I was a voracious reader as a child. I grew up in the country, so to combat the occasional boredom I lived in my books. Nothing was off-limits to me – thanks parents. I kept the local libraries busy transferring books back and forth. While I may have been a bit too young for certain novels I was devouring, it didn’t matter. I learned from them, right? And even now, as a 26-year-old woman, I still reference several YA heroines who shaped my perspective in their own little ways.
Weetzie Bat of the “Weetzie Bat” series by Francesca Lia Block
Weetzie, with her platinum hair and her big heart and rose-tinted glasses, shaped me the most. I have always, always wanted to be Weetzie ever since I read the first sentence. I felt like an outsider in my small-town school; no one understood that there was a great big world, a great big magical life, outside of rural Minnesota. Weetzie and her family, from the interracial couple Valentine and Ping to her faded starlet mother Brandy-Lynn, opened my eyes to the real world. When my best friend in college came out as gay, I took the words right out of Weetzie’s mouth: “It doesn’t matter one bit, honey-honey.” Weetzie’s Los Angeles is the city I want to live in, a dichotomy of devils and angels, glamour and pain, where fairy-tales and love exist if you believe in them truly. Weetzie created her own version of family, found true love and did it all wearing gorgeous vintage dresses. I aspire to be the Weetzie of my friends’ lives, the loving center who tries to make everything magical and wonderful.
Emily Byrd Starr of the “Emily” books by L.M. Montgomery
Everyone references the “Anne of Green Gables” books when speaking of Canadian author L.M. Montgomery, and I love the iconic redheaded Anne so dearly. Do you know how many times I’ve seen those movies and read the first four books? (I don’t like when Anne is all grown and married, to be honest.) However, it was the dreamy, stubborn Emily Starr of “Emily of New Moon” and the two sequels who I really identified with. Emily was a born writer, and she refuses to stop churning out stories and poems even though her stoic aunts and uncles with whom she lives disapprove. (Anne could get a bit too whimsical rhapsodizing about trees and flowers.) Emily and her “Alpine Path” to success were inspiring to a young me. She doesn’t bend or sway to anything she doesn’t want, despite the pressures of her time. She won’t marry unless she’s really in love. She wants an education. She wants a career. And in time, with a few setbacks, she achieves it.
Cathy Dollanganger of the “Flowers in the Attic” series by V.C. Andrews
I might as well preface this by saying I did not identify with Cathy because I was into incest. Um, no. I find “Flowers in the Attic” Cathy a bit grating at first, but once she and her siblings start making plans to escape their attic prison then she starts getting some serious backbone. It’s the high-spirited, sometimes-vengeful Cathy of the sequel, “Petals on the Wind,” who I really go back to when I’m feeling slighted or jealous. I know she’s an awful, crazy life-ruiner in this book, leaving a trail of damaged men in her wake, but occasionally don’t we all feel hell-bent on destruction? (Maybe not as destructive as Cathy, who sends her estranged mother into the insane asylum.) I know I do.
Betsy Ray of the “Betsy-Tacy” novels by Maud Hart Lovelace
I was handed “Betsy-Tacy” as a five-year-old by a wonderful librarian and worked my way through the entire series many, many times after that. Betsy Ray lives in Deep Valley, Minnesota (hey, I live in Minnesota too!) and the series follows her from childhood to marriage. Though these books are set in the early 1900s, the teenaged Betsy deals with things that teen girls still have issues with: boys, hair that won’t curl, algebra, friends moving away. She’s another young writer (sensing a pattern here?) who never gives up her dream of being an author. Betsy’s friends and family are supportive; her dad even sends her on a trip to Europe so she can get some perspective. I love the Betsy books most of all, so much that I paid a lot of money on eBay to acquire all the vintage hardcovers I grew up reading.
Alanna of the “Song of the Lioness” quartet by Tamora Pierce
I was decidedly not a badass, athletic child, but I lived vicariously through Alanna, who disguises herself as a boy so she can learn to be a knight. Throughout the series, she learns not only to fight and defend her kingdom, but how to be an ass-kicking woman holding her own in a man’s world. Oh, and did I mention she has to choose between a handsome prince and a charming king of rogues? I think every girl fantasizes about that.