This International Women’s Day, I’m celebrating books and characters featuring fierce, powerful, vulnerable, galvanizing women. From Meg in A Wrinkle In Time, to Olive in The Love Hypothesis, the real life indigenous women in Adrienne Keene’s Notable Native People, and Zetian in Iron Widow. Fictional or based on real women, I am grateful for them all.
We asked some of our favorite recent authors what characters they want to recognize and celebrate this International Women’s day and beyond and they came up with a diverse and wonderful list–get your TBRs ready to topple over with impressive and resilient books–and read on!
Sasha taqwšәblu LaPointe, author of Red Paint: The Ancestral Biography of A Coast Salish Punk
I fell in love with Louise White Elk immediately. Debra Magpie Earling’s opening sentence signals to the reader that this character is in danger, “When Louise White Elk was nine, Baptiste Yellow Knife blew a fine powder in her face and told her she would disappear.”
But Louise doesn’t disappear. She not only survives, she finds safety. She embodies strength in the face of erasure. She survives life on the Flathead reservation in the 1940’s and narrowly escapes the predatory men that pursue her. She’s a hero.
Olivia Cole, author of The Truth About White Lies
I will always celebrate Lilith Iyapo, from Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood trilogy. She carried the past and the future: memory and possibility. Sensual, wise, and stubborn. Jude, from The Vanishing Half–forging her own path, wounded but with an internal momentum toward healing. And Kasey from The Ones We’re Meant to Find, who is terrifying. Who recognizes she’s missing something soft, and moves forward anyway.
Ivy Noelle Weir, author of Anne Of West Philly: A Modern Graphic Retelling of Anne of Green Gables
Éowyn of Rohan, the Lord of the Rings trilogy:
So, full disclosure, growing up I was more of an Arwen girl. But there was a point in my twenties where I was revisiting the books and movies for the millionth time and realized I’d been totally sleeping on Éowyn. She’s loved by many, but also super tough. And she gets to deliver that iconic takedown with Merry of the Witch-King at the Battle of Pelennor!
Samira Ahmed, author of Hollow Fires
In 1999, an English department colleague handed me a collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, saying, “I think this book was written for you.” Shoba, a character in, “A Temporary Matter,” has lived gently in my mind ever since. A young woman grappling with loss and a sense of disconnection, Shoba is not a hero in a traditional sense, but her painful and courageous attempts to find voice again, to speak difficult truths, resonated powerfully with me then and now.
G.R. Macallister, author of The Arctic Fury and Scorpica
Margaret Fuller wrote the first major work of 19th-century American feminism and blazed countless trails in journalism. Then she served overseas as the first female war correspondent, took up with a revolutionary marquis, and perished in a tragic shipwreck. How is she not in every high school history textbook? Margaret inspired the journalist character in The Arctic Fury, but treat yourself to the whole story in Megan Marshall’s Pulitzer-winning biography Margaret Fuller: An American Life.
Ashley Woodfolk, author of Nothing Burns As Bright As You
Celie from The Color Purple was the first female character I ever read who used silence as power – who actively chose not to speak when she was most overcome with emotion and who processed her thoughts on paper. Celie is Black and queer and experiences at times unrelenting brutality and heartbreak. But what is so inspiring about her is that over the course of the novel she reclaims not only her voice, but also her dignity. If I was going to pick one character to celebrate today, it would be her.
Racquel Marie, Author of Ophelia Ever After
I’ll forever adore Charlotte from the Charlotte Holmes YA books by Brittany Cavallaro. An intricately crafted take on Sherlock Holmes, Charlotte excels at solving the most complicated mysteries, but often struggles to grasp things like kindness and love; in large part due to the hardships she’s endured. She’s a phenomenally flawed character that you ache to root for, even at her lowest points, because of how dimensionally she leaps off of the page.
N. Griffin, author of Trigger
In Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Sethe Suggs relives unthinkable pain to claim her own life. She is supported by thirty women who will not accept Sethe’s entrapment by a ghost and roar forth to help her put it in its rightful, done-with place.
Courage beyond words. Possibility beyond imagination. Sethe offers me both.
There’s also Little My in Tove Janssen’s Moomin books. She is small and shouty and bites people’s ankles when she’s angry.
For more recommendations, visit our Books section!