Books for the Headstrong (Teenage) Female in Your Life
You can find the first instalment of these posts here. Today, we have book recommendations from pre-teen/teenage Becca. As you would expect, things gets a little more angsty and relationship-focused. These are books I read between the ages of 11-18 that, in addition to being good reads, also affected me somehow. A lot of the books I’d recommend to young readers if asked today will be coming up in my “adult Becca” post, as they were published after my teenage years. Later this week, I’ll be sharing what 18+ Becca suggests. I’ve linked paperback versions of each of the books – just click on the title.
Teenage Becca’s Book Recommendations
In vaguely chronological order of me reading them…
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
When I was 11, the BBC aired an adaption of Jane Eyre starring Ruth Wilson in the titular role. By the end of the first episode, I knew I had to read this book and consequently did so before the series ended. It was dark, gothic and followed a strong, intelligent female character, so just my cup of tea. Brontë and her sisters were ahead of their time purely by being female authors. They each used a pseudonym – Currer, Ellis or Acton Bell – to get their works published. Charlotte, Emily and Anne chose these names so they could retain their initials. As such, it was under the name of Currer Bell that Jane Eyre was originally published in 1847.
Brontë’s modern ideas are evident in the character of Jane. Orphaned and neglected, Jane grows to be an intelligent, compassionate and no-nonsense young woman. A personal favourite quote of mine is: “I am no bird and no net ensnares me. I am a free human being with an independent will”. Very modern thoughts for a woman in the 19th century.
Jane isn’t stunningly pretty or charming and is aware of such. She is fiercely intelligent, strong-willed and determined to stick to her morals. Throughout the novel, we watch as she falls head over heels in love with a man society says she can’t have, making her question her faith and mind. Both Jane and Brontë are wonderful female role models and there is plenty in the novel for young women today to relate to. Even at the age of 11, Becca knew this was a truly fantastic book. Reader, I loved it.
I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
Cassandra Mortmain lives in a dilapidated castle with her writer’s-block-suffering father, bohemian artist step-mother, younger brother and beautiful older sister, Rose. Set in the 1930s, the novel follows Cassandra as we watch her grow from a girl sitting in the kitchen sink, to a young woman. With their fortune dwindling, the Mortmain sisters dream of a better lifestyle. When two handsome, young and rich American men move in nearby, Rose sees a way to move up in the world. The relationship between Rose and Cassandra is an interesting one and something that develops significantly throughout the book. Each character is memorable and fully fleshed, most notably their quirky step-mother Topaz.
In I Capture the Castle, Smith beautifully demonstrates the bittersweet pain of unrequited love – something all teenagers can relate to. A true coming of age story with some strong, interesting female characters and poignant culture references. Watch the 2003 adaption starring Romola Garai, Rose Byrne, Bill Nighy and Tara Fitzgerald when you’re finished reading.
Circle of Friends – Maeve Binchy
My mum is a big Binchy fan and passed Circle of Friends to me when I was having a particularly rubbish time navigating female friendships. I’m not sure I learned anything that helped me solve my problems, but it did distract me until they blew over.
Big-hearted and stocky Bernadette (Benny), wiry and fiery orphan Eve and beautiful, ambitious Nan are three very unlikely friends. The bulk of the story follows them through university in 1950s Dublin as they adjust to adult life and the effect it has on their friendship. The characters are flawed but lovable – I have a soft spot for Benny and rooted for her throughout – and you can’t help but feel you know them. In Circle of Friends, Binchy tackles love, society, sex and betrayal without sensationalising or over-romanticising.
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
I actually read Pride a Prejudice a little later than I’d care to admit. I’d watched the famous wet-shirted Colin Firth adaption but avoided the book in some weird act of defiance as everyone was telling me to read it.
Published in 1814 under the brilliant pseudonym “A Lady”, Pride and Prejudice explores the Regency era obsession with ettiquette, money, marriage and social standing. “Burdened” with five daughters, Mr and Mrs Bennett have no choice by to marry them all off to wealthy husbands. Strongly opposed to this is the second eldest Bennett sister. Elizabeth is strong-willed, intelligent and witty – very unappealing traits for a young woman in 19th century Britain to have. Throughout the novel, Elizabeth – Lizzie – casts a wry eye over the rigid social rituals she is forced to follow and, as a result, catches the eye of a certain Mr Darcy. I’m sure I don’t need to allude to what happens next. Lizzie’s defiance, intelligence and self-awareness make her a great female character, as does her willingness to admit her mistakes and change towards the end.
There are numerous and varying adaptions of Pride and Prejudice. Lost in Austen and The Lizzie Bennett Diaries are my favourite unconventional re-imaginings. It is a truth universally acknowledged that this is an iconic book.
You can buy the gorgeous hardback edition pictured here. I bought it in Dublin several years ago and am very happy I did. It isn’t widely available in the UK due to it being published by Barnes and Noble, as such the shipping costs are a little steep.
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
This is a dark one. Widely believed to be semi-autobiographical, The Bell Jar chronicles Esther Green’s descent into mental illness, not unlike Plath’s own. During a summer internship, Esther realises she doesn’t fit into any of the expected, societal female roles. She doesn’t want to be a house wife and none of the “female” careers appeal to her. After returning home, her mental state worsens and she becomes depressed and suicidal. The Bell Jar provides a strong commentary on psychiatric medicine along with an exploration of sexuality and taking control of your own body, so is a bit intense. If you do have a teenage child reading this, I’d recommend discussing it with them.
Girl, Interrupted – Susanna Kaysen
Another dark one. Many people are familiar with the 1999 film starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, but aren’t aware of the book on which it’s based. Girl, Interrupted is a memoir based on Kaysen’s own experience in a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s. After a suicide attempt she initially denies was intentional, Susanna is admitted to hospital and diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Although Susanna is the main focus in the book, her fellow patients also feature heavily. With diagnoses like depression, sociopathy, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder and drug addiction, these girls really are an interesting bunch.
Although not an easy read, Girl, Interrupted does provide young people with a broad and useful understanding of mental illness. If anything, it also lessens the chance of them becoming someone who says things like “I’m a little OCD” when they really mean “I like things neat and tidy.” Like The Bell Jar, it’s an intense read, therefore I’d recommend you encourage open discussions if you are a parent to or are a young person reading it.
More age inspired recommendations coming this week with adult (present day) Becca.