***If you consider yourself a feminist, you should probably skip this one, because I still want to be friends.***
If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I think books are really important. Stories, even fictional ones, resonate with us and teach us things we might not learn any other way. The Savior used parables to teach his most important lessons. The stories we read can, over time, shape our character—which is why it’s important to choose the right ones.
This is why I want to write stories. I remember the books that helped me figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. Someday, if something I write helps another little girl, I’ll be so happy. I don’t know if that will ever happen; I don’t yet have the time or skills to create those kinds of books. But for now, I can share the “girl books” I loved the most, and that’s where this series comes in.
Before we can get started, I have to define what makes a good “girl book.” My criteria may be different from yours, and maybe some of you are bristling with rage already. Feel free to close this tab and visit again next time I post baby pictures. I won’t mind.
Why not just “books”?
There’s a lot of fantastic, uplifting literature about men and boys out there, and we don’t always have to read books about people who are just like us. I get that. The most important books in my life, The Book of Mormon and The Bible (and to a much lesser extent, the Lord of the Rings), have very few female characters, and I love them just the way they are.
But reading an excellent story with a good message can be especially powerful when you feel a strong connection with the characters. Most of the Savior’s parables are about “a certain man” (or woman) performing everyday tasks. His audience knew exactly what He was talking about, and could see themselves in the characters in those stories. That freed up their minds to really ponder the Savior’s message. Similarly, when we make a strong connection with the protagonist of a story, we experience it on an entirely different level.
What’s wrong with “girl books” today?
There are a ton of books with female protagonists, so you’d think girls would be surrounded with excellent literature. But in my experience, this is just not the case. On my last bookstore jaunt, the YA shelves were filled with obvious Twilight knockoffs, obvious Hunger Games knockoffs, dystopian love triangles, and John-Green-esque existential dreck. In the worst cases, these books promote risky behavior and specifically glorify teenage sex; many are simply unoriginal, uninspiring, and lacking in good role models.
I could write a whole post on what’s wrong with YA fiction, but the thing that bothers me most (after the inappropriate peer-2-teen choice behaviors) is the generic teenage action heroine protagonist (GTAHP). You know the one. She’s tough, she’s driven, she’s better than all the boys—and essentially acts like one. Her problems can be solved with fists, and by golly, she’s got fists. She theoretically cares about her love interest(s) and maybe one other family member, and has a chip on her shoulder when it comes to the rest of the world.
Clearly, I don’t consider the GTAHP an acceptable role model.
It’s possible that I just can’t see myself in these characters. I’ve never had a desire to dispatch bad guys with a sword or a bow—that sounds like it requires athletic ability. But I think it goes deeper than that.
So, what makes a good “girl book”?
Andrew Klavan likes to say (and I don’t have an exact quote because I can’t find it in print and I don’t want to wade through 450 podcast episodes) that human beings are most drawn to stories in which men are brave and women are loving. This isn’t to say that men can’t be loving and women should be cowardly—a simpering protagonist with an unfeeling muscle-man love interest would make any book deeply unsatisfying. A different way of phrasing Klavan’s idea is that stories are most satisfying when men display masculine bravery and love, and women display feminine bravery and love.
And so, to define what makes a satisfying girl book, we need a quick discussion on masculinity and femininity.
***Seriously, I’m about to start talking about gender roles here, so get out while you still can!***
I’ve found that the best primer on these topics is this baby right here:
My generation loves to hate on this document because (among other things) it affirms that men and women are different and have different roles in God’s plan. But I firmly believe it is inspired, revealed to a latter-day prophet as a pattern for how to live our lives. Following it as well as we can will bring us happiness in this life and the next.
The Proclamation clearly indicates that God designed men to be providers and protectors and women to be nurturers. Obviously we are all individuals with different abilities and circumstances, but I believe the greatest joy results from striving to fulfill these roles. And just as this is the ideal pattern for family life, in my experience, it’s also makes for the most satisfying fiction.
One of my (many) beefs with Peter Jackson is that he messed up big time in his portrayal of Éowyn. The point of her story isn’t that she picked up a sword and saved the day, slashing traditional gender roles in the process; the point is that she did all these things and she still wasn’t happy. Only when she falls in love with Faramir and resolves to be “a healer, and love all things that grow,” does she truly find peace.
We need more books that feature strong, loving, nurturing female protagonists and encourage their readers to develop these traits. And the books that already do this need more praise and attention, which I hope to bring them through this series.
Which books qualify?
Here are my criteria for the books in this series:
- It must have a prominent female viewpoint character.
- It has to be entertaining and well-written enough to hold my attention.
- It features “men who are brave, and women who are loving” as defined above.
Each post in this series will feature a book that I think fits these criteria. You might disagree with me on which books qualify—heck, the authors of these books might think I’m totally crazy. But if my high school English teachers taught me anything, it’s that authors’ opinions don’t matter!
…pfffffft. Hahaha. Yeah, I don’t believe that, either. But I do believe it’s possible to take something away from a book that the author didn’t necessarily intend to put there, and that may well be the case here.
The point is, if you disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. And I’m always looking for book recommendations, so if you have a favorite girl book, please let me know!