My Favourite Women on Page and Screen: Volume One (continued)

Teenage Girls: Part 2 of 2
Part 1 here.


Katniss Everdeen
Suzanne Collins
Book Trilogy/Film Series: The Hunger Games (2008 – 2010; 2012 – unfinished)
Portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence

Since we’re about to be hit with the new instalment from the Huger Games film series, it seems like a good idea to start with Katniss Everdeen: terrible name, pretty awesome person.

Katniss is a product of everything that’s happened to her, but in a slightly different way than we’re used to seeing. Often, we see Strong Female Characters – women who’ve been subject to abuse, oppression, poverty, etc – who then become unfeeling badasses. Which is not inherently a bad thing. But Katniss, while physically strong and easily filling the badass role with archery and hunting skills, actually feels remorse for every murder she’s forced to commit. And while it doesn’t stop her from committing them – motivated by a need to live in order to provide for her mother and sister –  she does suffer for it in a refreshingly human way.

Katniss is intelligent, instinctively using what she knows of the Games and the Capitol to her advantage to keep herself alive. But even so, she remains empathetic, able to connect with people she sees as needing her help. She’s most likeable in these moments, both to the audience of the Hunger Games themselves and to us. While I didn’t find myself engaged at all times during the books, and even less so in the film (so far), Katniss’ blend of lethal capability mixed with deep compassion kept me invested in her and her story.

Love Interest: Love triangle with Peeta Mellark (fellow tribute and surprisingly good orator) and Gale Hawthorn (childhood friend and rebel. Didn’t want her to end up with either of them. Oh well.


Nani Pelekai
Film: Disney’s Lilo and Stitch
Portrayed by Tia Carrere

Supporting character in my favourite Disney animated movie, Nani is the nineteen year old sister and legal guardian to Lilo after their parents have been killed in a car accident. Though the film is largely concerned about a mini alien invasion, the real heart of the story is their relationship.

While Nani clearly loves Lilo, she struggles in her new role as a parent. Lilo is smart, funny and loveable, but has been left with a fear of abandonment after her parents death, and can’t fit in with the other girls her age due to her ‘weirdness’ and her family’s poverty. Nani, also grieving and hounded by social services, is put in the hard position of trying to discipline Lilo while understanding why she is the way she is. At the same time, she has to find a way to provide for them both on her wages as a waitress, and then her subsequent unemployment.

At the same time, Nani is given her own personality beyond ‘caretaker figure.’ She’s wry, clever, short tempered, proud, and honest. She doesn’t hold herself back emotionally, whether it’s refusing to be fired quietly or admitting to a friend when she and Lilo are barely holding it together. But above all, she protects Lilo from the grim reality that faces them: separation and foster care, whatever the cost to herself.

Nani feels like real, warm young woman trying to make the best of a pretty terrible set of circumstances. It was also a refreshing turn from Disney to have a deep, interesting relationship between two female characters.

Love Interest: David, co-worker and close friend. Is clearly interested in Nani romantically, and it’s strongly implied to be mutual. However, Nani prioritises Lilo over her own love life and he respects this.

Note: This refers only to the original Disney film, as I have seen none of the sequels or the TV show.


Sansa Stark
George R. R. Martin
Book/Television series: A Song of Ice and Fire Series/Game of Thrones (1996 – unfinished; 2010 – unfinished)
Portrayed by Sophie Turner

In a book (and subsequent TV) series where nothing nice ever happens to anyone, Sansa has a fairly bad run of it. When we meet Sansa, she’s a fairly naive young teenage girl. The eldest daughter of a powerful and respected Lord, she’s bought into all the songs about beautiful ladies and princes, and thanks to her so-honourable-it-literally-kills-him father, believes all knights to be brave, gallant and genuinely good men.

Sadly, Sansa has been born into a world where Everything Is Terrible and is swept into a political minefield she, to begin with, doesn’t understand at all. Caught between what she’s been taught and what she’s being told; between her father who engages far more with his sons and his ‘tomboyish’ youngest daughter and the disarmingly charismatic Queen, Sansa puts her trust in the wrong people and sees her family and home ripped apart. Fairly literally.

As opposed to the other awesome young women in ASIOF/GOT, Sansa doesn’t have the option of taking up a sword or raising an army. But she does have her own moments of pure badassery. This is a thirteen year old girl who was determined to throw her sociopathic fiancee and king to his death and go down with him, who meets the eyes of people who – as far as she knows – murdered her entire family and convincingly lies to them every day. And gets in the odd bit of snark. She might not be fighting with real weapons, but she’s using everything she’s ever learned – from both sides.

Sansa’s journey is summed up pretty accurately in a quote from one of her chapters in Book 3: A Storm of Swords: ‘My skin has turned to porcelain, to ivory, to steel.’ We see her put up thicker and thicker walls with each new book. She’s an interesting character to me in that she’s resourceful and strong in a way not usually seen. She’s a victim of real (emotional and physical) abuse trying her best to survive, punished for listening to and believing the rules of the land she was brought up in and now dealing with it in the only way she knows how.

Love Interest: A teenage sociopath, a gay knight, and a slew of creepy older men. Fingers crossed for Book 6. 

Honourable Mentions: Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth (like many of the characters she was aged up in the show, but in the book it’s implied that Brienne is probably still a teenager). Both interesting and well loved characters in both the books and show.

tumblr_mevysgNJ6j1qazkdco1_500As someone in the process of writing a book about a young woman, I think it’s important for me to know what characters I’ve responded to in the past and why. Not so that I can pick and choose my favourite traits and flaws and tie them up neatly in a new Frankenstein-ish character, but so I can understand what makes a character feel real, honest and interesting.

I took to twitter and asked my followers to tell me which teenage girls in books, TV and film had been important to them over the years. Here are their answers, mixed in with a few more favourites of my own:

April Ludgate (TV; Parks and Recreation)
Veronica Mars (TV; Veronica Mars)
Jane Lane, Daria and Quin Morgendorffer and Jodie Landon (TV; Daria)
Raven Baxter (TV; That’s So Raven)
Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen (TV; Adventure Time)
Sally Draper (TV; Mad Men)
Lynda Day (TV; Press Gang)
Cordelia Chase and Willow Rosenberg (TV; Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Rory Gilmore, Paris Gellar and Lane Kim (TV; Gilmore Girls)
Catherine Hassi Barahal (Books; The Spirit Walker Trilogy)
Anne Shirley (Books; Anne of Green Gables)
Georgia Nicolson (Books; The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson)
Mia Thermopolis (Books, Films; The Princess Diaries)
Claudia Kishi, Kristy Thomas, Mary Anne Spier, Stacey McGill, Dawn Shafer, Mallory Pike and Jessi Ramsey (Books; The BabySitters Club Series)
San (Film; Princess Mononoke)
Kat and Bianca Stratford (Film; Ten Things I Hate About You)
Bliss Kavanagh and Pash (Film; Whip it)
Juno (Film; Juno)
Janice Ian (Film; Mean Girls)
Mulan (Film; Disney’s Mulan)
Tiana (Film; The Princess and the Frog)
Merida (Film; Brave)

Have we left out any of your favourites? If so, get in touch and tell me all about them!

My Favourite Women on Page and Screen: Volume One

Teenage Girls: Part 1 of 2

One of my favourite parts of reading and watching TV and film is getting to meet wonderful, brave women I can identify with, empathise with, sympathise with, cry for, admire, fear, and any combinations of those and more. Finding well written woman on screen or on the page can often be a hard task, but God, is it rewarding when I do.

In the first of a series on my favourite women in media, I’d like to focus on young heroines who have touched my heart and caught my imagination.

One of the reasons I think I’ve stuck with Young Adult fiction well into my adulthood is that it’s one of the few mediums that not only includes well drawn young women, but celebrates them.

There’s this strange attitude in both our media and society that teenage girls are The Worst™. We make fun of anything where teenage girls are the predominant fans: Young Adult fiction is dismissed as a lesser art form (unless it can also appeal to boys – imagine if Harry had been a girl… would the books have had the same level of success?), certain popstars are written off as untalented or sellouts, any girl who expresses interest in a ‘boy thing’ (video games, comics, a band that doesn’t feature a non-threatening young man or a woman with pink hair) are derided as not being ‘real fans.’ Never mind the fact that half the reason you’ve even heard of the Beatles is because those screaming teenage girls made up most of their album sales and followed them loudly around airports.


Girls. Wouldn’t know decent music if it wore a
bowl cut on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Similarly, teenage girls in popular media tend to be vapid, vindictive and annoying, while often simultaneously being eerily sexualised.


Lea Michele, then 25, portraying her then 16 year old
‘Glee’  character for GQ magazine. 

These characters, some written terribly, some beautifully, receive a significant amount of vitriol from their audience: Dana Brody and Sansa Stark of Homeland and Game of Thrones respectively leap immediately to mind as the most recent examples, Kim Bauer of 24 as a slightly older one. Hell, the entire moral of Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl’s subplot in Kickass 2 (a character I enjoy portrayed by the super talented Chloe Grace Moretz) seems to be ‘teenage girls are irredeemably terrible, just don’t be one.’

tumblr_mtqolngmik1r2iq03o1_500‘You’ve got ten seconds to rewrite my storyline, asshole.
I know that’s double the time it took you in the first place.’

But whatever the mainstream, adult, and largely male reaction to them, we can take heart in the fact that there are many wonderful, brave, loyal, funny teenage girl characters on the page and on the screen just waiting for you to discover them, and there are more appearing all the time. Girls who are more than their flaws, who are figuring out who they are, and who remind me a little more of young women I’ve had the pleasure to know in the real world.

Here are just a few of my personal favourites, old and new. I’ve included links to the amazon pages for each book in case you’d like to check out plot details/invest in some new reads.  

New-promotional-pictures-of-Emma-Watson-for-Harry-Potter-and-the-Deathly-Hallows-part-1-hermione-granger-31934028-1920-2560Hermione Granger
J. K. Rowling
Book/Film series: Harry Potter (1997 – 2007; 2001 – 2011)
Portrayed by Emma Watson

Insufferable know-it-all, equal rights activist, knitter, and the brightest witch of her age. No list about awesome teenage girls would be complete without Hermione ‘Her-My-Oh-Knee’ Granger.

While she was introduced as what felt like the token girl – ‘responsible’ i.e. boring, ‘smart’ i.e. annoying – Hermione quickly became a vital character in the main trio, second only in importance to Harry. Her knowledge of advanced spells and history saved their lives on multiple occasions. Her intelligence and commitment to learning is frequently portrayed as both heroic and humorous, with Hermione considering being expelled a fate worse than death and being horrified when final exams are cancelled as a treat for the school.

In later books, Hermione gets to put her know-how to practical use and participates in all of the major battles of the books and films. She’s an excellent dueler, and sustains several injuries without complaint. She also manages to lie under torture, proving once and for all who the biggest badass of the trio is.

But what really makes Hermione relatable is her courage, her vulnerability and her kindness. Hermione is a girl who has had to leave her entire world behind for the sake of a new one; whose fear of failure drives her need to be the best (Hermione isn’t naturally the smartest in her year, she works her butt off to achieve it) and who will never just stand by and let someone weaker than her be picked on – whether it’s the schoolyard bullying of Neville Longbottom or the institutionalised slavery of humanoid magical creatures.

Love Interest: Ronald Weasley, occasionally a bit of a tool, slightly useless, but funny, brave and completely lovable. No love triangle, very slow burn.

Honorable Mentions: Luna Lovegood and Ginny Weasley also kick ass in the Harry Potter series (Ginny, unfortunately, very much less so in the films).

tumblr_mpko03NTpK1qgngz2o1_250Elspeth Gordie
Isobelle Carmody
Book series: The Obernewtyn Chronicles (1987 – unfinished)

Elspeth, a young teenager when we first meet her, is a survivor. She’s seen her parents burned alive for defying their dystopian government, and hides her superhuman mental abilities (telepathy, mind control, the ability to speak with animals) which have seen her brother murdered and would earn her the same fate.

Elspeth is an incredibly strong character. She’s self sufficient, brave, distrustful, quick-thinking and unyielding, characteristics she’s cultivated in order to stay alive and undetected. They’re also the characteristics she’ll need to complete her major quest: to save the world from a second and final nuclear holocaust – most likely a suicide mission.

But this is a quest she can’t begin for many years, and in between she finds herself in a safe place among others with her abilities, fighting a war against the government for a place in society. Suddenly, the traits that have kept her safe are keeping her back from what she truly wants: love, friendship, acceptance. She finds herself admired by many, but loved by very few. For those who do manage to get close to her, there’s a permanent wedge between them, forged by her secrecy and fear of intimacy and vulnerability.

Elspeth faces a constant struggle against herself, torn between wanting to belong and live as much as she can before her final quest kicks in, and afraid of the pain she’ll cause her loved ones and herself when it’s time to leave.

Love Interest: Rushton Seraphim, broody, snarky farm overseer turned turned leader of the misfits and the rebellion to overthrow the government. Bit dreamy. No love triangle, on again/off again.

To be continued in Teenage Girls: Part 2 of 2