From questionable-but-highly-enjoyable fashion choices to well-hatched plans, to undying dramatic optimism, here is a look at some of the plucky teen and tween heroines that have inspired me over the years! Well, and also a smattering of random, and occasionally potentially life-saving facts I have learned from reading a lot of books from childhood to present day that contain plucky young heroines. Plucky t(w)een heroines have a surprising amount of wisdom to impart!
Getting your bestie drunk on what you thought was raspberry cordial, but was actually wine, and sending her staggering home is totally an accident that can happen.
In Anne of Green Gables, Marilla allows Anne to have her best friend, Diana Barry, over for tea while Marilla is out of town, and even tells her that she and Diana may have the rest of the bottle of raspberry cordial. Anne, trying her best to be a good hostess, gives Diana all of the beverage and takes none for herself. Unfortunately, she had grabbed the currant wine instead of the raspberry cordial, and her bestie gets really, really drunk. Oh, Anne Shirley! I have always thought that this was one of the funniest parts of Anne of Green Gables, even if poor, overly-dramatic Anne was surely in the depths of despair over nearly losing her beloved Diana’s friendship. I particularly love the ever-practical Marilla’s responses both to Anne’s hand-wringing woe and to Mrs. Barry’s unreasonable anger. Marilla was so on Anne’s side with this one and even went to try and smooth things over, and came back hopping mad herself after telling Diana’s mother off. So … lessons to be taken? Taste the food and drink you give your guests. And, if your friend takes three tumblers full of juice and you don’t get any at all? Your friend is being a greedypants. Fortunately, Anne is just about the poster child for pluck, and the girls weather the storm and remain friends.
Go ahead and scorch your frocks and stain your gloves – you’ll have more fun dancing in the hallway with interesting new friends anyway!
Jo March in Little Women is criticized by her older sister Meg for standing too close to the fire and scorching all of her frocks in the back. The March family is poor and they can’t afford new gloves and dresses, so the sisters strike a deal where Jo and Meg are trading out gloves and Jo has to keep her back to the wall … and it’s all very complicated. Anyway, Jo meets Laurie, their next door neighbor, and becomes good friends with him, and the two of them take the party out into the hallway to dance where they don’t have to worry about being proper. While Meg was inside being her best rendition of a fine lady, dancing in boots that were too small for her feet and worrying about her gloves, Jo was meeting people, having interesting conversation, and dancing without a care. I don’t know about you, but I think Jo won the party that night. All Meg had to show for her troubles was a sprained ankle. Don’t pull a Meg and try to dance in shoes that kill your feet. Also, no one cares if your dress has a spot – make your own fun!
Sometimes, even the most brilliant deductive minds make mistakes. That “unicycle” track out in the game preserve? That’s from a wheelbarrow, Trixie.
I love Trixie Belden. She’s my favorite mystery-solving teenager. That said, even the brilliant, plucky Trixie had her moments of not-so-genius. In The Mystery Off Glen Road, Trixie #5, Trixie and her best friend Honey Wheeler become convinced that the Wheeler family’s game preserve is being ransacked by a poacher riding a unicycle. She knows it’s a unicycle because of the single track print … wait just a moment! How would that look different from a regular bicycle track? It’s not like it was a tricycle or a four wheeler! No, she’s sure that it’s a unicycle ridden by a mad poacher who escaped from a circus. To which Honey doesn’t have the presence of mind to think to suggest that a bike or a wheelbarrow are still on the table. It’s okay not to be on top of your game all of the time. Even girl geniuses sometimes fall for the old Unicycling Poacher trick!
Somewhere Over the Rainbow is a land where basic tornado safety is just not a thing, and witches get really bent out of shape when a house tornadoes in from Kansas to mug a lady for her shoes.
Is it just me, or should Dorothy have been home in that damn tornado dungeon with Auntie Em and the others waaaay before things were bad enough to send things flying through the air? Dorothy is all taking her time and satisfying her curiosity, while Auntie Em is standing by the cellar going, “Well, I guess she’s either dead under a cow, or holed up somewhere safe … batten those hatches, gentlemen!” Dorothy is made of pluck, but I was always suspicious of the Good Witch giving her the shoes. Let’s send a teenage girl down the Yellow Brick Road in a pair of magic shoes that are super coveted by a Wicked Witch and just … see what happens, right? Dorothy was witch-bait from the start! Be careful of people who want to tell you that there is only one way to accomplish your goals. You may not have to see the wizard, you may just need to click your heels to get home!
If you want to wear a bright yellow raincoat as a part of your signature look, go ahead and rock that.
Jubilee from the X-Men has been one of my favorite mutants for a long time. Personal style is a form of expression, and if your inner Jubilee wants to come out and play in some outlandish attire, welcome her with open arms and get expressive! I love ’90’s mall rat Jubilee and her ’90’s can-do pluck. That yellow jacket and her fireworks-shooting powers are well-matched with her enthusiasm and independent spirit. While I don’t personally want a bright yellow coat (bright yellow casts an unearthly, jaundiced glow upon my pasty flesh), I have had my fair share of fashion obsessions. From about the 7th grade all the way though high school, I obsessively wore a pair of long, striped shorts in purple and neon green with a matchy-matchy purple and neon green sweatshirt that said “Rome” on the front. There are times when I still miss that outfit.
Sometimes, you want to be a knight and your twin brother so wants to be not one.
In Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series, Alanna and her twin brother are being sent off for education. He doesn’t want to fight, but she does! Clearly, the best choice in this situation is to pull a The Parent Trap and change places … even if you might have to engage in a bit of gender bending to achieve your dreams. Anyone can be a knight and protector, and anyone can be a magic user and scholar. Pursue what interests you and don’t be afraid to do what it takes to accomplish your goals. Someday, you will be appreciated for who you are instead of what you aren’t. Also? I totally own purple contacts. For reasons.
You don’t have to be an academic genius to be a creative and interesting person with a bright future ahead of her.
Claudia Kishi from Ann M. Martin’s series, The Babysitters Club, has difficulties in school. She often struggles to maintain average grades, while her sister excels and overachieves. While Claudia’s grades may not be stellar, her fashion sense is on point. So many fans loved her character and the descriptions of the outfits Claudia put together that there are blogs out there entirely devoted to recreating her ensembles. Being an artist is a part of Claudia’s identity and her struggle to prove to her family that her interests are as valid as her sister’s rang very true for a lot of the series’ fans.
Nargles are real. Prove that they aren’t!
Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series is more than her dreaminess and magical crypto-zoology obsession! Luna believes in things she can’t see and that translates metaphorically to not only seeing evidence of creatures that other wizards consider to be fictitious at best, but also to seeing the qualities in others they don’t necessarily advertise. Even when imprisoned by threatening Death Eaters, Luna’s faith in her friends (and in Nargles) is undimmed. Hey, I wish and hope against damning scientific evidence that the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine) is not truly extinct!
Be prepared. (For what?) (For the death of the king!) (Why? Is he sick?) …
Was any young heroine ever so well-prepared intellectually for the battle ahead as Hermione Granger? I love how when they’re on the run, she pulls out her special magic bag and is all like, “Oh, this? My Ultimate Bag of Holding? Pardon me, let me just get that ladder … where did I put that horse?” We obviously don’t have amazing endless pursebags like Hermione, but being prepared (No, fools, we’re going to kill him! And Simba too.) is a good game plan. The closest I’ve gotten yet is carrying some blankets and a bottle of water in my car in case of Terrible Wilderness Disaster of some kind, so I could probably step up my game a little bit. Being prepared (No king, no king, lalalalalala!) for other people to change up the plan and ready for those inevitable times (group work, anyone?) where others let us down makes us stronger. If your Ron takes a powder because the Horcrux got him down, be a Hermione and stick to the quest! That Voldemort fellow’s removal was more important than how she felt at that moment, and I’ve always loved Hermione for that!
You don’t know what you’re really made of until your ship pulls out without you and you’re marooned on an island alone.
Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins is based on the true story of Juana Maria, a Native American woman left alone on San Nicolas Island. The plucky heroine Karana is a fictionalized account of what Juana Maria’s experience might have been like. Karana leaps from the ship taking her remaining village members away from the island to rescue her younger brother, and the two of them are left behind. Her brother is killed by feral dogs (completely traumatizing when I was a kid!), and Karana does things like build structures out of whale bones, store up food that she hunts herself in case the Aleuts return and she has to hide from them, and tame one of the feral dogs to make herself a companion. Basically, Karana is amazingly resourceful and relentlessly courageous. I remember thinking that there was literally no way I would be as good at surviving as she was, but then, I think that an important part of the book was that you don’t know what you CAN do until you HAVE to. If anyone else out there is a fan of this book, check out the archaeological site where they have actually found Juana Maria’s cave!
When your stepmother sells you as a lab rat for plague research, you may still get your happily ever after!
In Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, the first book in The Lunar Chronicles, Cinder is a cyborg mechanic who lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters. Despite her stepmother’s unpleasantness, Cinder gets by on her sarcastic wit and skills as a mechanic until her stepsister Peony contracts the plague, and Cinder is blamed. When it turns out that her stepmother is a big enough jerk to sell her out for plague research, Cinder’s problems and adventures are only just starting out. Throughout the story, her dry humor helps her to survive and deal with the hand she is dealt, while it helps the story not seem quite as dark as it could have. Cinder is smart, capable, and battling discrimination (cyborgs are people too!), and this story uses her humor to shine a light in some dark places.
There are more plucky heroines out there than can be covered in one article! I want to leave you with two things: One, sound off in the comments and tell me some of your favorite plucky heroines, and two … here are some life changing pieces of information gleaned from the plucky teen heroines:
1.) You can mix ketchup and mustard together to form an orange sauce and it is amazing! (The Babysitters Club)
2.) If you’re a castaway, first find shelter, then find water and food! (Island of the Blue Dolphins)
3.) There is a thing in this world called ipecac, and it is basically a medicine that makes you throw up. It is used for poison control stuff. (Anne of Green Gables)
4.) If you live in copperhead territory, carry a snakebite kit if you’re going to be tromping about outside. (Trixie Belden)
5.) How to make an outdoor shower (Trixie Belden)
6.) Keeping a weapon hidden in your cyborg leg is rarely not useful. (Cinder)
7.) It is not unreasonable to suspect that your twin sister both spiked the punch AND slept with your boyfriend. (Sweet Valley High)
8.) Spoonerisms. (Trixie Belden) Oh, my baking yak!
9.) If a kid you’re responsible for is running a high fever and you can’t reach the parents … call 911! (The Babysitters Club)
10.) Spelunking is dangerous and you should bring the right equipment and have a proper guide. (Trixie Belden)
Sara Goodwin has a B.A. in Classical Civilization and an M.A. in Library Science from Indiana University. Once she went on an archaeological dig and found awesome ancient stuff. Sara enjoys a smorgasbord of pan-nerd entertainment such as Renaissance faires, anime conventions, steampunk, and science fiction and fantasy conventions. In her free time, she writes things like fairy tale haiku, fantasy novels, and terrible poetry about being stalked by one-eyed opossums. In her other spare time, she sells nerdware as With a Grain of Salt Designs, Tweets, and Tumbls.
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