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Books featuring Female Characters that Inspire Us on International Women’s Day

By Ana Matute, Zoe Doyle and Sarah Lundy

What it means to be a woman is a very difficult concept to define, but our current and future achievements are often inspired by other women who stood up for what they believed in and championed themselves. International Women’s Day is the perfect time to reflect on the strong and bold women from the past, in our lives and in the books we read.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Whilst many fairy tales have an element of misogyny and sexism running through them, Spinning Silver is a fantasy novel loosely inspired by the tale of Rumpelstiltskin that focuses on giving agency to three women. Miryem, the daughter of a failed moneylender, perseveres to improve her family’s dire financial situation. However, her reputation for turning silver to gold attracts the attention of the king of the Staryk, icy fey creatures, who sets her an impossible task. Irina is a duke’s daughter and is married off to the Tsar who hides a dark secret that threatens both the human and Staryk world. And Wanda is a peasant from an abusive household who dreams of a better life.

Although the three women come from starkly different backgrounds, their fates are intertwined and both

their strength and resilience are tested throughout the book. Novik explores themes of antisemitism, female courage and ingenuity as the women fight to save the kingdom. At the same time, these relatively ordinary women work to overcome their own personal obstacles and reclaim their own agency in a society that views women as a commodity.

The Cancer Ladies' Running Club by Josie Lloyd

There are many reasons why Josie Lloyd's The Cancer Ladies' Running Club is amazing. Firstly, because it depicts a woman going through breast cancer in a way that is sensitive, uplifting and searingly honest throughout. It doesn't shy away from the reality that being diagnosed and living with cancer creates, or the way it changes your life. It takes us through the hospital appointments, the treatment and the many turns in the cancer journey.

This is no doubt because the novel is inspired by events in Lloyd's own life after she was invited to join a local running group for women facing cancer. Not only does The Cancer Ladies' Running Club depict the strength of the main character to carry on running throughout her treatment (as Lloyd did), but it also shows the community of women that supported each other through one of the scariest times in their lives. It is testament to the notion that we are stronger together and that, with a community of people and a good chat, things can be just a little bit easier.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

The road to accomplish our dreams has difficulties, and as Linda Radlett tries to pursue love, in what ends like a very comic journey, she learns how hard it is to follow what she wants at the same time as dealing with social ideals. In The Pursuit of Love, we read about Linda from her cousin Fanny’s perspective and through this, we see two types of women and how they choose their lives.

Fanny’s dreams are ended by her choice to settle in a stable love as her desire to be more educated is not satisfied. Meanwhile, Linda risks everything and has more adventures because she follows her heart and passion.

This is a novel that shows courage and even with all the adventures, it’s a great satire of aristocratic society with themes like marriage and war, and how finding a man was the ultimate purpose for women. In this, Linda followed what society told her to follow, but she ends up destroying all the aristocratic ideals, running away because she felt that was the way to find her dream. As Mitford herself says, “life is sometimes sad and often dull, but there are currants in the cake, and here is one of them.”

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Life can be full of situations where we become overwhelmed by all of it. In this novel by Markus Zusak, we meet Liesel during her life while World War II is happening. Of course, there are a lot of huge changes for everyone, but what makes Liesel special is that she doesn’t stick to what society establishes and she becomes a critical thinker through reading the books she saves from being burned. She has compassion for others and learns that words have an outstanding power – as demonstrated by its usage in Nazi propaganda. Through Liesel, The Book Thief shows the role that a woman can take when she stands up for her beliefs.


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