And now a book list in response to hella-stabtacular looking for titles that are in some way about feminism, feminist history, or feature feminist leads.
First off, everyone should know about the Amelia Bloomer Project, a group that is part of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. They produce yearly lists, and they are all worth looking at for more titles to read on this theme.
But here are my personal recommendations, with a mix of history and female characters I think fit the bill. As always, click on the title to request it.
The Tyrant’s Daughter by J. C. Carleson
This recent title popped to mind as it is a thoughtful and intricate look at how a young woman navigates her own power in complicated circumstances. Laila has been sent to the US after her father, a dictator in an unnamed country, is assassinated. She’s well aware that neither she nor her little brother (the heir) are necessarily here to stay. Her new situation is freeing, but her old life keeps getting its hooks back in. Her family’s political clout keep her of interest to the CIA and factions back home. Laila is a fascinating, clever character who faces many hard decisions about herself, her background, her new social circle, and her potential as a power player.
Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger
This series is, on one hand, a delightfully witty romp set in an alternate universe Victorian England where vampires and werewolves are important parts of society and when proper society girls go to finishing school to learn manners and spycraft. On the other hand, lead Sophronia and her peers are all excellent examples of “strong female characters” who survive through their smarts as much as their awareness of the latest fashion. Solid proof that being girly doesn’t mean you aren’t also smart, strong, and a force to be reckoned with.
Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff
Delilah Dirk is one of my favorite heroines out there starring in her own Indiana Jones-esque adventure stories. Tony Cliff has dreamt up a lead who’s many things at once: world-traveler, thrill-seeker, thief, and expert swordswoman. This is just the first installment of her adventures with her companion, the weary but loyal Selim, but more is on the way, and it’s gorgeously drawn and full of wit.
The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman
There are a number of titles on this look that evoke different eras of women’s history, and in this case Cushman takes a look at post-WWII US and in particular the rise of the anti-Communist red scare and the evolution of the Black List. I admire titles that find a way in to larger issues like this one without getting too preachy.
Ask the Passengers by A. S. King
With the full acknowledgement that I am a fan of all of A. S. King’s books, this one stands out for this list because of the way the main character, Astrid, refuses to let anyone define her. This is her story of becoming certain enough of her own mind to to allow some labels to be applied but not all and not without her permission. I appreciate the message that figuring out who you are is an always challenging, never certain mission in life. We surprise ourselves, and Astrid’s ability to stand up to people who keep insisting on putting her in their safely defined boxes is refreshing and messy.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
I particularly love this title because it’s following a character, Frankie, who has never really given much thought to gender imbalances and expectations as she discovers just how much those imbalances impact her life. I love how much this book is an awakening of sorts, and that once you see the issues surrounding gender expectations and limits, it’s impossible to unsee them. It’s also full of awesome pranks.
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Melina Marchetta is a master of writing damaged but resilient characters, and my first introduction to her brand of fiery, stubborn, and fierce leading ladies was Taylor in Jellicoe Road. This is a beautifully written book dealing with a number of tough topics — addiction, broken families, death, long-kept secrets — and Taylor’s voice and attitude make it all the more vibrant and true. Also, if you like audiobooks, or might like to try one, this is a great one to hear (the Australian accent and slang especially.)
Bread and Roses Too by Katherine Paterson
Many women, especially immigrant and lower class women, found their voices through the labor strikes of the late 19th and early 20th century. Katherine Paterson has become a go-to author for looking at life and struggles at the mills of Lowell and further afield, and in particular looking at the roles of women in these fights. Bread and Roses Too is a more recent addition to her look at these women, but both it and Lyddie are well worth a read.
Flygirl by Sherri Smith
I include this excellent historical title for a number of reasons: Ida Mae is a rock solid lead, and her desire to fly both before and during World War II is infectious. The fact that she is light skinned and can pass for white gives her access to her dream of joining the war effort as one of the Women Air Service Pilots, but it is also an ongoing and increasingly difficult choice. This is a part of history not many folks know, and in particular it highlights how race and gender issues combine to complicate women’s lives.
A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
Most students of feminism at least know the stories behind early suffrage, and the eloquence and friendship of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but I fear a lot of folks skim over the later years in the US that led to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. This book centers on the fight for suffrage in England, a few years earlier around 1910, and introduces readers to the struggles that later directly influenced tactics used in the US.