Now that Women’s History Month is nearly history, I would like to add my two cents to March’s month-long celebration of women and girls. It’s my contention that protagonists in fiction are no less influential than the real people in biographies.
While growing up during the 1960s, my heroes were Louisa May Alcott’s Meg, Lewis Carroll’s Alice, Scott O’Dell’s Karana, Elizabeth Speare’s Kit, and Madeleine L’Engle’s Meg Murray. Kids today still read their stories and are familiar with countless more contemporary sisters: J.K. Rowling’s Hermione, Phillip Pullman’s Lyra, Patricia C. Wrede’s Princess Cimorene, Jacqueline Kelley’s Calpurnia Tate, and Ingrid Law’s Mibs Beaumont are just a few.
In the spirit of such inspiring literary heroines and as a last nod to Women’s History Month, here are a few of my favorite girl characters in recent fiction:
Jennifer Strange (The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde)
The power of magic in the world is waning. Jennifer is a 15-year old indentured foundling who manages a failing employment agency for magicians. When she discovers that her destiny is to kill the very last dragon in the Ununited Kingdoms, she finds herself wrestling with fame, death threats, marriage proposals, and wrenching ethical dilemmas. Accompanied by her faithful Quarkbeast, Jennifer navigates her fate in a battered Volkswagen. This is the first in a planned trilogy from Jasper Fforde, who has written the bestselling Nursery Crime and Thursday Next novels for adults.
Enola Holmes (Enola Holmes Mystery series by Nancy Springer)
Her name spelled backwards is “alone,” which is exactly how she finds herself after being abandoned by her mother on her 14th birthday. Being the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes and sharing some of his famous traits (superior intelligence, penchant for disguise, talent for detection), Enola relies on her wits to make her solitary way in the Dickensian world of Victorian London. She stays in touch with her unconventional and mysteriously absent mother (whose coded messages appear in newspaper ads) and keeps one step ahead of brothers Sherlock and Mycroft, who want to send her to a genteel boarding school for proper young ladies.
Ingrid Levin-Hill (Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams)
Named after Ingrid Bergman by her Casablanca-fan mom, Ingrid loves soccer, has a passion for theater, and is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. In the first of three books (the Echo Falls Mystery series) she lands the lead role in a local production of Alice in Wonderland, deals with family drama, and stumbles upon the murder of local burnout Cracked-up Katie – without missing a single soccer practice. She’s a bright, brave middle-school girl who doesn’t shy away from danger when the going gets rough.
Dezy Malone (The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis)
Hopeful and brainy, Dezy dreams big dreams of becoming a teacher during the Great Depression. How could she ever guess that she’d be riding the rails or sleeping in a hobo encampment, searching for her unemployed daddy? Dezy faces the defection of her wild but talented older brother, painful health issues, and the interruption of her precious education while she and her mother try to solve the mystery of the missing Mr. Malone and put their lives back on “the road to a place called wonderful.”