If you didn't already know, March is Women's History month, a month to commemorate strong women, women with vision, women who dream of a better world. In fact, March 8, this Thursday, is specifically set aside as Women's Day. Interestingly, YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association) has scheduled a "tweet-up" --a nationwide conversation via Twitter -- about The Hunger Games, a YA series, on this day. YALSA's scheduling is anything by coincidental: not only does the movie of the first novel of the series release this month (March 23), but the March 8 date commemorating strong women is significant. If you haven't already succumbed to Hunger Games fervor, you may not know about the very strong female character, Katniss Everdeen, who propels the plot of the trilogy. Katniss' heroism begins with a simple choice, a pivotal moment in her life. She was not groomed for heroism, or even seeking it; she simply stepped up and took action to alter the circumstances around her, and along the way, started a revolution. (For more about the Hunger Games trilogy on this blog, see the August 23,2010 post.)
Young Adult literature is filled with examples of this type of heroism, and about the revolutions, both internal and external, that follow from our choices. If you aren't a fan of dystopian literature such as the Hunger Games, try some historical fiction instead. One excellent novel is Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly. This 2010 novel introduces us to two strong women: Andi Alpers, living in New York City and struggling to cope with the loss of her younger brother and the disintegration of her family; and Alexandrine Paradis, living in Paris over two centuries ago and struggling to simply survive in the face of the violence of the French Revolution. A forced trip to Paris over winter break, with her estranged father, leads Andi to find Alexandrine's diary. In it, she finds the story of a young woman who risks her life for a boy - the crown prince, Louis-Charles, who is imprisoned in the Tower of Paris. Despite the two centuries separating them, Andi and Alex share an eerie connection: from their deep passion for music and theater, to their fights with mental illness, to the heartbreaking losses that threaten to define their lives.
Immersing herself in both Alex's diary and her research project about French musician Amade Malherbeau, Andi finds her perception of reality dangerously skewed. Her depression and guilt over her brother's death lead to increasing reliance on prescription drugs. Finally, a midnight trip through the catacombs beneath Paris turns into a terrifying trip through time - real or imagined. She sees the Revolution first hand, and what she sees horrifies her. Andi has to confront her own fears in order to help someone else - and in doing so, Andi starts a revolution of her own.
Donnelly has written an excellent historical novel about a time and place - for an older reader, a pairing with the classic novel of the French Revolution, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, would lead to an even fuller understanding of this critical event in modern history. Other readers, however, will appreciate Revolution for entirely different reasons - for its brave look at mental illness, particularly depression; for one view of the historical mystery surrounding the dauphin's death; or for its detailed use of music history and music theory.
The following is a list of other novels that feature strong women, excellent reads for this month of March:
A Northern Light, also by Jennifer Donnelly: another historical fiction novel weaving the story of 16-year-old Mattie Gokey, living in upstate New York at the end of the 19th century, and the Chester Gilette murder case that happened at that time.
The Fire Opal, by Regine McBride: fantasy about teenage Maeve and her unimaginable quest to a world filled with fantastic creatures.
Exposed, by Kimberly Marcus: a verse novel about the consequences of a rumor.
Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta: an epic fantasy centering on the displaced people of Lumatere, their missing princess, and two teens, Finnikin and Evangeline, who risk everything to return to their homeland.
In all these novels, the revolutions, while not necessarily those that will make the history books, still lead everyday people to heroism through pivotal choices. The choices begin revolutions in the characters themselves - and those are the revolutions that count the most.