Rachel Cline, author of the girl-growing-up novel What to Keep and the upcoming My Liar, about grown-up women at work, was kind enough to stop by today and give me some book recommendations for my tween-age niece. What do you get for the girl who has read everything? Rachel Cline has a few suggestions. As a mother of 2 boys, I can't thank her enough for pointing me in the right direction.
Growing Up Female, some alternative versions by Rachel Cline
When a young girl stars showing signs of bookishness, friends and relatives can be relied upon to introduce her to Pippi, Harriet, Nancy, the Judy Blume gang, and maybe even Lyra Bellacqua. But as girl readers turn the corner into teenagerdom, there are many fewer fictional oddballs on offer and many more sylphs with perfect hair hanging around. (And one should not have to suffer sylphs in the privacy of the fictional world!) So, here's a list of five books containing the kind of BFFs I was always looking for at around age fourteen. Admittedly, most are old chestnuts, but there can be something very encouraging about a character who's held her ground for as long as these girls have!
1.Cress Delahanty by Jessamyn West
An unusually dry-witted and restrained portrait of a Californian with a mind of her own. Episodically told, the novel has the vividness and awkwardness of real life and none of the dull parts. Cress dances around naked, suffers a mortifying pimple, adopts a ridiculous hat, survives a crush on a boy, a crush on an older girl, and an uncomfortable encounter with a male piano teacher.
2. The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy
The story of how a young girl's romantic obsession affects the lives of everyone around her. A bestseller in its time, the Constant Nymph offers some of the risque pleasures of gossip-girl-esque pulp, but also examines social mores and ethical nuances the way a really good novel must.
3. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Gender ambivalence presented as a tale of triumph. Straightforwardly written and full of historical hijinks--costumes, swordfights--this book has almost nothing in common with Mrs. Dalloway or To The Lighthouse. Why it doesn't come up in the same breath as To Kill A Mockingbird or A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, I'll never understand.
4. Green Mansions by W. H. Hudson Subtitled "a romance of the tropical forest," this is indeed a tale of intense attraction but not of the "mushy" sort. The magnetism comes equally from the book's setting (the Amazonian rain forest) and the enigmatic character of Rima, who may or may not be a non-human (part bird). Whatever she is, she's absolutely compelling.
5. Frost in May by Antonia White.
A young girl is sent to a Catholic convent school--and learns to thrive. And not for any stupid reasons, either. A completely engrossing book about a younger stage of girlhood but valuable especially for the vigor of its protagonist. We so rarely read young-girl characters who have such strength and self-possession.