America is a nation of immigrants, and theme of being an “outsider” is a common one in our literature. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about five great American novels that feature male protagonists. This week, I’ll be doing the same with books that feature female protagonists. This is just the tip of the iceberg, so join in the discussion and let me know what books I missed. And, as always, if you have an idea for a “Five on a Friday” post yourself, email me at email@example.com
Five American Novels that Feature Female Outsiders
By: Carol Ryrie Brink
I came across this book after the bitter experience of realizing there were no more Little House books for me to devour. I went on a search for more historical fiction about pioneers. If you loved Laura Ingalls Wilder, you’ll love Caddie Woodlawn. Set in the woods of Wisconsin (yes, the same “Big Woods” of the first Little House book), Caddie Woodlawn is the story of eleven-year old Caroline Augusta Woodlawn, or “Caddie”.
As a child, she was sickly. Because of this, her father allowed her to “run wild” with her brothers, Tom and Warren. While she has many adventures with her brothers–including befriending the local Indian tribe and fixing clocks with her father–Caddie feels the pressure of being a tomboy in a culture that expects girls to be girls and boys to be boys. When her sophisticated cousin comes to visit, this comes to a head. Caddie, like a true pioneer, finds her own way. It’s a great read for young girls and boys, as well as anyone interested in a great story about a larger than life character on the American frontier.
By: Louisa May Alcott
This book is a classic that hardly needs much description. It’s the story of the four March sisters–mature Meg, tomboy Jo, sweet Beth and precocious Amy–during the years when their father is fighting the Civil War, and continues into their adult lives. Jo, who is a tomboy and a writer, is the particular outsider that this book focuses on. The book is semi-autobiographical, and Jo is based on the author, Louisa May Alcott, who was very much an outsider herself.
Raised by a transcendentalist father who was friends with Hemingway and Thoreau, Alcott was forced from a young age to support her family through her writing. In addition to her novels, she wrote various short stories under various pen names, so many that it’s unclear if we actually have a record of all of them. She was an abolitionist, a feminist and was the first woman to cast a vote in Massachusetts. Little Women is her most famous novel, and a necessary read for anyone looking to study American literature.
By: Zora Neale Hurston
Like many novelists, Zora Neale Hurston wasn’t appreciated in her time, and neither was this gorgeous book. For her prose alone, it should be on everyone’s to-read list. It’s the story of Janie Crawford, a black woman living in the early 1900’s in Florida. In her forties, she tells the story of her life to her best friend, relating it in three major sections, each corresponding to her marriage to three very different men. Rejecting her grandmother’s advice that marriage is only about finding stability, Janie abandons her first marriage, searching for love. She finds it–along with herself–but only through great struggle, sacrifice and tragedy. Zora Neale Hurston garnered huge criticism from the African American community at the time, particularly for her use of vernacular. It was only later that the genius of the work–and its author–were celebrated.
By: Amor Towles
Did you know that George Washington wrote a list of behaviors he believed he should follow in order to be a gentleman? It’s a fascinating document, and a fascinating look at the father of our country when he was still a young man. In Rules of Civility, the main character, Kitty, is a poor New Yorker who uses her wit and charm to climb into Manhattan’s highest social circles. Along the way, she meets Tinker, a privileged young man who follows Washington’s “Rules of Civility,” and is hiding a dark secret. Kitty’s journey into success–both as a journalist and a socialite–is chronicled in her biting, gorgeous voice. Like The Great Gatsby, The Rules of Civility shows a fascinating look into the lives of America’s wealthiest, from an outsider who found a place among them.
By: Gillian Flynn
Just about everyone alive has read Gone Girl or at least seen the movie, and knows what an incredible writer Gillian Flynn is. Sharp Objects was her first novel, and anyone who read it must have known this was the discovery of a major talent. In her tight, biting prose, she tells the story Camille Preaker, who must return to her small, Midwestern hometown to cover a string of suspicious murders. She also must confront the broken family she left behind, and the tight-knit society that she never fit into. It’s a psychological tour-de-force you’ll read in one sitting.
What American novels do you love, and why? Let us know in the comments, or using the hashtag #5OnFri!
Bess Cozby writes epic stories in expansive worlds from her tiny apartment in New York City. By day, she’s an Editor at Tor Books, and Web Editor for DIY MFA. Her work is represented by Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency. Tweet her at @besscozby, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her website at www.besscozby.com.