3BoT Vol. 23: Three Novels about Growing Up Female
Thursday, September 5, 2013Tweet
The first Thursday of every month, I share three related book recommendations with you. You are invited to link up at the end of the post with three recommendations of your own! Click here for more info about Three Books on Thursday.
I've read a number of good books lately, and the three I want to share with you today have something interesting in common. They take place in three different eras (mid-19th century, mid-20th century, present-day) and three different countries (China, Canada, and the United States), but they all tackle in a substantial way the experience of growing up female. All three have first-person female narrators whose gender not only is an important part of their emerging self-identity but also directly affects their opportunities and how they are perceived by others. The first two also delve into the complexities that undergird many female friendships.
Whether you're seeking a book to give voice to your experience growing up female, or you want to better understand what that's like, here are three books for you:
In rural China in the 1800s, it is not just gender but social class that rigorously dictates one's opportunities in life. Lily is given the opportunity to someday marry above her family's rank by careful foot-binding and being matched with a laotong, a best friend for life, at the age of seven. The novel explores the development of Lily and Snow Flower's friendship over their lifetime, but more than that, it gives a detailed picture of what it was like to be a woman in China in Lily's day -- how utterly powerless women were, except over each other, and how stories and sayings women passed down to their daughters reinforced acceptance of this low place. As horrifying as the descriptions of foot-binding are, you find it hard to blame Lily for doing the same to her own daughter. The writing and the plot development in this book are fantastic, and the glimpse of history is valuable.
This book has more passages highlighted than any Kindle book I've read so far. Central to the plot is young Elaine's experience being bullied by her friends under the guise of "improving" her, though naturally she can never measure up to their impossible standards. It is clear how even young girls quickly internalize the message that to be female is to be compliant and pleasing to others, and that this goal takes precedence over all others. Throughout the novel, we see glimpses of both the small and large disadvantages women face as the novel flashes between Elaine's experiences growing up and her present-day experience as a controversial painter in the 1980s. But it's never heavy-handed; it's simply true. From Elaine's childish observations as a young girl to her cynical ones as an adult, the descriptions of life as a woman ring painfully true over and over.
Frankie Landau-Banks, 15 years old, is brilliant and ambitious. But that means nothing when it comes to joining her private school's secret society, because she doesn't meet the one requirement for entrance: being male. She finds a way to secretly work the strings in the background so the guys in the society start pulling off spectacular, clever pranks under her written orders, all while they (including her boyfriend) continue to treat her like she's harmless and adorable. Lockhart beautifully illustrates the dilemmas faced by being an intelligent woman, trying to avoid being seen as overly aggressive, meek, sexual, or anything else that might box her in. It's also clear from the descriptions of Frankie's father just how much all-male secret societies and other "old boys" clubs perpetuate male advantage in small and informal ways, and how much harder Frankie has to work to achieve her ambitious goals. Plus it's just a very fun book.
What are your favorite books about the experience of growing up female?
Click here for other 3BoT posts, or check out my Goodreads account for more in-depth reviews and recommendations.
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