Monday, 12 April 2010

Fictional role models for young girls?

So, I have been looking for potential books for my next dissertation for about 2 weeks, and today I spent a good 30 minutes in a high street books retailer looking for children's/young adult novels with female protagonists.

(Yes, I know it's cheaper to buy from Amazon, but I need to LOOK at the books, read inside, get a feel for the writing style, not just browse through a bunch of crap about what other people think of them. And it's 3 for 2 in High Street Books Retailer).

Anyway, wow. The display was bestselling and new books. I searched up and down, looking for stories about strong girls. Failing that, I then searched for stories that weren't about vampires. Then for the remaining stories that had female protagonists...

It was a disheartening sight. Sure, Sabriel was in there. But I needed a book that was published more recently. Books that looked promising turned out to have starring roles for boys. Books that had female main characters were, invariably, pink. With pictures of make up.

Sometimes it really seems the mainstream is so obsessed with getting boys to read that the ONLY adventure books worth publishing NEED to have male protagonists.

I have a meeting with my proposed supervisor at University for my masters this week, and I have little-to-nothing to take to her in the way of recently published empowered female characters. Who would have thought it could be so difficult to find?

So I'm throwing it out to the internetz: anyone, please, throw me the names of some books for age 11+, published between 2008 and 2010 that have one or more of the following conditions:

  • female protagonist
  • going on a quest/journey of discovery
  • preferably fantasy


  1. This sounds a brilliant and much-needed dissertation!! I will be following your research with interest. I get so tired of the way children's/teen books and media revolve around young male protagonists, finding their way, and usually finding their woman, in the world.

    As for a book... The last of the Icemark Chronicles Trilogy, Battle of the Icemark, is a children's/cross-over fantasy link published 2008. The other 2 were earlier. I've only read the first, ages ago, but it's about a young woman who is the heir to the throne of the ice-age clan or something like that.

    Another book I can think of is Jennifer Donnelly's A Gathering Light link But it is earlier (2004) and more of a historical fiction than a fantasy.

    Also, have you come across Celia Rees' work? I've not read any yet, but they look like they have potential.

  2. Look on they are a children's booksellers focusing on books about equality and diversity.

  3. Ah is it just young adults specifically that you're aiming for? I could recommend a wealth of fantasy novels with good female protagonists, but I'm not sure any of them would be classed as young adult books specifically. If I can think of any immediately I'll definitely keep you posted. I do recall the author Garth Nix being a good possibility for your selection, it might be worth checking:

  4. Thanks all for the recommendations, I'll be investigating forthwith.

    Frank: thanks for the interest, it's great to know your work is relevant to other academics. I actually saw a talk by Celia Rees a good few years ago and did think of her, haven't found any books yet though.

    NS: brill, never knew that resource existed, thank you!

    dm: as we've previously discussed, bring on the Garth Nix love!!

  5. The Silver Road by Grace Dugan, published by Penguin.

  6. damn, that was 2006, sorry, all i had.

  7. gg: Thanks for the tip! I may have to widen it to the last 5 years I think, I'll take a look at your suggestion :)

  8. I received this message a couple of days ago from a friend;

    > I just remembered you asked me if I could give you a list of books that your sister could maybe use. So if it's not too late:
    The host by Stephenie Meyer [edit: apparently its better that her more acclaimed work]
    Any of the Summers of the Sisterhood series by Anne Brashares (though thats 4 female protagonists)
    Anything by Sara Manning
    The Mates Dates series by Cathy Hopkins (they're quite a bit shorter than the others and aimed at slightly younder girls but I like her style)
    Anything by Sarah Dessen, but I think Just Listen and The Truth About Forever are probably the best
    Any of Meg Cabots books really, but maybe try to avoid the Princess Diaries
    Becoming Bindy Mackenzie, Feeling Sorry for Celia and Finding Cassie Crazy by Jackolyn Moriaty (but they are written in an odd way, through notes and stuff.)

    Hope that can be of help

  9. Thanks for the tips, I'll take a look :)