Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Favorite Heroines From Historical Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Favorite Heroines From Books.  I think I might have done this particular topic before, so I'm going to get a little more specific and just focus on historical fiction.  There are so many strong heroines there, which is kind of funny.  Why are so many of today's heroines comparatively weak?

Top Ten Favorite Heroines From Historical Fiction:

Birdy from Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman - This girl is the very definition of a feisty heroine.  Though she's just a young teenager, her father keeps trying to marry her off... to old men!  She tries her hardest to live her own life and make her own choices, in a time when girls were expected to obey the men in their lives.

Birdy is headstrong yet relatable.  She tells the story with touches of humour in an unforgettable voice.  I really liked all the little details about 13th-century England and learning about the saints that Birdy mentioned in her diary.

Ruby Jean from Free as a Bird by Gina McMurchy-Barber - The narrator of this book has Down syndrome.  She's also got a huge personality that comes across on the page, aided (in part) by some phonetic spellings throughout the text.  I really got engaged with this story, and I know it was because of the character.  She drew me in, and I found myself really caring what happened to her.

The story is set in the latter half of the 20th century, in British Columbia, Canada.  Ruby Jean is basically dumped at the provincial asylum (they called it a "school"... though there wasn't much teaching of any sort going on there), and the story follows her as she grows up and learns to live in a world that can be challenging even when you don't have a disability. 

Cassandra from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - This is one of those coming-of-age stories that we're all supposed to read at one point or another.  But this story has some unique elements that make it a bit different, and a really strong narrator.  Cassandra is the younger daughter of a writer with a bad case of writer's block.  She's also got a beautiful older sister, and when some nice young men move in nearby, of course some sparks are going to fly.

I found Cassandra to be interesting and easy to relate to.  Her awkward first experiences with boys and her interactions with her family make her a character with some depth.  She's one of my favourite female characters of all time.

Jane from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë - When I first read this book, I was struck by how modern it sounded.  I hadn't read many other classics that were written in the first person point of view.  Jane herself tells the story of how she came to work as a governess for Edward Rochester, and the subsequent adventures she has after she finds out a pretty big secret.

It's a timeless love story, and Jane's anxieties and heartbreaks are easy to relate to... even more than 150 years after it was written.

Tula from The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle - There are a number of strong historical heroines in verse novels.  Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (also known as Tula) is from one of my recent reads.  She's a modern sort of girl, with some very modern ideas, living in 1820s Cuba.  Her mother wants her to marry, and marry well.  Tula wants to help abolish slavery and use her talent for poetry to help.

She's an interesting heroine from a time and place that's not very well represented in fiction.

OTMA from The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller - I may be cheating a little here, since OTMA (Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia) is four heroines, not just one.  But Sarah Miller did such a good job of developing them all that I just couldn't choose a favourite.

Though the end of this story is tragic and known to pretty much everyone, it's still lovely to see these girls developed as individual characters.  There's been so much focus on Anastasia in fiction that the other three tend to get overlooked.  And they were all interesting young women, with their unique upbringing and perspective during a time of war and revolution. 

Odette from Odette's Secrets by Maryann Macdonald - I'm not generally a fan of stories that take place during the Holocaust.  But this verse novel was an interesting story about a real little Jewish girl who was sent from Paris to the countryside to live as a Christian for her own safety.

The story itself was interesting enough, but knowing that Odette was a real person brought a sense of immediacy.  It was especially nice to see the included photographs of the people who were mentioned in the story.

Marnie from The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan - I hesitate to include this one as I'm not sure it actually takes place in a real historical setting.  However, it doesn't really have any fantasy elements, and it does go into the way certain women were treated by the Church at times throughout history.

Marnie escapes from an abusive marriage to a much-older man, only to find herself the target of suspicious villagers.  It doesn't help when she seems to be able to tame a wild boy named Raver (who isn't possessed, like some believe; he's merely deaf).  Marnie is strong, even in the face of torturous circumstances, and the story itself is lovely.

Elinor from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen - I've always liked Sense and Sensibility more than Pride and Prejudice, and I think perhaps it's because of the relationship between the two elder Dashwood sisters.

Elinor has always been my favourite, with her practical ways, even though, in reality, I'd probably be the one to fall for the no-good Willoughby.  Still, I can't help but be happy for her when she finally gets what she's wanted all along.

Agnes from Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury - It's 1815 and Agnes is making her debut in society... and unwrapping mummies... and trying to solve a mystery.

I really liked reading about a Jane Austen-era character written from a modern-day perspective.  Agnes is fairly typical for her time in some ways, but she does have a mind of her own and the intelligence to fuel it.  While a story set in this time period could end up being all about landing a suitable match, Agnes has other things on her mind.  The touches of romance in this story are just that... because this heroine has other things to worry about!

What are some of your favourite historical heroines?


  1. I love historical fiction and I haven't read any of these except Jane Eyre and Sense and Sensibility. I've always meant to read I Capture the Castle.

    PS Thanks for leaving such a long and thoughtful comment on my blog post earlier this week. I really appreciate it :)

    1. I Capture the Castle is really good. If you like historical fiction, you should definitely give it a try!

  2. I really want to read Wrapped - it looks really good!

    1. It is really good. I'm looking forward to the sequel, too!

  3. Great list! I have actually not read any of these books; I need to read more adult historical fiction! I hope you have a great week. :)
    Krystianna @ Downright Dystopian

    1. I read a lot of MG historical fiction, for some reason. Quite a few of my top reads last year were MG historicals (including a couple on this list).

  4. I haven't read a lot of historical fiction but I do love Lizzie Bennett from Pride and Prejudice and Jo March from Little Women!

  5. Oh I absolutely adored Sense and Sensibility! Great list.

    1. Maybe one day I'll actually get through the whole thing! I love the story, but I've only read half of the book. I really should do something about that...