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August 19, 2015

Woman Crush Wednesday: Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now

Posted by Maya

Happy #wcw! We're back for another thrilling roundup of our favorite literary heroines and trailblazers. These women are not sidekicks or footnotes in men's stories; they make their own destinies by being fearless and flawed and brave. This group has been inspiring us for a long time, and we hope to find more women in books to continue to empower us!

Maya: Nancy Drew, from the series by Carolyn Keene
Yes, I’m throwing back for this one, but Nancy was one of my absolute first #wcw! I know she’s been kept up by ghost writers, but I’m talking Secret of the Old Clock Nancy, The Bungalow Mystery Nancy, the Nancy Drew of the 1930s who was solving countless murders nearly half a century before American women were allowed to practice law. Nancy is by no means perfect, and she was created by a group of men to represent an impossible female ideal: brilliant, attractive, kind, practical, energetic and lucky (and loyal) in love. Yet her character has taken on a life and meaning of her own for me, representing not the pressure to have it all but instead the possibility that a young woman can at least work towards those goals, and if there is something that must be sacrificed, the question of what (be it money, partnership, career, etc.) can and should be up to you. Nancy never speaks out of turn or contradicts a man --- unless she knows she’s right, which is often. Nancy does what she’s asked --- unless rebuking means saving a life. Nancy maintains a relationship, but through mutual respect and communication with her boyfriend Ned Nickerson, who occasionally assists her on her cases (and never presumes to control her in any way). When tiny Maya was just learning how to read chapter books, she fell into Nancy’s world wholeheartedly and discovered that being a female hero can mean just that --- being a hero who is also female, confronting the unique challenges of being a woman in a world of males who perceive themselves the protagonist of every story, while also accomplishing her tasks in a fun and exciting way that equals and often rivals any male novel. I loved the fresh perspective from the moment I picked up THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK even before I could articulate why: Finally, a detective story that doesn’t objectify, demean or reduce women to sidekicks and love interests, and instead positions them as the actual detective. Nancy has been a #wcw ever since.

Ronnie: Eileen Leary, from WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by Matthew Thomas
Ever read a book and immediately feel like one of the characters was someone from your life? Well I had that experience recently when I read Matthew Thomas’s doorstopper, WE ARE NOT OURSELVES. Thomas’s title character, Eileen Leary, is one amazing woman. The daughter of Irish immigrants, she grows up in a relatively poor neighbor in Queens, working her way up the social and economic ladders to achieve her dream:  a comfortable, upper middle class lifestyle, complete with a big house in the suburbs, a loving husband and an overachieving child. Along the way, she fights hard --- and at times dirty --- to hold onto these little luxuries. So when I read WE ARE NOT OURSELVES, not only was I was amazed by its incredible storyline and beautiful prose, but I was almost dumbfounded by the realness of Eileen. Why you ask? Well, her character and story were uncannily similar to my mother’s temperament and upbringing. So for my #wcw this week, I’m not only admiring the character of Eileen Leary, but also I’m saluting my mom, and the incredible manner in which fiction can often mirror our own lives. 
Jeanna: Victoria Aveyard, author of RED QUEEN 
I just want to take this time and thank Victoria Aveyard for the masterpiece that is RED QUEEN. The female protagonist did not choose a single guy in the whole book; when faced with a love triangle, she chose to remain single. It is not everyday female leads stay single --- even Katniss has Peeta and Gale. Aveyard should pride herself on writing one dystopian that is not drowning in romance. Thank you. Girls can get through love triangles --- or whatever that was in the book --- and come out without a guy. It is actually the most realistic outcome I have read in a long time. RED QUEEN is a refreshing read, and Aveyard is the queen who made it all happen.
Emily: Jo March, from LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott
Jo may not be the most original #wcw --- basically every bookworm who ever read LITTLE WOMEN felt some kind of deep, spiritual connection with the letter-loving March sister --- but that's just a testament to the authenticity of her character. LITTLE WOMEN is still charming, despite its heavy-handed moralizing; for me, that charm will always lie in its lovingly rendered protagonists, four women (“women”) whose flaws made them uniquely true to life. Nineteenth-century literature is certainly not short on strong, complicated women (Elizabeth Bennett and Cathy Earnshaw come immediately to mind), yet somehow Jo seems the most modern. At first, Jo desperately wants to fix her flaws --- to control her temper and subvert her stubbornness --- but she grows to see the beauty in her imperfections. It is that very stubbornness, and her strong sense of self, that lead her to reject Laurie’s marriage proposal and instead pursue her writing career in New York City. And what a bold and marvelous (if a little wrong: #TeamLaurie forever) thing to do! Jo cared deeply for everything but convention, and for that she’s a timeless #wcw.