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Posts Tagged ‘heroines’

Veronica Mars

veronica mars

Trust me to get excited about a TV show because of a book.

When Anne did a giveaway on her blog last month for Veronica Mars fans, I didn’t enter, because I hadn’t yet seen the show. But I’d already heard about the Kickstarter-funded VM movie, made possible by the show’s legions of fans. And when Anne said she’d enjoyed the first brand-new Veronica Mars mystery novel, I was definitely intrigued.

(Also, after finishing Call the Midwife, I needed a new show. And Valerie, my college friend who is a whiz at finding the good stuff on TV, is a longtime VM fan.)

When the show opens, Veronica is a high school junior in Neptune, California, “a town without a middle class.” As the daughter of sheriff Keith Mars and girlfriend of Duncan Kane, one of the coolest, richest guys in school, she used to enjoy a certain cachet. But when Veronica’s best friend Lilly Kane (Duncan’s sister) was brutally murdered, some of the evidence pointed to Lilly and Duncan’s father, a powerful software billionaire. Keith followed his conscience and accused Lilly’s father of being involved in his daughter’s death – thus losing both his job and his reputation. Keith’s alcoholic wife, Lianne, skipped town soon after that, and Veronica and her dad were left on their own.

Hardened by Lilly’s death and her subsequent shunning by nearly everyone at Neptune High, Veronica takes a job working for Keith in his new private investigation business. She helps with his cases, sometimes does her own sleuthing on the side – and is determined to find out who killed Lilly, and why.

With its film-noir overtones and deep, dark secrets (Neptune is full of people pretending everything is just fine when it’s not), Veronica Mars is grittier than some of the more lighthearted shows I love. But the mystery plots are compelling, the ensemble cast is fantastic, the snark is abundant, and the heroine is tough, smart, resourceful and determined to bring Lilly’s killer (and other criminals) to justice. Veronica is more pragmatic than high-minded – she’s not above playing dirty to get what she wants or exact revenge – but she’s ultimately on the side of the victim and the underdog.

Veronica likes to pretend she doesn’t need anyone else, but I love her friendship with basketball star Wallace Fennel (whom she rescues from public humiliation on his first day at Neptune High) and her occasional tender father-daughter exchanges with Keith. And Veronica’s uneasy friendship with Eli “Weevil” Navarro, the leader of a local biker gang, provides insight into the constant tensions of race and class in Neptune. I don’t think much of Veronica’s taste in boyfriends so far, but I’m curious to see whether that will change.

After binge-watching half a dozen episodes during my hibernation weekend, I blazed through the rest of season 1 and have now gotten the hubs hooked too. We’re midway through season 2, which is darker and more sordid than season 1, but Veronica is quickly becoming one of those heroines I’d follow to the ends of the earth.

Have you watched Veronica Mars – the show or the movie? What do you think?

(Image from Zap2it)

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For many years, it seemed to me that my favorite literary heroines inhabited their own universes, hardly ever running into real (read: historical) people, and only touching actual events peripherally. The American Girls books were carefully set in decades that didn’t quite touch each other (I always found it amusing that they all began in years ending with “4”), and though I adored Felicity, Kirsten, Samantha, Molly and Addy, it was highly unlikely that they’d ever cross paths, or even have been alive at the same time.

Some of the heroines I loved, like Laura Ingalls Wilder and Anne Shirley, were such sacred figures to me – such larger-than-life girls who were the center of their own universes – that I could never think of them together (though Laura and Anne were born around the same time and lived through many of the same world events). They simply lived in different worlds, bounded by different families, life stories and writing styles. And some characters’ place in history is rather vague – Nancy Drew, for example, has shifted back and forth in time over the years, and the Baby-Sitters Club girls, though resolutely contemporary, seemed to live in a sort of bubble in small-town Connecticut.

More recently, I’ve tried to mentally piece together a sort of timeline of heroines’ lives – and it blows my mind, frankly. Even if the stories are similar, it’s still difficult to think of Rilla Blythe as being just seven years younger than Betsy Ray – they were both young women at the time of the First World War, though Betsy was already married and Rilla was just a teenager. And across the ocean, Maisie Dobbs was serving as a nurse in France at the same time, while the women of Downton Abbey (I’m loving season 2 so far!) were learning that the war would change their lives forever.

I’ve read rather a lot of World War II fiction, since it looms large in the American consciousness, and it’s a little easier for me to connect Annemarie of Number the Stars to Patty Bergen of Summer of My German Soldier to Frankie Bard of The Postmistress and even Juliet of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. But still it seems that they all inhabit their own universes – touched, perhaps, by the same earthshaking events (which in turn have affected my own life, decades later). But mostly they still seem to live on parallel tracks, with no knowledge of one another.

Do you ever try to piece together a timeline of heroines, or think about how some characters lived differently (or similarly!) in the same period or decade? Does your reading of a book from a certain time period inform your understanding of other books from that era? Or does this just happen to me?

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She seems to be everywhere lately.

First she showed up on Sarah’s blog in a post about living alone (wherein we all reminisced about our carefree single-girl days or bemoaned the fact that we’d never had any). Then my friend Camille came to town, and after she’d quizzed Abi and me about our Boston lives over dinner at Panera, she exclaimed, “I’m so proud of you girls – living in the big city, and making it! Just like Mary Tyler Moore!” And then, Sarah proposed a challenge to make August feel a little more charming, and in the comments we started talking about how we feel like Mary – organized, on top of things (and impeccably dressed) – when we take care of the grown-up stuff.

Well, I can take a hint. Besides, it had been 15 or 20 years since I last caught episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in reruns on Nick at Nite. So I checked the first season out from our library. And I’m in love.

I’d never watched enough of the show to have any sense of the real storyline – so I’ve loved watching Mary’s career take off at WJM-TV and her new life in Minneapolis unfold. I do not now, nor have I ever, had any desire to live in the Twin Cities (too cold! Even colder than Boston!), but I admit I love her spacious apartment, with that big bay window and those comfy couches and that cool pull-down stained-glass shade thingy over the kitchen counter. I love her colorful, tailored, chic wardrobe (most of which would be in style today) – I think my husband is getting sick of me exclaiming, “I love her suit/jacket/dress/outfit!” every time we watch an episode together.

Most of all I love Mary’s repartee with her friends – her friendships with Rhoda and Phyllis strike me as direct ancestors of the relationships on my beloved Friends. I love the way she holds her own as (basically) the only woman in the WJM-TV newsroom, and how sarcastic Murray, narcissistic Ted and even gruff Lou Grant all come to adore her. And – of course – I admire Mary’s spunky, can-do spirit, whether it’s solving a work crisis or navigating an awkward first date or simply dealing with whatever crisis her friends have dreamed up.

You can never have too many heroines – and sweet, spirited Mary is becoming one of mine. On the days when life feels like a slog through the mundane, she reminds me that with a little spunk and ingenuity, I just might make it after all.

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Recently, while rereading Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, I realized how many of my favorite literary heroines are writers, or aspiring writers. This surprised me, actually, because I’ve read or heard somewhere that books about writers aren’t very interesting.

Now, that statement probably came from an article or book urging writers to get out and live life, instead of living in our own heads all the time – sound advice. But I disagree with the statement itself – because I find all these writer girls utterly fascinating. Here are my writerly heroines, inveterate scribblers one and all:

1. Betsy Ray, who writes on tablets from her father’s shoe store, with “a real theatrical trunk” for a desk
2. Anne Shirley, who writes “pretty, fanciful little things” (after she graduates from tear-jerking Story Club tales)
3. Jo March, who frequently “falls into a vortex” and scratches away in her garret
4. Cassandra Mortmain, who sets out to “capture the castle” and writes her way through a very exciting summer
5. Emily Byrd Starr, whose “Jimmy-books” are fascinating collections of miscellany
6. Penelope Wallace, who daydreams for quite a while but finally gets down to writing
7. Juliet Ashton, who finds a book idea – and love of all kinds – on Guernsey
8. Julie Wallace, who writes for her father’s newspaper, scribbles poetry at odd moments, and fights for what she believes in
9. Harriet the Spy, whose notebook is both hilarious and honest

Did I miss any? Any writerly heroines you adore?

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I’ve been thinking about labels lately – particularly “good girl” and “bad girl.”

At the Integrate Retreat, among other things, we talked a lot about being “good” and “bad,” and what that means. We saw Wicked together (and if you don’t know, this show completely flips your assumptions about “good” and “bad” upside down and backwards). We also talked about owning the “good” and “bad” parts of ourselves – the parts that are presentable, the roles we put on with a smile, and also the hidden parts, the ways we act or wish we could act when nobody’s looking.

“You might find it easier to own the bad girl than the good girl [or the other way around], but they both have something that you need,” Jen told us. I’m still mulling over that one.

I usually find it easier to own the good girls, actually. All my life, I’ve been the smart, capable one who has her stuff together; the reliable one; the “glue person.” I am an oldest child; I am driven; I am responsible; I am a detail person; I am compassionate. In a lot of people’s eyes, this equates to “good.”

As I’ve kept thinking of this, I’ve made two lists (surprise!): my favorite good girls and bad girls. Of course, all my greatest heroines are complicated – a messy mix of good and bad, mistakes and triumphs – but here are some who are seen as good. (There’s some overlap here with my literary heroines, but I think that makes perfect sense.)

1. Anne Shirley. I know she was a hot-tempered orphan to begin with, but she’s so sweet and pure and hard-working, and she sees beauty everywhere, which is my favorite thing about her. She is eternally optimistic and joyful, without being saccharine, and she never stops believing in dreams.

2. Meg March. Now, Jo is my favorite March girl, but Meg is responsible, good-hearted, hard-working, and takes care of everyone. She’s the glue that holds them together when Marmee is gone. I love her for that, even if I have a sneaking sympathy with Jo.

3. Kathleen Kelly from You’ve Got Mail. One of my favorite characters in one of my favorite movies. She fights so hard for her little bookstore, and bounces back from some hard knocks with the help of optimism, good friends and daisies. (“Don’t you think daisies are the friendliest flower?”) She does learn to let herself grieve, though, and accepts an entirely new life with grace.

4. Rory Gilmore. I love, love, love Gilmore Girls, and Rory and I share a love of books, high academic ambitions, and the desire to be peacemakers. Rory’s always trying to talk someone off the ledge – be it her best friend Lane, her neurotic friend Paris or her rebellious mom. Yet she’s courageous, smart and funny, and a loyal friend. And she eventually learns to go after what she wants.

5. Betsy Ray. Like me, Betsy wants to be a writer – is a writer – and also like me, she’s lucky. She’s got a wonderful family and a big crowd of warmhearted friends, and a peaceful childhood in Deep Valley. However, she grows into a woman who can travel Europe on her own (sound familiar?) and meet the challenges of adulthood, career, marriage and even war with grace and creativity.

6. Hermione Granger. She’s such a rule-follower and a book-nerd – and I totally sympathize with both traits – but she learns when friends (and, you know, the fate of the wizarding world) are more important than rules. She really grows into her own through the Harry Potter series, and she always has the right facts at hand when Harry and Ron need them.

7. Nancy Drew. She’s always so put together – chic cardigan sets and a cute blue roadster, anyone? – but she can also change a tire, stare down a bad guy and solve a mystery. Serious girl power, before girl power was cool.

8. Lena Kaligaris from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Like me, she’s shy and reluctant to show her truest self, and it’s hard for her to go against what people expect of her. But she learns to do that, and does a lot of growing along the way, without losing her sense of compassion.

9. Iris Simpkins from The Holiday. My heart breaks for Iris (played perfectly by Kate Winslet) when we meet her, but she charms everyone she meets in L.A., and helps her elderly neighbor regain his strength, and her friend Miles find the courage to go after what he really wants. And she finds her own voice in the process. Love her.

10. Maria from The Sound of Music. This has been my favorite movie since I was a child. I love Maria’s singing voice, the way she wins over the children (and the Captain), her courage and her deep zest for life.

Who are your iconic good girls (or guys)? What do they have that you need? (Bad-girl list coming soon.)

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I’ve long been devoted to spunky, intelligent, warmhearted, sassy and otherwise wonderful heroines – many of whose stories I’ve read over and over again. Here’s a list of my favorites, in no particular order except for #1 and #2:

1. Anne Shirley. (Do I really have to elaborate here? I adore her pluck, her imagination, her ability to see beauty everywhere, and her red hair.)

2. Jo March of Little Women fame. My personality also has parts of Beth and Meg in it, but I love fiery, literary Jo the best.

3. Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. She’s far more of a tomboy than I am, but I love her for it.

4. Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. She makes me hurt – but oh, I love her bravery and her voracious love of reading.

5. Charlotte Ferris and Penelope Wallace from Eva Rice’s The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets. These two are best friends, and they complement each other – flirtatious, daring Charlotte and shy, thoughtful Penelope are the perfect match.

6. Marty Davis from the Love Comes Softly series by Janette Oke. I admire Marty’s strength in making a life for herself on the prairie, far from home and family back East. And she wound up being so happy – in spite of, or perhaps because of, having to corral a ton of kids on that homestead of theirs.

7. Cassie Logan, from Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I read this book in fourth grade and marveled at the bravery of this black, landowning family trying to keep it together during the Depression. Cassie is a wonderful character, as are her Mama and her Big Ma (grandma).

8. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Oh, how I loved – and love – the Little House on the Prairie series. Mary was too perfect and Carrie and Grace were too young for me to really sympathize with, but I love headstrong, stubborn, curious Laura.

9. Nancy Drew. What other heroine can go seamlessly from changing a tire (on her cute blue roadster) to attending a dance with handsome Ned Nickerson, and solve a mystery in the process? (Check out my guest post at Anne & May for more thoughts on Nancy.)

10. Cassandra Mortmain, from I Capture the Castle. Like so many of my favorite girls, she’s inquisitive, literary and lots of fun.

11. Anna Yevnovna Burenin, from The Russians series by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella. This is a sweeping seven-book series covering Russian history from the 1890s to World War I – and this quiet, faithful, brave peasant girl is the center of it all.

12. Hermione Granger. She’s a bit of a know-it-all, but when the chips are down you can count on her – and her vast store of obscure yet useful knowledge. Plus, she’s one heck of a spell-caster.

13. Vianne Rocher, from Chocolat. Juliette Binoche plays her beautifully in the film – capturing her passion, mystique and deep longing for a home so well.

14. Enna from Shannon Hale’s Bayern series. I love Isi and Rinn, too, but fiery Enna is my favorite.

15. Betsy Ray – I’ve written before about how much I love Betsy. If she’d only lived in my century, we would have been friends for sure.

16. Dicey Tillerman, from Homecoming and other books by Cynthia Voigt. She’s so proud and strong that she makes me want to cry.

17. The girls in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Shy, artistic Lena is the most like me, I think, but headstrong, heedless, big-hearted Bridget is probably my favorite.

18. I loved all the girls in the Baby-Sitters Club books, but never could decide on a favorite. I was shy like Mary Anne and bookish like Mallory, but I enjoyed them all.

19. Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen from Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. These girls were such true, courageous friends in such a painful time.

20. Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time and sequels. She loves her family fiercely and follows her heart. What’s not to love?

21. Miriam Willard from Calico Captive – anyone who can endure a march through the Canadian wilderness, and later life in Montreal, with such grace is definitely a heroine.

22. Emily Byrd Starr from Emily of New Moon and sequels. I love her.

23. Sara Stanley, also know as The Story Girl. She’s striking, intelligent, witty and a spinner of wonderful tales.

24. Jane Eyre. I’ve always been grateful to the English teacher who recommended I read this book.

25. Arwen and Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings. Beautiful, graceful, strong and quick with a sword – what more could you want in a heroine?

26. Esperanza from The House on Mango Street. She’s sassy, observant and real.

27. Julie Wallace, heroine of Catherine Marshall’s Julie. She wants to be a writer – and she’s so disarmingly honest.

28. Harriet Vane, featured in Gaudy Night and other Dorothy Sayers mysteries. I actually like her better than Lord Peter Wimsey, hero of the whole series.

29. Lily of Consider Lily, by my friends Anne & May. This was the first book of theirs I read, and it remains my favorite. (I am also convinced Lily is the literary alter ego of my friend Grace – a redheaded, hockey-loving, stubborn, good-hearted Californian.)

Looking over this list, it appears I love girls who are stubborn, love books and writing, hunger for adventure, long to find love, will risk everything for their loved ones, or all of the above. And all of them embody my word for this year – brave.

Who are your literary heroines?

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