I could say a lot about girls in literature.
I could talk about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl tropes, the way girls are used as objects and prizes for the boys who narrate the so-called “classic” books, the pervasive message in literature that girls need romance in their lives to justify their existence.
I could talk about how stories about boys are considered “universal” and stories about girls are considered “fluffy,” “niche,” or “chick lit.” How we read The Catcher in the Rye in school but not Little Women. How every book ever written by a man is ultimately about their dick but we can’t possibly expect boys to read about menstruation. And about how YA books featuring girls are especially disrespected because patriarchy.
I could write about how utterly fucking sick I am of reading “what about the boys in books? How can we get more boys to read books for fun” like boys aren’t the center of 90% of all literature and EVERY OTHER ENTERTAINMENT MEDIUM AVAILABLE AND IT’S REALLY OKAY IF THIS ONE THING STATISTICALLY OVER-REPRESENTS GIRLS WE WON’T LET IT GO TO OUR HEADS PROMISE!!!
Or I could write a dissertation on the correlation between the disrespect YA receives as a genre and the prevalence of women authors in said genre. And give you a lecture about how the people who claim YA is too childish for adults to read haven’t actually read YA in the past 10 years.
But I’m frankly kind of exhausted just trying to decide which topic to rant about.
So instead I present to you a whole bunch of books that feature girls I want to hang out with. Girls who are strong in different ways, who come from different backgrounds, and who go on a journey that I can relate to, even if their lives are very different from mine. Books that are the best at something, be it sex scenes or making you cry. In no particular order, and very highly recommended, I give you the girls I want to be my BFF.
Best Girl on Girl Sex Scenes
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily danforth
Y’all, this is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s the first true mirror book I ever read, the first book where I saw myself reflected back in its pages. When Cameron is eleven years old she loses both her parents in a car crash the same day she kisses her best friend Irene. As she grows up with her super religious Aunt Ruth and continues to like kissing girls, she eventually gets sent to a de-gaying school where, predictably, serious shit hits the fan. Cameron has to figure out all the things, from what she believes about God, to how she feels being a lesbian, to wondering what her parents would have done if they’d still been alive when she got outed. She’s awesome and I want to hang out with her, smoke pot, and talk about the world. Not necessarily in that order.
Best Title Ever
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
One of my favorite books so far in 2016, this is a loose retelling of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale crossed with Veronica Mars- meets – Bring it On. Hermione Winters (yes, this play is also where Rowling found her famous heroine’s name) is co-captain of the cheerleading squad at a school where the cheerleaders don’t just cheer for the star athletes, they are the star athletes. But the last night of camp Hermione is drugged and raped and found half submerged in the lake the next morning.
What follows is an empowering and hopeful tale that dares to imagine a world in which after being a victim of a heinous crime, Hermione is universally supported. Her parents, coaches, teachers, pastor, the detective on her case and the kids at her school all love and support her through every decision she makes. (With a few exceptions, I mean, there is a plot to develop.) I won’t spoil the ending except to say it is immensely satisfying and we are left confident in Hermione’s awesome future. Bonus- this book has 2 BFFs for the price of one since Hermione’s BFF Polly is the kind of girl we would all be lucky to have in our life.
Most Likely to Smash Your Heart into a Million Pieces
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know what lines you can cross and what lines you don’t. But sometimes love is stronger than knowledge, even if it comes with devastating consequences. Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.
This book utterly masters the slow build. About 50 pages in you start to get a bad feeling about what is in store for Naomi. 100 pages later you can already see the train wreck coming and can’t look away. Another 100 pages and you think it couldn’t possibly get any worse. And then it gets worse. Much, Much worse. I have rarely read a book that affected me on such a profoundly deep level. I cried through the last 100 pages and then continued to cry for several hours after I finished. It will make you feel angry and sad and helpless. And you should absolutely read it anyway.
Be the Crown Award
Dumplin by Julie Murphy
Willowdean has always been comfortable in her own skin. Her thoughts on having a bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. She’s hilarious and hardworking… and a self-proclaimed fat girl. After a bad break up with a boy, she sets out to regain her confidence by entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.
This book is laugh out loud hilarious, even more so if you know anyone southern. It is beyond refreshing to see a girl have positive and realistic body image. She has moments of insecurity and other moments of total confidence. It’s not just one or the other because humans rarely work like that. It’s also an interesting look at beauty pageants, possibly the most sexist activity on earth, and how maybe for some girls they can be empowering and fun. A must read for everyone who is a teenage girl, ever was a teenage girl, or has ever known a teenage girl.
Smash the Patriarchy Award
The Summer Prince by Alaya Johnson
In futuristic Brazil sits a city: Palmares Três. A city made of tiers—both physical and economical—maintained by aging tech. A city governed and ruled by women, because it was women who rebuilt society after men nearly destroyed the world. A city where humans live to be 200 years old or more, largely untouched by violence and disease.
In all of the dystopian lit that has dominated the market the past few years, this is the only book I’ve read that features a matriarchal society, let alone one also entirely made of people of color. The idea is that men ruined the world so finally women took over and now gender roles have largely flipped. Women must be strong, men can be emotional. There are lots of lesbian and bisexual relationships, and sex positivity. It also explores the idea of developing technology: what is helpful, what is hurtful, and where should we draw the line. The main character, June, kicks all the ass and is an amazing artist on top of it and also gets to masturbate so that’s a plus.
Most Likely to Save her Own Damn Self
The Enchanted Forest Series by Patricia Wrede
Cimorene doesn’t act like a proper princess. She’s too tall, too interested in practical skills like sword fighting, cooking and magic. She has no desire to marry any of the idiot princes who come calling. So she runs away to live with a dragon named Kazul. Shenanigans and adventures ensue.
The whole Enchanted Forest Series is one of my most beloved books from my youth. It’s a wonderful fairy tale world where girls save their own damn selves and everyone else while they’re at it. Where being smart and practical is a good thing and dragons have a totally evolved perspective on gender. Also, later on, there’s a witch who has 9 cats which basically is my #lifegoal.
You Do You Award
Redefining Realness Janet Mock
Fiction is still catching up, and while there is some YA featuring trans girls, this is still the book I always hand to the trans girls in my library. Janet Mock tells the story of being assigned male at birth and her determination to be who she really is inside. She challenges ideas and makes you reexamine everything you think you know about gender. She tells heartbreaking stories about other trans women of color – the group of people most likely to be attacked, arrested, and/or killed.
Gender identity can be a hard thing for us cis-gender folks to wrap our heads around, and I think the best way to start that process is to really listen to people in that community speak about their own experiences. Just listen. Just read. Just think.
Most Likely to Make Your Family Seem Normal in Comparison
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
When Astrid’s mother goes to jail for poisoning her ex-boyfriend, Astrid gets stuck in one foster home after another. Each one leaves a mark on her. Each one takes something from her. As she grows up she struggles to figure out who she is, who her mother is, and how to finally move on.
Okay, so this isn’t a YA book either, but it’s about a teen girl and you’re not the boss of me. This book is entirely about Astrid’s relationship with her mother and how that impacts every breath she takes, even though her mom spends the entire book in prison. In fact, all the significant relationships in it are between Astrid and the women she lives with. The foster mothers that range from indifferent to co-dependent to downright abusive. It is heartbreaking and powerful and beautiful. And will make whatever fight you had with your mom seem totally normal and solvable.
Gabi a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.
Let’s play Spot the Vulva on the cover!!! It makes me smile every time I look at it. I generally don’t like epistolary novels, but I loved this one. The style lets Gabi be both in the moment as she describes what’s going on in her life, but distanced enough from the action to have some perspective on it as well. Gabi is another fat girl who is confident in who she is. She has moments when she’d like to be skinny, but also she really likes Girl Scout cookies, and… like… yeah girl me too!!! Also, she writes poetry and makes a zine about feminism, so get me a jacket and call me a fan.
Most Likely to Turn You Into a Rage Monster
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust. And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too.
Cult books are my literary catnip – I can not resist them even though they give me all the feelz. This one in particular really captured the feeling of helplessness that comes along with living in a world where men hold absolute power over you. And even if you’ve never been a part of a cult, I bet every girl on earth can relate to that feeling.
A loose retelling of The Handless Maiden, this book is about how far some people will go to silence girls. While in a juvenile detention center, Minnow recounts the tale of her life in a cult as the reader cringes and yells at this horrible man. Yet in spite of all the horror, Minnow has survived. Shoot her down, but she won’t fall. The girl is Titanium. And that is fucking awesome.
Most Likely to Literally Rule the World
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
If you don’t know who this is, what is wrong with you go google that shit m’kay? Malala is extraordinary and gives me hope that the future isn’t totally fucked. As long as there are girls who are fighting this fight alongside her, there may be hope for this world after all. This is the girl who proved that what terrorists fear most of all is a girl with a book. Let that just sink in for a moment.
So what are your thought, y’all? What are your favorite books that feature girls being generally awesome at whatever they choose to do? Share in the comments, yo.