I’ve always been a quiet girl, more content to sit in a corner and observe the people around me than to enter the crowd. I like to turn events and interactions over and over in my head, to revisit moments until I understand them, and the part I played in how they worked out. Oftentimes, this is the only way I can come to terms with things that have happened to me or decisions I’ve made.
As a reader, I find I’m drawn to literary heroines who are similarly reticent. Some of them are naturally introverted, while others are so because of experiences that drew them inwards. Their individual journeys are influenced by that need for reflection, and in my experience, have led to stories that feel realistic because they’re driven by human doubt and emotion.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Elisa never expected to be queen of a kingdom, much less to do anything remarkable. As the younger of two princesses, she knows that she is not going to be as valued as her older sister, and the marriage arranged for her feels like another sign of that dismissal. Elisa keeps to herself, and she’s cautious about trusting people, choosing to stay close to only a select few. When she does start to feel comfortable with Alejandro, it’s on her terms. It was so refreshing to find a heroine who struggled with religious and familial issues, and learned how to balance living in her own head and feeling confident enough to be a true queen to her people.
My Name is Mina by David Almond
Mina is the kind of heroine my younger self would have adored, and even as I move through life as an adult, I can relate to the self-consciousness and doubt in her writing. She writes frantically, passionately, without a trace of irony. The book is all about how her perspective shifts, as she takes it apart and fits back together, while learning about the world around her. I haven’t read Skellig, for which My Name is Mina serves as a prequel, but now I don’t feel I need to read any reviews or receive a recommendation for it, because Mina has won me over with her distinctive voice.
Deathless by Catherynne Valente
Deathless is probably the best book I’ve read in the last five years, and I recommend it to everyone around me. Valente’s remix of Russian mythology is luscious and lyrical, with a protagonist that is as unpredictable as she is loyal. Marya Morevna has watched her sisters find husbands and start their lives, but it doesn’t matter to her. She has secrets to keep and explore for herself. Marya’s choices are her own, always, and she trusts in herself more than anyone else. I loved that Marya didn’t need Ivan or anyone else to provide meaning for her life, even within a patriarchal society.
Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly
Apple Yengko is literally the first character I’ve ever found in literature who has lived the kind of life I have. I recognize myself in her thoughts, her actions, her heritage, and the dreams that she strives to achieve. Apple struggles with her Filipina identity, unsure of what it means in a country where being a person of color can be uncomfortable at best. She tries to understand who she is and weighs it constantly against the person she wants to be. She tries to build an identity for herself that she can live with and be proud of, and so much of that is an internal effort, a daily choice. Reading Blackbird Fly reminded me of how hard that was as a kid, and how far I’ve come since.