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Fictional role models do affect mindset, especially if these are feisty female role models for teens – as our author discovered. We published Part I yesterday. Here’s Part II.
Of course, this has to begin with the most popularly known fictional female role model for teens, who has inspired millions. This list is again, in chronological order of the publication date.
by J.K.Rowling, published in 1997
Do I really need to explain why Hermione is a fictional role model? Well, here it goes. She was neither afraid to speak her mind nor correct people nor slap Malfoy. She never let people make her feel guilty for her smartness. She never hesitated to stand up for the weak even if the whole world laughed at her. She can defend and rescue herself. She has been a shining star all through the series and without her we all know that Harry would have been in deep trouble!
“Harry caught the fish and I did my best with it! I notice I’m always the one who ends up sorting out the food, because I’m a girl, I suppose!”
by Lemony Snicket, published in 1999
Violet Baudelaire is an inventor and loves to build things. She is the poster child for STEM. Orphaned at 14, she is very protective of her siblings and never gives up in her fight against Count Olaf. All through her family’s misfortune, Violet manages to be resourceful and holds the family together.
“To those who hadn’t been around Violet long, nothing would have seemed unusual, but those who knew her well knew that when she tied her hair up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes, it meant that the gears and levers of her inventing brain were whirring at top speed.”
by Pam Muñoz Ryan, published in 2000
Esperanza, a child from a wealthy family, loses her father and has to flee with her mother to an America in the throes of The Great Depression. Life is not good for Esperanza in labor camp. But she has to put her past aside and face her present situation. Finally Esperanza adjusts to her new life in a new country with support from her well wishers.
“We are like the phoenix,” said Abuelita. “Rising again, with a new life ahead of us.”
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, published in 2002
This book is set around the time the Indian freedom movement was at its peak. 12 year old Neela is worried that she would have to marry the person her family chooses for her. But she has to set her personal worries aside and embark on a difficult journey when she finds out that her father is imprisoned and is scheduled to be deported to Andaman.
by Shannon Hale, published in 2005
14 year old, Miri believes she is the runt of the litter. Her father does not allow Miri to work in the quarry like the rest of her village. Miri believes that this is because he thinks she is weak. In an unexpected twist, Miri and her peers end up in a special school and are trained to be princesses. What starts out as extreme rivalry between the girls soon shifts gear as the girls open their minds to education. The girls, with Miri in the lead quickly realise that each person has a talent and that this talent is not diminished by the success of a peer. Miri not only saves lives by coming with a unique system of communication in the unforgiving mines of Eskel, but also saves her friends from a group of bandits who hold them hostage. Later on she goes on to represent Mount Eskel as a council woman in the kingdom.
by T.V.Padma, published in 2008
Vidya grows up in Bombay with her parents and her older brother. Her father is soft spoken, charismatic and a doctor by profession. He treats her mother as an equal, which is very different from the patriarchal set up in Vidya’s extended family. All is lost to Vidya when her father is brutally attacked by a British officer and becomes brain damaged. Vidya has to move from Bombay to Chennai to live in her paternal grandfather’s house where the rules are very different. She is witness to her mother being treated very badly by her aunts and her father openly ridiculed as an ‘idiot’. While this infuriates her’s older brother who abandons the family to join the army, Vidya deals with it by finding sanctuary in the library in the house. She breaks many traditions including rejecting the man who proposes to marry her, till she is sure that the proposal is coming from a place of love and equality rather than from a place of pity. She goes on to study to become a doctor. A very realistic portrayal of a female role model.
“The library was my only blessing. Every time I climbed the stairs, my heart lifted. All day, I looked forward to the happy hours I spent in that beautiful room. My guilt over appa’s fate was too heavy to carry up there, and I learned to leave it below, somewhere on the ground floor. I left the house far behind as I walked on the path paved by the books, and every evening, baby Mangalam slept soundly on the bed I made for her on the window seat.”
by Jacqueline Kelly, published in 2009
Calpurnia and Catherine (Catherine called Birdy, listed in Part 1) could be twins. Calpurnia or Callie Vee as she like to call herself, is the only girl among 6 boys, growing up in Texas during the late 19th century. Callie’s mother tries her best to domesticate her by making her learn cooking, music and needle point. But Callie enjoys taking long nature walks with Granddaddy, maintaining a scientific inquiry journal and asks many questions. Callie Vee is a protagonist you will never forget!
“One day I would have all the books in the world, shelves and shelves of them. I would live my life in a tower of books. I would read all day long and eat peaches. And if any young knights in armor dared to come calling on their white chargers and plead with me to let down my hair, I would pelt them with peach pits until they went home.”
by Rita Williams-Garcia, published in 2010
Delphine is the eldest among three sisters who is sent to Oakland with her siblings to spend summer with her estranged mother, Cecile. Soon the sisters finds that her Cecile is not the nurturing type and is unapologetic for having abandoned her children. Having brought up by their paternal grandmother during the civil rights movement, the girls are taught to be submissive, cook, clean, iron their hair and bear the burden of their skin color. Cecile, a poet who writes for the civil rights movement, challenges every black stereotype that the girls have been fed. But Delphine does not easily crumble. She displays extreme strength of character and over the summer, learns to accept Cecile for what she is.
“We all have our la-la-la song. The thing we do when the world isn’t singing a nice tune to us. We sing our own nice tune to drown out ugly.”
by Grace Lin, published in 2010
Once in a while a story that captures the attention of all age groups comes along and this is one such. Minli embarks on a journey to change the fortune of her village and with it, the dreary existence of her family. In this is folksy twist to Wizard of Oz, Minli demonstrates kindness and perseverance to accomplish the goals she has set for herself.
by Leela Gour Broome, published in 2010
Atiya is a teenager with polio. She was abandoned by her mother, a beautiful dancer, when she realizes that Atiya could never walk properly, forget dance. Atiya grows up with her father, a forest officer. She longs for a friend, but feels that she has nothing in common with the noisy children in her classroom. As she is growing up another big question faces her. She is unable to decide what her aspirations are. Finally with the help of an ogre uncle and his flute lessons, Atiya finds herself.
by Thanhha Lai, published in 2011
Set in verse, this is fiction based on the author’s own experience immigrating from a war ravaged Vietnam to America at the age of ten. Kim portrays extreme resilience in the face of loss, hardship, bullying in school, having to learn a new language and other setbacks of a refugee life. This is a book in which not even a single word is wasted.
to be seen.”
by Sowmya Rajendran and Niveditha Subramaniam, published in 2011
Mayil is the Indian equivalent of Catherine meets Margaret. With her woes about school, homework, friends, and infatuations, it is easy for any teenager to identify with her. With a family that shares both cooking and working outside the house, and with a boy child named after a flower (Thamarai, meaning lotus), Mayil nonchalantly breaks many gender stereotypes.
“She is going to teach English in some fancy American school that’s really far away so she will have to leave early and come really late. Thatha and Appa are going to take turns cooking! I screwed up my face at that, but Ma said that was ‘sexist’ of me. I didn’t know what that meant, but it didn’t sound nice.”
by Marjorie Sayer, published in 2013
Set in early 1900s, 12 year old Zun is happy to have parents who are not traditional. Her feet are not bound and she is allowed to tinker around with her father’s mechanical tools. But this peace does not last as her father is killed and her mother is arrested. It is up to Zun to rescue her mother.
by Deviga Rangachari, published in 2014
Can you imagine being born an invalid girl in a royal family in 10th century India?! A male child is likely to be an heir or fight for the kingdom. A female child is expected to strengthen relationships through marriage and hence is expected to be beautiful. Didda unfortunately is neither and earns the ire of her father just by being alive. She is married off to the far off kingdom of Kashmira. But Didda evolves in to a brilliant, strategic and cunning ruler the country has ever seen. This is historical fiction at its best.
“I feel tears coming but I force them away. They are a sign of weakness and I will be strong, I will. I will take this poor destiny in my hands and turn it around. And I will not let anyone or anything stand in the way.”
by Julie Berry, published in 2014
Every girl enrolled in Prickwillow Place has a character that their family finds quirky and hoping that these flaws are fixed under the fine tutelage of Mrs. Plackett. Smooth Kitty is smart, funny, thinks quickly on her feet and is excellent in managing things. Unfortunately she is never noticed by her father. Dear Roberta is cloyingly sweet. Disgraceful Mary Jane is a terrible flirt. Dull Martha is slow to react to situations and is in general considered dull and stupid. Stout Alice is curvy, loves to eat and dreams of becoming an actor. Pockmarked Louise has pock marks from chicken pox on her face and is a brilliant scientist. Dour Elinor has a liking towards all things creepy and is a good artist. Their mean school mistress Mrs. Plackett and her brother drop dead at the dining table one fine Sunday evening. The girls decide to bury the dead and carry on as if nothing happened, and are hoping to stay at school all by themselves, because they do not want to get back to their suffocating families. Their new found sense of freedom does not last long, for they find out that the headmistress and her brother are actually murdered. The girls now have a murder mystery in their hands!
by Nandini Nayar, published in 2015
Apoorva is a fat 12 year old who is forced by her mother to keep a diary. In a world where beauty is skin deep, Apoorva is a misfit. To rub salt on her wound, her younger brother and sister are quite skinny! Throughout the book Apoorva displays commendable strength of character and manages to make friends through her humorous nature.
by Sowmya Rajendran, 2015
14 year old Ashwathy is appointed detective by none other than God herself, literally through a boot. If you think that God has spoken to Ashwathy through an unconventional channel, you must see God who is the epitome of unconventionality! In the process of investigating the death of Sreeja, a neighbor, Ashwathy encounters many social problems rampant in our society.
by Mathangi Subramaniam, 2015
Sarojini is fascinated with her namesake, Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, a freedom fighter and an advocate for women. The story is said through letters that Sarojini writes to Mrs. Naidu as part of her school project. She tries using RTE to move in to the same school as her friend Amir, but is denied admission. Sarojini is not one to sit back passively and brood. With the help of her mother’s employer, who is an advocate, she makes wonderful improvements to her school.
“Here’s what I think you meant: I think you meant that even if you’re small, like me and Deepti and Amir(even though Amir’s not a girl), you shouldn’t be afraid to try and make big changes.”
Do check out Part I here.
Image source: YouTube