I’m thrilled to welcome one of my favorite Boswell Book Company‘s booksellers, Hannah Johnson-Breimeier, to the blog. She’s writing about one of my all-time favorite book categories: young adult fantasy with strong protagonists! Enjoy!
I have always had a soft spot for fantasy written for young adults, especially when the protagonist is a strong and usually stubborn female. I attribute part of my general badassery in life to the influence of these fictional women. I never had a problem with stubborn, but growing up with endless orthodontia, big eyeglasses, questionable fashion sense, and a love of learning did not necessarily translate into winning the battle that is middle school. With the help of the excellent writing of Tamora Pierce, Cynthia Voigt, Monica Furlong, Anne McCaffrey, and Garth Nix, I emerged from the cocoon of semi-embarrassing nerdery as a sarcastic butterfly of quirky silliness and ultimately scored my dream job, selling books at an independent bookstore.
In fact, as a bookseller, I refuse to endorse anything with weak women protagonists unless they undergo their own transformation. Weak protagonists in young adult fiction are, in my opinion, a waste of time. No young woman or young man needs to read that. Luckily, new books that fit into my strict standards continue to be released. For today, though, I’m going to focus on the throwback novels of my impressionable youth.
In Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt (Newbery Medal winner for Dicey’s Song) Gwyn, the innkeeper’s daugher assumes the role of Jackaroo, a legendary Robin Hood-esque character. Gwyn is the typical mouthy young woman who by virtue of her independent thought has trouble abiding by the societal norms in the feudal women-are-nothing society. The love story, a given for most young adult books, is believable and not vomit inducing.
The Dragonsong Trilogy by Anne McCaffrey is awesome for three reasons. #1 Dragons, duh. #2 Menolly is so cool. Not only is she a gifted musician, but she gets to hang out with dragons (see #1) #3 The setting and imagery in this series is great. I still vividly remember scenes from the books and I haven’t read any of them for at least ten years..
Tamora Pierce is the goddess creator of ridiculously cool young woman protagonists all within the land of her imagination, Tortall. I started with the Alanna quartet, Song of the Lioness, and moved on to the rest. I still avidly devour her new books. All of her women have different talents, challenges, and great friends and they inspire me to be more committed to those things that inspire my passion and commitment.
I love Sabriel by Garth Nix. Sabriel’s skill, courage, assumption of responsibility, and special ability to pass into the world of death had me wishing for my chance to prove myself on a hero’s journey. The other two books in the trilogy are also good, I just haven’t read them at least ten times the way I have Sabriel.
Juniper by Monica Furlong is witchery at its best. Also, the first person point of view is not irritating, a feat rarely attempted and even more rarely achieved in current teen books. Juniper’s godmother, Euny, is the ultimate guide who doesn’t pander and helps Juniper grow into someone strong enough to take on her evil aunt.
If you’re looking for a fun escape that will also light a fire under your hemming and hawing, pick up one of these books. Then tell me what you think of it. I love to talk books.
Your turn: Who are the female protagonists who shaped you?
About the author: Hannah Johnson-Breimeier is a bookseller at Boswell Book Company, an independent bookstore on the East Side of Milwaukee. She delights in delicious food, music, writing, beer, and conversation.