In this unpredictable world we live in, sometimes you need a hero–someone to believe in, as the challenges mount in number, and your hope grows fragile, beginning to dwindle. Across literary genres, there are thousands upon thousands of books that tell the story of a hero: Someone who must confront troublesome odds, who unconditionally does the right thing despite the efforts of their enemies, and who pays no mind to the unpopularity their decisions may bring. For these heroes answer to a higher calling–a nobility of heart, a loyalty to the self, a sense of purpose. Additionally, I am proud to say, that many of these characters are female. To be a hero, one does not need to adhere to a specific demographic; all that is needed is, what many a writer across history has dubbed, “a lion heart.”
Below is a list of books to read when you need inspiration from a female hero–A lion heart, who, despite the odds, puts her head down and moves forward. I think you will find each of these book recommendations and character assessments to be uplifting, invigorating, and truthful. I hope they inspire you to make courageous decisions and stay brave in both big and small moments of life-just like the female characters in these books.
1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Adult, Fiction)
Female hero: Skeeter
Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s, in a town and time rife with racism and cruelty, Skeeter breaks the mold in a profound way, publishing stories about how white housewives treat their black housemaids. This novel, which is based on actual events, tells the story of members of the community, both black and white, and the secrets that come out when the bravery of a few people begins to push through.
Skeeter: Recent college grad Skeeter is an aspiring writer and a privileged member of the junior league; she is dating an eligible bachelor from their southern community. As she sits down with the black housemaids she is interviewing, and as she treats them with dignity and respect, Skeeter becomes increasingly shunned by her privileged friends and eventually is an outcast in white society. In a world where upper-class women hardly even work, she loses her relationship and childhood friendships because she has decided to do work writing about the disrespect inflicted upon the black maids by the white women who employ them. In this racist and prejudiced society, Skeeter’s avoidance of group-think steers her into complete isolation with the exception of her exasperated family. In a poignant scene near the novel’s resolution, she is alone and turns on the radio to hear up-and-coming northern musician Bob Dylan singing; she describes that it feels as though she is “listening to the future.”
“A dreamer is someone who can feel their way by moonlight. Their punishment is that they see the dawn before the rest of the world.” –Oscar Wilde. Skeeter is shunned, but refuses to give in an inch, and at all times refuses to remove someone else’s humanity. Hero.
2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (Adult, Science Fiction)
Female Hero: Valentine
Ender’s game is a one-of-a-kind novel about a child, Ender, who is designed and trained to end the war the human race is fighting against the “bugs,” a mysterious alien species. It is a wonderful book that pulls the reader into individual moments with our protagonist, struggling to reach a victory through about a million adversaries and roadblocks. Of course, this military/science fiction novel has an excellent male hero, Ender, but not to be ignored is the lethal intelligence, familial protectiveness, and progressive conviction of Ender’s older sister Valentine.
Valentine: Due to her strength and intelligence, Valentine was also sent to battle school but was rejected due to her overwhelming compassion. In her early years, she protects Ender from the violent bullying of their older brother, who she does not fear despite his talent, intelligence, and constant tyranny. Later on, Valentine becomes an anonymous essayist renown across the universe. Using a pseudonym of a male Greek philosopher, she is revered for her wisdom and her thought-provoking philosophical writing against xenocide (like genocide but against aliens). Notably, in one of her essays, she writes that when the human race identifies a non-human species as more relatable to humanity, and therefore a life worth respecting; it is a greater step for mankind than for the foreign species. For we, as a species, are what we think and see. Valentine: Compassionate, intelligent, and fearless. Hero.
3. Never Broken by Jewel Kilcher (Adult, Memoir)
Female hero: Jewel
Jewel Kilcher is best known for breaking through the grunge scene of the 90’s to create a career singing pop/folk songs with messages of kindness and acceptance mixed with storytelling. Her memoir is the story of her journey growing up in an abusive, one-parent household in rural Alaska, singing in bars, putting herself through art school, yodeling and telling stories, hitchhiking to find her not-so-great mother, being sick and homeless, and becoming a self-made millionaire. During her journey, she was at times alone and depressed and generally without money. She befriended outcasts, experienced dramatic adventures, wrote poetry, searched for self-acceptance, and learned to create a loving life for herself. She is the summation of her experiences with a healthy dose of kindness and rationality that help her survive and learn during times of trouble. Her sense of adventure and emotional strength speak loudly throughout her stories, and her simple kindness makes her stories lovable and touching. A role model and hero.
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Young Adult, Fantasy)
Female hero: Katniss
This dystopian novel is about a nation known as Panem established after North America was destroyed many years prior. A wealthy central capital exploits and represses the surrounding districts that survive in varying degrees of poverty. As punishment for an uprising, and an effective form of fear mongering, each year the capital takes one boy and one girl between the ages of 12-18 from each district who is then forced to participate in a “game” that will end in the death of all but one. From the poorest of the districts is Katniss Everdeen, a girl who volunteers to save her gentle younger sister’s life.
Katniss: Strong-willed Katniss was let down by her mother, who after the death of Katniss’ father became depressed and unable to care for their family despite their dire need. The family of three lives in sincere poverty, and in her mother’s negligence, Katniss hunts illegally to provide food for her mother and sister. It is established early on that Katniss is a survivor. Once she is in the games, and in a time of true violence, rather than form alliances with the strongest competitors who are generally reared in the more stable districts, Katniss befriends the smallest girl because she reminds her of her younger sister. As the games proceed, it is difficult for the participants to find food, and many starve; Katniss identifies that this part of the games, and it doesn’t phase her in the same way it weakens her competitors because being from the poorest district, she knows how to starve. These examples illustrate Katniss’ protective nature and her toughness. She detests bullies, has a unyielding mind that stays impervious to the seduction of others, and has a fiery temper. A true fighter and a true underdog. Hero.