The Books I Read As A Girl That Shaped Me Into A Woman
By: Felicity E.
As a young girl, I was a voracious reader. What with being a bit of an awkward dreamer and odd nerd, I had a habit of hiding myself in the many magical worlds of my books. They provided a form of escapism and catharsis from my fears as a child and insecurities as a teenage girl, but they affected me on a far deeper level. The books written by women about women provided me with the inspirational heroines who shaped in my mind what it meant to be a woman and to know just how wonderful it is to be one. I laughed, cried, felt stabs of anguish, rage, joy, and gave a little bit more of myself to each novel with every turn of the page.
There are many books which have touched my soul and left their imprints upon me, like enduring footprints in the sand, but these five are the ones that, were I to have one, I would give my daughter. These female authors rose me up, comforted me in the dark, and pulled my mind and imagination into the light. And for that I will always be grateful.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden is one of those books with which I have fond memories of curling up with on my mother's sofa on a rainy day with a blanket, a cup of milky tea, and a piece of hot buttered toast. Quintessentially English and a magical story. It follows the journey of the feisty and stubborn protagonist, Mary Lennox, and how she comes to live in her uncle's vast and lonesome manor on the Yorkshire moors. Mary realises that the home holds many secrets and her mind is set on solving its mysteries, including finding the locked secret garden which all were forbidden to enter. I loved the sleepy, descriptive narrative of the book as it lulled me into the story and especially enjoyed the characterisation. Mary wasn't afraid to push boundaries and fight for what she thought was right. Her character taught me to take chances, question the status quo, persevere in the face of adversity and that not acting “ladylike” can be a damn good thing.
The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson
The stories by Jacqueline Wilson have always been in my childhood, and it's difficult to choose a favourite, but The Illustrated Mum is one of those special books which shines, in my eyes, a little brighter than the rest. The book is through the eyes of the young girl, Dolphin, and her older sister, Star, and their vivacious but enigmatic and erratic mother, Marigold. It follows the ups and downs of the family and Marigold's struggle with her bipolar disorder as both girls try to stay afloat and keep the three of them together. The book deals with some very difficult topics and Wilson portrays the stark realities of family life in such a poignant and moving way, as she does in all of her books. It taught me that mental health is something that should not be stigmatised or seen as shameful, and having been raised by only my mother, the book helped me realise that family life is not always this perfect unit, but rather each one has their own struggles and hardships. And that with the people we love around us, we are inevitably stronger.
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
How I Live Now was given to me as a birthday present, but I had never heard of it or the author before, and I was none the wiser about its contents. I wasn't prepared to be so moved and affected by its beauty and raw content. The story follows fifteen-year-old New Yorker, Daisy, and her journey to England to live with her cousins just as war breaks out in London and threatens to completely destroy the life they have known. As each family member becomes wrenched away from the other, Daisy must find her way back home with her little cousin, Pippa, and both girls undergo the hardest journey of their lives. The book is powerfully written and Rosoff is not afraid to detail the horrific realities of war with strong imagery. Both Daisy and Pippa are pragmatic, assertive, strong characters, but they are also still just children and forced to grow up quicker than they wanted to. Their perseverance in the face of such adversity was deeply affecting to me and the strengthening of their relationship with one another is a wonderful development in the book. The girls are inspirational and the story is one that lingers in the mind long after.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
The Bloody Chamber may quite probably be my favourite book of all time. I discovered it as a teenager and it's never left my side. From home to university to different countries I've lived in, it is one of my constants. The Bloody Chamber is an assortment of fairy tales which draws inspiration from classics such as Little Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, and Beauty and the Beast. However, Carter transgresses the stories to discuss wider topics such as female autonomy, sexuality, equality, and liberal politics. She writes in scenes which subvert normative gender roles such as a mother riding wildly into battle to save her daughter from her tyrannical husband, revolver in hand, Little Red Riding Hood laughing at the wolf's attempted dominance over her and seducing him herself (“She knew she was nobody's meat.”) and the girl who strangles her seductive captor with his own hair and emancipates the girls he had snared before her. Carter's writing is intricate, descriptive, political, dark, and beautiful and her way with words is utterly captivating. The women in her stories are enthralling and complex and the wider implications of The Bloody Chamber will always be important and relevant.
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
I read Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit sometime as a teenager too. The book is autobiographical of Winterson's own life and follows her struggles as child ostracised by her peers for her evangelical beliefs imposed on her by her adoptive parents and her own increasing uneasiness and questioning of the dogmatic religious life she is supposed to lead. When she falls in love with a girl and eventually realises her sexuality as a lesbian, the rigid world as she knows it begins to fall apart and her life takes a turn in ways she never foresaw. Winterson's account of religion, sexual orientation and coming-of-age is brave, moving, absorbing and humorous. I admired Winterson's honesty and frankness about her upbringing and saw myself at many points in her character. The book reminded me of the struggles of growing up and external pressures so often imposed on young people, but also of the importance of staying true to yourself and pushing for who you want to be as a person and not for the chaotic outer world, but for you.
The above list is dedicated to the woman who nurtured my love of reading in the first place; my wonderful mother. She continuously read stories to me as a child and encouraged my love of reading and writing throughout my life. She taught me that women are not one-dimensional and there is not one set mould for any one of us. We are complex and fantastic and the diversity and variety of our gender should be celebrated in every which way. Without her strength and influence I wouldn’t be who I am today and I would have never known the pleasure of the written word as I do now. The narratives of these authors and the worlds that they created enthralled me as a girl, helped shape me into the woman I am, and I hope that they will continue to inspire girls and women to realise their strength, beauty, potential and power indefinitely.