing up! Katie is an amazing heroine because she uses her powers responsibly. Sure, she gives in to the odd moment of revenge (Hello, Mr. Pollard!), but overall, she exercises a lot of restraint. She’s level-headed and has a strong sense of decency to ground her. Life lesson learned: just because you have power over others doesn’t mean you should use it.
Francie Nolan – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Francie is like an “everyman” for children. Betty Smith did not create a prodigy or a supernatural hero, just an average little girl raised by average, though poor, parents. Perhaps that is why A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is such a touching, timeless story. Francie speaks to something in all of us. Life lesson learned: Deeply flawed parents can still teach us how to become good people.
Molly Lou Melon – Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
Mr. Z loves reading this book – I just got him the sequel for Christmas! Molly Lou is an obvious role model for children. Guided by her grandmother’s encouragement and advice, she braves bullies and challenges by staying true to herself. Life lesson learned: Our personal shortcomings do not define us. And often, they are not the faults we think they are.
Beatrice – Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
A kick-ass heroine if ever there was one. She might not carry a sword or do awesome martial arts, but she can cut down anyone with her sharp tongue and wit. Most of all, Beatrice stands up for herself and her cousin (for all women really) in a time when society preferred for women to be silent and stupid. Life lesson learned: Smart women are damn sexy!
Eva Khatchadourian – We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
I don’t know how many people would consider this character a “heroine.” I do, though, because she undertakes the hardest job in the world – parenting – when she is not fully equipped. She also finds it in herself to forgive the most heinous of betrayals. Life lesson learned: Let go of what you can’t control and forgive yourself for not being perfect.
There are so many more incredible ladies I could have had on this list. But, alas, the list is pretty long as it is. Let me know some of your favorite leading ladies.