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A Heroine’s Book Guide: Part 1

One of the perks of post-grad life that I’m really enjoying is how much time I get to read again. I realize that my unique circumstances aren’t the norm and something that most people bemoan after graduating is not finding time to read. I loved all the academic reading from college- hours spent trying to get free articles from  Foreign Affairs and The Economist, long theory textbooks, and who doesn’t love those online resources! But post-grad life has reintroduced me to my first love- the classic story of a triumphant heroine.

Heroines offer can you a pick-me-up when you need it the most, an encouragement, a sympathetic sigh, a rallying cry, a good underdog story, or a hug from a friend. That’s the joy of reading books like these- you’re not alone. I truly think that this is one of the best parts of being a woman- being a part of a sisterhood and getting to truly relate to one another.

So I decided to go back (after first raiding my little sister’s collection to know what the youth are reading these days ((hint: apocalypse romances))) to all the heroines I’ve wanted to read about, or lied about reading, or just never got through. Here’s some suggestions (also because I feel guilty for not posting anything lately).


1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn- Betty Smith

Sure, every page of this book manages to find something even more depressing and crushing to throw on our pitiful yet resilient heroine, Francie, but overall it’s a memoir that is as fierce in its authenticity as its adamant morals. I personally found it so important not only as a vivid story but a crucial reminder of the reality of America’s roots. I think we have lost the triumphant optimism that if we work hard enough, the next generation will have it better. We at least owe it to them- the impoverished immigrants that built what we have, who dreamed this for us. The best part though, was while discussing this with my little sister, she sat quiet for a moment and then pensively mused, “it’s like she’s the tree growing in Brooklyn”. Yes, Molly, yes indeed.

2. Testament of Youth-Vera Brittain 

I will admit now, I stole this book, scuffed it up, and wrote all over it (sorry Molly). I just love it too much. I think it should be one of the first authorities of what life was like, not just for women, but British society during the First World War. At times, Vera’s memoir feels as relatable today as it was then, on topics from emerging adulthood to feminism to pacifism to the importance of education. She so heartbreakingly describes what it is like to be changing and growing and experiencing youth and love in the context of war that will rip it all way from her. It’s so well-written that the tragedy of their “lost generation” remains as raw and demanding to be grappled with, despite the fact it was nearly 100 years ago. It feels like she’s your beloved, funny, brilliant friend who is reliving everything, like she is going through her old diaries with you.

3. Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media-Susan Douglas

I loved this book. I found it in my aunt’s old closet in a pile of dusty college books. Not only was it highly researched, supported, and informational on all things popular media and sexism, the author wrote in a truthful, personal way that managed to show all the hurtful gender norms, the liberation, and the ridiculousness of how media treats women. Since the realization that women are consumers (and the even bigger cash cow, insecure teenage girls!), the media has tried to exploit women for their purchasing power as well as their ability to create popular opinion. From everything from Bewitched to The Shirelles to news coverage of Second Wave Feminism, women have shifted roles in the cycle of pawn and leader. It’s an older book but I think it’s a must-read for any woman who is fed up with the “empowering” commercials of women dressed scantily, performing for men, which turns out to be trying to sell shampoo or Spanx.

4. How To Be a Heroine: Or What I’ve Learned From Reading Too Much- Samantha Ellis

The premise of this books is simple. After adoring Cathy from Wuthering Heights her whole life and then discovering she no longer wholly admired the character, our witty screenplay author decides to reread all of her childhood beloved books to see if her perspective has changed. With new insights on books from The Bell Jar to Jane Eyre to Ballet Shoes to Valley of the Dolls, she weaves in the story of her life. It’s amazing how I, a boring Midwest girl can feel so connected to an Iraqi-Jewish Londoner; that’s the power of beloved heroines, my friends. It’s the book you wish you could’ve written.

5. We Need New Names-NoViolet Bulawayo

This library find turned out to be fiercer and more real than I anticipated. Set in Zimbabwe, it’s about a young girl who witnesses too much before she goes to live with her aunt in Michigan, where she has to adjust and grapple with too much. The writing style is so fresh and unforgiving; it’s a true look into the eyes of child. It is a beautiful and uncomfortable perspective of the impossible task of retaining one’s identity and assimilating; I think it’s a needed story for Americans to see our country through an immigrant’s lens, who brings their own truth, hopes, and resentments.

(Bonus: Anne of Green Gables- Lucy Montgomery

This Christmas gift from Raegan was a delightful rediscovery. Not only is Anne such a classic heroine, she is absolutely ridiculous. Her precociousness seemed a little annoying now that I’m an adult, but I did really mourn for her in the later chapters, when she gave up writing and seemed more subdued. I found myself really rooting for Marilla and Matthew more but no one can outshine that redhead. Anne forever is dreamily running wild around Avonlea, and somewhere deep inside, I long to join her.

Here’s a link to our favorite (albeit edgy) parody- Dirtbag Anne Shirley)

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