In the present time, when we think of strong female characters that we grew up reading about, quite a few popular Young Adult books' characters come to mind; Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, or Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.
Reading about young women in literature shapes how our characters develop in life. I still fondly think of all the complex and well-rounded female leads I’ve read growing up and they continue to inspire me even as I outgrow their ages. There will always be characters whose energy we would love to find replicated again in some way.
Well, I’m here to tell you that there might’ve been a couple of characters you missed who can bring that empowerment back! These female leads are from beloved classics that get revisited for their undying spirit.
1. Jo March from Little Women
With the recent release of Little Women’s new adaptation, we’re reminded by how different Jo March’s personality is from that of the “perfect girl” relative to the period she lived in, which was the early 1860s. Jo is rebellious, outspoken, and opinionated.
When her father gets drafted for the Civil War, she’s suddenly forced to face her domestic duties. Despite this, Jo indulges in her passion for writing and composing plays, and she remains fiercely devoted to her family. We follow Jo’s journey from the age of 15 until 25 when she gets married. The author, Louisa May Alcott, has admitted that Jo’s character was modeled after herself.
2. Lyra Belacqua from The Golden Compass
Lyra, one of my favorite young girls in literature, is the main character of Philip Pullman’s classic trilogy, His Dark Materials, set in the mid-’90s. It’s completely fantastical; the plot delves into multiple worlds and parallel universes, where Lyra is the center of it all and destined to save fate itself (it’s that remarkable).
From the beginning, we see Lyra playing roughly with other children, and she often doesn’t mind ending up filthy and exhausted. She’s adventurous to a fault and loves spinning tales to her favor. Her leader-by-nature character is delightfully consistent until the very end of the trilogy. Lyra proves undying bravery can also be found in soft values that are close to the heart, such as compassion and empathy.
3. Liesel Meminger from The Book Thief
And so, we revisit this classic. Liesel is sent to live with a foster family in Nazi Germany, where her foster father afterward teaches her how to read. True to the title, Liesel steals unusual books at any chance she gets. At school, Liesel’s lack of education is mistaken for lack of intelligence, and she initially gets bullied. Her life is filled with loss, uncertainty, and humiliation, but she rises above her suffering as she discovers the power words hold. Liesel’s world-view changes forever when her family receives an unsettling guest one day. Her character is a reminder that strength can be gentle, and kindness can have everlasting results.
Honestly, the importance of reading about these young heroines growing up is pretty undervalued. There are always different ways to find strength in a character, and these young girls in literature are timeless for any generation to look up to and cherish. Lastly, to shine on independence, who better to quote than Jane Eyre?
"I am no bird, and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being, with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.”
Who are other memorable female leads? How important are young role-models to you? Let us know in the comments.