In honour of International Women’s Day, here is a blog on the five most badass women and girls in YA fiction, as I see them. From Katniss to Hermione: smart, independent, kick-butt women are sprinkled generously throughout YA fiction and it is rare that I will enjoy a book if it is lacking in this commodity. It’s going to be hard to narrow this list down but I don’t want to bore you to death and be stuck here for ages, so, in no particular order, here they are: the young women who make young adult fiction worth it:
1. Liraz from the Daughter of Smoke And Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor: "It is a blessing to die at the hands of someone beautiful.”
She may only be a secondary character but the soldier Liraz is the perfect blend of sass, confidence, beauty, insecurity, violence and general badassness. Defending her half-brother Akiva throughout a lifetime of bad decisions she joins his rebellious campaign against their father; an emperor who created countless expendable bastards purely for the army. Not only this but she has a fierce love for both Akiva and her other half-brother Hazael, she shares a close bond with them to a point where she would kill and die for them and the few moments the author lets us inside her head reveal a young woman who can only fear her bothers engaging in romantic relationships as she can’t imagine life without them and can’t think of letting anyone that close to her. She can be insecure and intimidating; emotional and cold; a killer and a rebel; a soldier and a sister. She is the sort of beautiful killer who deserves a spot on this list, not for the kill marks on her arms, but for her personality: her sarcasm, her insecurity, her loyalty, her temper.
2. Sally Lockhart, The Sally Lockhart Quartet by Philip Pullman: “Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man”
Sally’s inclusion in this last doesn’t need much explanation: she is a fiercely independent sixteen year-old who can handle a pistol. In Victorian London. She doesn’t faint when confronted with opium halls, murdered fathers, and the seedy underside of the London docks, doesn’t shy away from the gun in her purse. Not that she is comfortable with killing. When having to shoot a man in self-defence she runs home crying, screaming. However she is incredibly intelligent and, for the eleven year-old who read her story, a welcome break from heroines like Twilight’s Bella Swan. She is also a female adventure protagonist, not the Hermione to a Harry Potter, or the Annabeth to the Percy Jackson. She is a badass in her own right, and a fantastic one at that.
3. Frankie Landau-Banks, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart: “She wasn’t a person who needed to be liked so much as she was a person who liked to be notorious”
Everything about Frankie screams badass feminist. Sick of being treated like she’s not as smart or as strong as her boyfriend and his friends, sick of being underestimated and treated like a child she stops being her father's ‘Bunny Rabbit’ and instead becomes a dangerously intelligent young woman with the wit and imagination to cause a phenomenon that would sweep across her elite boarding school. Infiltrating one of the famous ‘boys’ clubs’ so popular with American colleges and boarding school she is force to be reckoned with. Using her studies as a basis for causing chaos in a strict institution while keeping her identity a secret Frankie has the world at her feet and, I imagine, a cunning half smile as she sits, arms crossed, across a desk from an incredibly powerful man. Maybe a principal, maybe a secret agent, maybe the president. Well, whoever it is watch out because a girl like Frankie comes along rarely and leaves the world floundering in the wake of her havoc. Also, the feminist undertones of this novel and Frankie’s essential character are perfect. A definite must read.
4. Bianca Piper, The DUFF by Kody Koplinger: “’Your sense of humor needs some work, then,' Wesley suggested. 'Most girls find my jokes charming.'
'Those girls must have IQs low enough to trip over.’”
Sassy, cynical and with a fierce attitude Bianca may not be the ‘it’ girl but she sure is the smartest, wittiest badass in this novel. Her story is sparked by indignition at being referred to as the ‘Duff’ or ‘designated ugly fat friend’ a purely misogynistic word used to make teenage girls feel bad about themselves. This novel manages to be a teen romance at the same time as being wonderfully feminist, with our protagonist not only angry at the idea of the ‘Duff’ but by rumours, and terms like ‘slut and ‘whore’. Sassy, cynical, smart, feminist, outspoken Bianca is the sort of girl I’d want to be friends with. Also, Mae Whitman plays her in the adaptation so extra points for that.
5. Isabelle Lightwood, The Mortal Instruments series, Cassandra Clare: “Honestly, Clary, if you don’t start utilizing a bit of your natural feminine superiority, I just don’t know what I’ll do with you.”
I know Clary is the main character in Mortal Instruments but she is no where near as deserving of a spot on this list as this purely kickass Shadowhunter. In some ways Isabelle is very similar to Liraz: a sassy, sexy, fighter who hides her sensitivity below layers of sarcasm. She’s a heartbreaker with a close relationship to her three ‘brothers’ (for the purposes of this blog I will be referring to Jace as a Lightwood) and a secret love of Star Wars. It’s made clear throughout the series the lengths she will go to for Jace and especially Alec (Two words people: Bane Chronicles) and even though she finds it hard to adjust to Clary’s involvement in the trio she is an incredibly important part of the series and it’s highly likely at least one person would be dead without her. Isabelle is often at her most likeable when she is letting down the walls and revealing softness, but these few times just makes her more likeable the rest of the time: when she’s harsh, confident. Her essential confidence is, in fact, one of the best parts of her from a feminist point of view. She isn’t a damsel in distress and is more likely to be the rescuer than the one being rescued. She is someone to look up to, a woman who can be both deadly and feminine, sassy and emotional, confident and scared. My only complaint? Could’ve been better casting in the movie.