In the times that we live in today, it’s imperative that we have distinct female voices, inspiring us with their stories, teaching us lessons about the world and giving us hope for a better future.
Strong female characters come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve selected four of the books I’ve read recently with powerful female protagonists. Continue reading to find out who they are!
The Underground Railroad
by Carson Whitehead
Cora is a runaway slave from a cotton plantation in Georgia. Through an imaginary underground railroad coined by Whitehead, she escapes the plantation and heads up North, looking for a better life and a chance to be free. On her journey, she faces many disappointments as she realizes that things are not what they seem. Physical exhaustion slows her down, but it’s nothing in comparison to the mentally crippling effect of the injustices she witnesses. Yet, her will to survive and her belief in a better future give her an unimaginable strength to continue despite the reality she encounters. This is a tale of hope, in which one woman refuses to give up hers.
by Zadie Smith
The narrator in Zadie Smith’s Swing Time is an unnamed woman, who is not your typical strong female lead. She is born of a black mother and white father, and is raised in a relatively poor area in London. There she faces a number of struggles, from sexually disturbing moments at school, to a tense home environment where her mother is trying to become something more through education, while her father is taking care of the household, longing for some form of affection from his estranged wife. We see the narrator stumble confusedly through life, trying to make sense of her mom’s ambitions, her dad’s lack of such, and her best friend Tracey’s choices. This is an honest portrayal of the narrator’s journey through life, deeply affected by the people around her, and her decisions. The novel doesn’t exaggerate, nor does it overpromise. To the contrary, it feels real to the core, just like its protagonist.
All Among the Barley
by Melissa Harrison
Edie is a thirteen-year-old girl living on a farm in the English countryside in the 1930s. She is different from her siblings because she has a vivid imagination and prefers the company of books to other children, both of which get her in trouble more often than not. Folktales of witches, and of the secret powers of women, are still ripe in the 1930s and affect Edie deeply, just like any fairy tale would affect a young girl today. The stories that Contance FitzAllen brings with her from London to Edie’s small world also fuel the girl’s imagination and make her think about unfamiliar ideas.
The events in the novel unfold in one year, during which Edie embarks on her journey to womanhood. Turning into a woman in the English countryside in the 1930s is a troubling by our modern standards experience, which makes you think about how a character like Edie could fit in her society, and shows you what happens if it doesn’t.
by Kamila Shamsie
Home Fire has not one, but two female protagonists – Isma and Aneeka. The novel is a modern interpretation of Antigone, and the two sisters can be seen as Ismene and Antigone respectively. Their brother (and Aneeka’s twin) decides to join the jihadist lines, which drives the two sisters apart. Isma is determined to continue life without their brother, without any mention of him or contact with him, which would make their lives a nightmare of police visits, investigations and intensified racial prejudice. Aneeka, on the other hand, is devoted to bringing their brother back to England, regardless of the costs to her and the people she loves.
Aneeka shines with her courage and will to get justice for her brother. She is fearless in the face of danger, guided by the unbreakable bond between twins. This doesn’t mean Isma is any less bold, though. The decision to give up her brother is by no means an easy one. The responsibility she has always had to take care of her younger siblings after the death of their mother takes precedence, as she tries to protect the only family she has left. Home Fire is a novel of impossible decisions. The two female leads take different ones, and each bears their consequences.
There is no typical female protagonist. They all bring something different and not just to the conversation about what being a woman means. They also show us qualities which both men and women should aspire to have. Strength of character, determination, unstinting will and hope. These are only a few examples. And the books mentioned are only a few of the many with inspiring female protagonists! Do you have any examples? Let me know in the comments below!
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"Desi Kozareva is a 23 years old avid bookstagramer originally from Bulgaria. She has a BA in English Language and Literature and a Master in International Marketing from King's College London. She currently lives and works in London.
Desi set up her bookstagram account because she wanted to share her love of reading with the book community. "I love reading because it opens up new worlds to you, real as well as imaginary, and lets you in on old and new, controversial and mainstream ideas," she says and adds: "It challenges your thinking and makes you consider different perspectives. It shows how diverse and beautiful the world is, as well as how harsh and unfair it can also bе. Last but by no means least, I enjoy good writing - reading a well-crafted passage gives me pleasure and simply makes me happy."
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Each book we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team.