What with the amazing young woman, Emma Gonzalez, and her friends, taking action against the gun lobby, and Malala Yousoufzai only a few years ago, standing up to oppression, I couldn’t help thinking about some world-saving girls in the YA fiction I mostly read.
See, while contemporary fiction is still quite often about family and friends and whether or not to trust the cute bad boy, fantasy and science fiction, especially dystopian, needs someone to literally save the world and the someone is usually a girl.
There are so many, I can’t name them all, and you’ll notice that one of these I have mentioned, The Hate U Give, is a contemporary, and the world the heroine saves is not literally the world, but her courage inspires more than her own community.
So, off the top of my head, here are a few books I have read whose main characters are inspirational world-saving young women! There are more, plenty more, but these are books I have read in recent years.
Let’s start with the obvious one, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. Katniss lives in poverty in the poorest District of her world, which is what’s left of the United States, with her mother and sister. Each year two “tributes”are chosen by lot from each District to go to the Capitol and take part in the violent TV reality show, the Hunger Games. Only one can survive. Anyone who gets on that train to the Capitol will be wined and dined and dressed in designer clothes... and has about a one in 24 chance of coming home. Alliances are formed, but in the end, even your fellow tribute from home either has to kill you or die. Katniss is strong and athletic and can us3 a bow because she has been sneaking out into the forest to get game that will help her support her family. When her little sister’s name is pulled out, she offers to go in her place. There is something of the story of Theseus here, but no prince/princess to help. Katniss is brave and unselfish and by the end of the trilogy she has - yes, saved the world. The evil isn’t only on one side and Katniss refuses to let herself be used for rebel propaganda when she knows what even the supposed good guys on her side are doing.
Lyra Belacqua in the His Dark Materials trilogy is younger than Katniss, about twelve or thirteen. She lives in an alternative universe where everyone has an external soul, a “daemon”, in the form of an animal. She starts off in Oxford, at the University, where she has been raised. She could have gone on playing and being a child. But there is more going on in this world than it seems and Lyra finds herself involved in a war, one where those who seem to be the good guys aren’t necessarily good, and where some villainous characters end up being good. And yes, Lyra saves the world. Read it, if you haven’t.
Hermione Granger In the Harry Potter series may not be the Chosen One, but it is her brains and quick thinking that help save the wizarding world. True, she isn’t the only one and, let’s face it, Harry is the Chosen One for a reason. But without her, Harry would very likely have been dead well before the end of The Deathly Hallows. It’s nice to know that you don’t have to be physically tough to save the world.
Young witch Tiffany Aching is the heroine of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld children’s series. She does, admittedly, cause some of the problems she then has to solve, but still... in the first book she goes to Fairyland to rescue her little brother, stolen by the Fairy Queen, and, while she’s about it, also saves Roland, the local Baron’s son. And she does it p, with the help of tiny blue men called Nac Mac Feegles and a heavy frying pan. She develops and grows up as the series goes on. In the third book, Wintersmith, she really does have to save the world - well, her own world, anyway. And it was her fault that the Wintersmith, the spirit of winter, was making her area freezing cold, to impress her. She danced with him during an autumn ceremony when told not to move. But having done this, she gets on with saving her family and the rest of the community. She is such a delightful character! You might or might not like her if you knew her in real life, but if you needed looking after by the village witch, you’d be glad to have Tiffany on your side.
Starr Carter, in The Hate U Give, is a member of a small African American community, mostly poverty stricken, though I’d have to say her family is close to being middle class. They don’t have a swimming pool, though relatives do, but they seem to manage okay on Dad’s grocery store earnings and Mum’s job as a nurse. They must be, as somehow the parents manage to scrape together enough money to send the kids to an expensive private school. Starr does, like Alice Pung’s and Fiona Wood’s heroines(In Laurinda and Cloudwish), feel embarrassed at being unable to invite anyone over. But Starr has guts. One night she is in a car with a childhood friend. They are pulled up by a policeman for a minor issue and her friend is shot dead. And the policeman gets all the sympathy on TV! This isn’t the first time she has seen a friend die; the first time was due to a drive-by shooting. She is definitely suffering PTSD. But when somebody has to go on TV to tell the real story, she gets on with it. She is terrified, but does it anyway.
Next: Aussie author Jaclyn Moriarty’s Madeleine Tully, the heroine of the Colours Of Madeleine trilogy. Madeleine lives with her mother in Cambridge, England, sharing home schooling with a couple of other teens. She is exchanging letters, through cracks in space, with Elliot, a cute boy in another universe. In his world, the Kingdom of Cello, colours - or, rather, Colours, can do weird things, including kill you. The weather is all over the place. You might have midsummer one day and snow the next. And most of the royal family is missing. He absolutely is not supposed to be communicating with our world, but he is hoping to find his father who, like the royal family, has gone missing. And people who come from the Kingdom of Cello to our world forget who they are. Some scary things are happening in Cello. Most of the trilogy is spent with Madeleine and Elliot trying to find the missing people; there is a deadline because the portals will only open at a set time and place. I will avoid spoilers here, but Madeleine and Elliot save the world - his world.
Two short mentions of other books by Australian writers: The Twinmaker trilogy by Sean Williams shows what might happen in a world where Star Trek’s replicator and transporter are a part of everyday life - and it’s nightmarish! And the world is wiped out, but... a girl called Clair saves it. No explanation here because spoilers, sweetie! Just get the three books. Jump, Crash and Fall. I think the US titles might be different, but find them, a truly amazing set of adventures of a world-saving girl. Like other world-savers, she doesn’t set out to do it, but does it anyway.
Garth Nix’s Sabriel is a girl at boarding school. She’s also, like her father, a Necromancer. Not the kind of evil necromancer who kills people to use their life energy for magic, but one whose job is to stop them from returning to the world of the living from the land of the dead, which is on the other side of a wall. She uses a set of bells to help her. Actually, it’s sort of steampunk and has a flavour of original era Dr Who. Anyway - world-saving girl! I’m afraid I have got behind in this series, must reread the original trilogy and then get on with the rest.
What other world-saving young women can you think of?