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Stubborn Girls (and Why I Love Them)

Recently it's been brought to my attention that a good number of my very favorite heroines are incredibly stubborn girls. Downright bullheaded at times. I began thinking about why I seem to respond so favorably to characters who can almost be relied upon to buck the norm--their society, their family, the very path their lives seem to be taking. Particularly when this recalcitrance blinds them to a few key, sometimes obvious realities and their degree of importance in their lives. I realize (and completely understand why) this oftentimes troubling quality in a character can really rub some readers wrong. I'll frequently recommend a favorite book with one of these gals in it and it gets returned or reviewed negatively because they could not stand the main character and her inability to back down or admit she was wrong. So. In these instances, why do I like them so much? Instead of being turned off, why do I actually relish their refusal to compromise?
One of my most beloved stubborn girls is Alanna of Trebond from the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce. Her determination not to give up on her dream of becoming a knight no matter what she has to do to achieve it leads her to be obstinate on an almost continual basis. But what if she weren't? They would have packed her off to the nearest convent before she had a chance to heft a sword and then where would her country be when the diabolical sorceror decided to kill his way to the throne? In a pickle, that's where. Alanna, to her confusion, finds herself surrounded by a group of true friends, a couple of whom would like their relationships to be more. I love her because she recognizes how valuable these friends are, while still maintaining her independence. I love her because she struggles to find the right balance in her life between honor, duty, and love and because she doesn't give up. I will never tire of Alanna.

Next comes Rachel from Archangel by Sharon Shinn. Here's a girl who makes or breaks the book for readers. Clearly, she makes it for me, but I understand why some readers find her impossibly irritating. From a young age, control over her own life was taken out of her hands and she eventually finds herself a slave, forced into subservience in the homes of the people she despises. When the Archangel-elect comes to collect her, she does not view him as savior, but as another impediment to her self-determination. The book is filled with combative, combustible scenes as these two forces of nature are thrown together against their will. I haven't experienced anywhere near the degree of suffering and frustration that Rachel does throughout the course of the novel and yet I admire her so much. Yes, Gabriel is remarkable in many ways, and yes he has his people's best interest at heart, but Rachel...Rachel is unfailingly real to me. She is intractable to a fault and I love, love, love how fierce she is. But she's also loyal and kind-hearted and just as honorable and good as Gabriel. She's just incapable of bending her will to anyone else's and the righteous indignation in me cheers her on madly.

You've heard me go on about Moira J. Moore's Hero series and how funny and well-developed I think they are. And, yes, I'm wild about Taro--the leading man. But I remain firmly attached to Lee--his female partner. When Lee first finds out she's to be paired with Taro, she is, in a word,dismayed. She is also more than willing to believe the rampant rumors about his pompous nature, his philandering exploits, and his utter self-absorption. Lee comes from a very humble background and, being eminently practical and extraordinarily unsentimental, she takes a remarkably long time to see what's really in front of her eyes. Too long, many readers say. And, once again, I hear where you're coming from. But for whatever reason, I find myself so very fond of Lee. I realize she's deluding herself in many ways and I think my fondness comes from understanding where she's coming from. To believe in Taro--the real Taro--would change the fabric of her life. It would change all her comfortable rules and whip the safety net out from under her where trust and relationships are concerned. She's not ready for that. But she's getting there. Bit by bit, book by book, she's getting there. And I just love watching the whole thing play out.

In the end, I guess I'm just a ridiculously firm believer in the kind of heroines Robin McKinley (an excellently stubborn girl herself) refers to as "girls who do things." I don't know how many times I've used that phrase to describe why I connected with a character. It's why I connect with each of these and they are just a sampling of a whole ream of stubborn girls that I gleefully admire. Their bravery and determination combined with their many flaws endear them to me. I see bits of myself in them, bits of where they're wrong, and bits of the way I would like to be. And on those days when I'm about as far from brave or determined as a girl can be, when my flaws are staring me in the face and laughing, reading about these defiant, unyielding, stubborn girls makes my spine stiffen with resolve. And that is why I love them.


  1. I'm a big fan of 'girls who do things', too. Although, I have to admit there are some girls whose stubbornness definitely rubs me the wrong way.

    I love Alanna and pretty much all of Tamora Pierce's heroines, but Lyra from His Dark Materials drove me Batshit-insane - and I'm not really sure why.

  2. Pierce writes several stubborn girls. I also like Beka Cooper.

    Stubborn girls are fantastic. Who wants to be or read about the girl who just goes along with everyone else? Books like the ones you've mentioned are the ones I love to save (hubby says "hoard") for my daughters while I wait for them to get old enough to read.

  3. Lana, lol! I felt the same way about Lyra. Isn't that funny? I'm not sure what it was either but I didn't finish the series.

    NotNessie, Beka's great. I loved TERRIER. Although I had some issues with the 2nd book and am hoping things play out better in the 3rd and last. And I love that you're saving those books for your girls. I can't wait to do the same.

  4. After reading your post I looked through to find a few of my favorite heroines and guess what, they aren't afraid to challenge the status quo either!
    I'm thinking Katsa from Graceling, Sabriel from Sabriel, Tess from Dawn Cook's Princess books, and a number of heroines from Juliet Marillier's books, just to name a few. :)
    And while some of my examples of leading ladies may not be quite as overt in how they are "stubborn", they still stand up for themselves and learn a lot in the process. What more could I ask for? :D
    Maybe these types of characters can rub people the wrong way, but I'd also take a guess that these characters wouldn't really care, would they? lol
    I also think that there is a subtle (maybe not so subtle for some) line between what is stubborn and what is something worse (I don't know what word I'm searching for, maybe a willful sort of rudeness that goes above and beyond being stubborn???).
    Anyway, now I'm rambling, lol.
    Great post!

  5. Anonymous5:57 PM

    I very much enjoyed this little rant on the joy of reading about strong female heroines! I haven't read any of those books you've mentioned (but, I've read other books by the same authors - have you read Angelica? What did you think of that one?), but I am putting them on the list. I'll probably search around later for your reviews of these above books.


    After reading Samantha R's comment, I totally agree about what she said, "I also think that there is a subtle (maybe not so subtle for some) line between what is stubborn and what is something worse". I know I've also often read books where the character is stubborn beyond the point of reason, but maybe that's just bad characterization (I'm scratching my head trying to think of an example, but I'm coming up blank).

  6. Seeing as how I love Mulan (she does things! she figures things out!)while Cinderella goes on my last nerve (waiting around, letting herself be exploited, letting her life be decided by her feet - argh!) I really should check out all these heroines. I'm not familiar with any, though I did just read and enjoy Ms. Shinn's novella in 'The Queen of Winter'.

  7. Samantha, Katsa was definitely another one that came to mind when I was putting the post together. She's all kinds of awesome. Cashore's such a great writer and when you read FIRE, I think you'll think she's just as great.

    And I will confess to loving that the characters wouldn't care what other people thought of them. It's a refreshing trait in so many ways. Rachel, particularly, wouldn't give a fig. I love her.

    Sharry, I loved ANGELICA. It takes place a couple hundred years before ARCHANGEL and is similar in some ways though the two sets of characters are as different as night and day. I also loved ANGEL-SEEKER which is an immediate sequel to ARCHANGEL. I highly recommend them.

    I agree with both of you on the fine line. If the character is portrayed as unforgivably stubborn with no reasons to back up, or a history to explain why s/he is the way s/he is, then I find them unlikable. The same goes for if they don't grow at all or change. And if I can't fall in love with the character then the book won't hold water for me. But, like you, I'm having trouble coming up with an example. Will think on it further.

    M, lol! She does let her life get decided by her feet. I'd never thought of it that way before but that's hilarious. And if you enjoyed Ms. Shinn's novella in THE QUEEN OF WINTER, I think you will love ARCHANGEL. Also her Twelve Houses series is fabulous. The first one is MYSTIC & RIDER and is a major comfort read for me.

  8. I love strong heroine. Alanna and many of the other that Tamora Pierce create are some of my favorites of all time.

  9. I've noticed is shipping Heroes at Risk. In Manhattan, it's same day delivery, but I'm not sure if it's shipping outside of NY.

    I also wanted to tell you I'm nearly finished with Kristine Cashore's Fire. It took me ages to open it and start reading, and I'm now stunned by its beauty. I'm unable to concentrate on anything else.

    My reaction, I think, has something to do with the fact that I read Jellicoe Road before it and it took me a day before I could start reading something new. (I ended up rereading the beginning to appreciate Hannah's novel.)

    Anyway, Fire is amazing.

    Karen S

  10. When I saw the title of your post, I somehow knew Lee was going to be on your list. :)

    I am so right there with you on this--> "If the character is portrayed as unforgivably stubborn with no reasons to back up, or a history to explain why s/he is the way s/he is, then I find them unlikable. The same goes for if they don't grow at all or change."

    That's exactly how I feel.

    Great post!

  11. Kate, Pierce just has the touch, doesn't she?

    Karen, *drools* they're shipping already?!? I need that book.

    I am so happy to hear you love FIRE. It is beautiful, isn't it? I felt the very same way--completely absorbed in it. Everything else was peripheral. You really did do a double header, didn't you? JELLICOE ROAD followed by FIRE. Wow.

    Chelle, grin. I know. I'm becoming rather predictable, aren't I? But I'd been thinking about her after reading your review and wondering what it was that I was drawn to when she's clearly so blind most of the time. I'll let you know if there's some improvement in the 4th one as soon as I get my hands on it. :)

  12. I adore Alanna and Rachel, so I must read the other series! I have added it to my list - it sounds like fun. :-) Thanks!

  13. Darla, I'm so glad. If you like those two, I think you'll find Lee an interesting girl. It's a fun series and the 4th one is coming out next week! *excited*

  14. These are the girls in books who keep me reading. I don't think I'm ever quite as satisfied as when I have a stubborn character to love.

    Do you think Katniss from The Hunger Games would count?


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