A Shout-out to Strong Young Women

By Alix Reid, Editorial Director of Carolrhoda Lab

Recently I listened to a Fresh Air podcast in which Terry Gross interviewed Peggy Orenstein about her new book Girls and Sex. In one of the segments, Peggy quoted a teenager who said that girls were considered either “prudes” or “sluts.” This spring I had the great pleasure of publishing four very different books written by women which all featured strong female characters. All four books show girls who transcend these either/or labels and debunk other conventional and limiting stereotypes of femininity. Each book spoke to me individually when I acquired it and each also speaks to the others, and I feel like we’re all in conversation with each other about what it means to be strong and female.

Here are the books:

Pointe, Claw by Amber J. Keyser: Jessie is killing her body to become what the world thinks a professional ballerina should look like. Her best friend Dawn is having fugue states, is obsessed with a caged bear, and is close to being institutionalized by her mother, even though she is sure she is evolving into some kind of wild creature which defies definition. Together the two friends break all the boundaries of what it means to be feminine, and embrace the wildness in themselves.

Splinter by Sasha Dawn: Sami’s mother disappeared when she was six. Everyone thinks her father had something to do with it, but Sami’s sure he’s innocent. But now, ten years later, new evidence comes to light. The police want Sami to face up to the facts but Sami won’t listen. She’s determined to figure out what really happened to her mother…no matter what that truth might be.

Camp So-and-So by Mary McCoy: Twenty-five girls show up at a summer camp that promises to be everything a perfect camp should be. But from the first, things start to go disastrously wrong and the girls find they’re trapped in a story of someone else’s own devising. They have to set aside their many differences and band together to figure out what’s going on, and save themselves before it’s too late. In so doing, they discover truths about themselves they didn’t know, and learn the strength to be found in the bonds of friendship.

What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold: When Nina is fourteen, her mother tells her that there is no such thing as unconditional love. This warps Nina’s understanding of what girls are good for, and at seventeen, she’s willing to do anything emotionally and sexually to keep her boyfriend. He leaves her anyway, and it takes all of Nina’s will and determination, including facing up to some ugly truths about herself, to realize how wrong her mother’s advice was, and that what girls are made of is more than the sum of their sexual parts and abilities.