20 Classic YA Literature Heroines, Ranked

This week, The Book of Jezebel comes out, and you should order it immediately — which I say because I was one of its contributors but also because it’s great — a desk reference of every bit of feminist trivia you could want. In particular, I think it’d make a great gift for young teenagers who are still coming up and learning about feminist reads on popular culture. But let’s face it: no one starts with an encyclopedia, in evaluating these things; you start with the books girls are given as young’uns, and, troublesome lot that they are, those titles give you models of feminine behavior and independence to measure yourself against. It’s a testament to their formative importance that women, well into their adult lives, insist that these characters shaped the way they saw themselves and the world.

So for a bit of fun in ye olde Jezebel spirit, here are the classic girl heroines of literature, ranked, from a 2013 vantage. Rules: I tried, with only a couple of exceptions, to stick to one character per oeuvre or author. I also didn’t worry too much about what my take on these girls might have been as a kid; just looking at their stories now, I came up with their advantages and disadvantages. Feel free to weigh in when you disagree with me!

POLLYANNA-220. Pollyanna, of Eleanor Porter’s Pollyanna

Pollyanna is, well, a little too Pollyanna-ish for anyone’s taste. Too happy, too satisfied with her situation. That’s not what anyone wants in a girls’ book heroine these days, optimism.