Recommended Reading List
Female Protagonists with No TIme for Your Shit
Download list
Please login or register to use this feature.

Female Protagonists with No TIme for Your Shit

By 49thShelf
0 ratings
rated!
rated!
Elisabeth de Mariaffi's new novel Hysteria is a book in which nothing is what it seems, not the perfect summer setting, the safe and caring marriage, the happy family, or the stories Heike tells about the trauma in her past. This isn't your run-of-the-mill unreliable narrator though, and de Mariaffi pulls off the tricky feat of both keeping the reader from being sure of who Heike really is and also establishing something solid at her core. Heike is steely, courageous, and to be messed with at one's own peril. In this list, de Mariaffi counts down other amazing books whose protagonists who don't have time for your sh*t.
Girl Runner

Girl Runner

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover eBook
More Info
Why it's on the list ...
Aganetha Smart is a girl who likes to move…fast. See if you can keep up, speed queen. (Uh, you can’t.)
close this panel
Anne of Green Gables
Excerpt

Daring was the fashionable amusement among the Avonlea small fry just then. It had begun among the boys, but soon spread to the girls, and all the silly things that were done in Avonlea that summer because the doers thereof were “dared” to do them would fill a book by themselves. . . .

Now, to “walk” board fences requires more skill and steadiness of head and heel than one might suppose who has never tried it. But Josie Pye, if deficient in some qualities that make for popularity, had at least a natural and inborn gift, duly cultivated, for walking board fences. Josie walked the Barry fence with an airy unconcern which seemed to imply that a little thing like that wasn’t worth a “dare.” Reluctant admiration greeted her exploit, for most of the other girls could appreciate it, having suffered many things themselves in their efforts to walk fences. Josie descended from her perch, flushed with victory, and darted a defiant glance at Anne.

Anne tossed her red braids.

“I don’t think it’s such a very wonderful thing to walk a little, low, board fence,” she said. “I knew a girl in Marysville who could walk the ridge-pole of a roof.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Josie flatly. “I don’t believe anybody could walk a ridge-pole. You couldn’t, anyhow.”

“Couldn’t I?” cried Anne rashly.

“Then I dare you to do it,” said Josie defiantly. “I dare you to climb up there and walk the ridge-pole of Mr. Barry’s kitchen roof.”

Anne turned pale, but there was clearly only one thing to be done. She walked towards the house, where a ladder was leaning against the kitchen roof. All the fifth-class girls said, “Oh!” partly in excitement, partly in dismay.

“Don’t you do it, Anne,” entreated Diana. “You’ll fall off and be killed. Never mind Josie Pye. It isn’t fair to dare anybody to do anything so dangerous.”

“I must do it. My honour is at stake,” said Anne solemnly. “I shall walk that ridge-pole, Diana, or perish in the attempt. If I am killed you are to have my pearl bead ring.”

Anne climbed the ladder amid breathless silence, gained the ridge-pole, balanced herself uprightly on that precarious footing, and started to walk along it, dizzily conscious that she was uncomfortably high up in the world and that walking ridge-poles was not a thing in which your imagination helped you out much. Nevertheless, she managed to take several steps before the catastrophe came. Then she swayed, lost her balance, stumbled, staggered and fell, sliding down over the sun-baked roof and crashing off it through the tangle of Virginia creeper beneath — all before the dismayed circle below could give a simultaneous, terrified shriek.

If Anne had tumbled off the roof on the side up which she ascended Diana would probably have fallen heir to the pearl bead ring then and there. Fortunately she fell on the other side, where the roof extended down over the porch so nearly to the ground that a fall therefrom was a much less serious thing.

Nevertheless, when Diana and the other girls had rushed frantically around the house — except Ruby Gillis, who remained as if rooted to the ground and went into hysterics — they found Anne lying all white and limp among the wreck and ruin of the Virginia creeper.

“Anne, are you killed?” shrieked Diana, throwing herself on her knees beside her friend. “Oh, Anne, dear Anne, speak just one word to me and tell me if you’re killed.”

To the immense relief of all the girls, and especially of Josie Pye, who, in spite of lack of imagination, had been seized with horrible visions of a future branded as the girl who was the cause of Anne Shirley’s early and tragic death, Anne sat dizzily up and answered uncertainly:

“No, Diana, I am not killed, but I think I am rendered unconscious.”

close this panel
Why it's on the list ...
Anne Shirley will overcome her orphan status and rise to the top, dammit, and she will do it despite Gilbert Blythe, and possibly drunk on raspberry cordial. All while wearing puffed sleeves.
close this panel
Son of a Trickster
Excerpt

THE FOOD OF WORMS

Jared hadn’t realized he loved his dog until they decided to put her down. His mom and the vet agreed on a time, like her euthanasia was just a regular appointment. While he went to school, Baby would stay at the vet’s, sedated. In a way, he wanted them to do it right now, so it wouldn’t be hanging over them all day, but he was kind of glad there were rules to follow. Jared scratched Baby’s head. She was the result of a pit bull mixed with a boxer, a heavy, deep-chested dog with scraggly ears from a fight with her brother. Her fur was mottled orange, black and grey, a squiggly pattern like a toddler had coloured her with fading markers. Her face looked like it had been flattened by a shovel. She farted constantly from a diet of cheap dog food and a tendency to eat whatever landed on the floor. She had once shat marbles. Baby wheezed like a hardened smoker and then coughed. Jared’s throat tightened. The room blurred as his eyes watered. He swallowed loudly. Baby roused from the exam table and licked his arm. Jared leaned his head against hers.

“I’ll give you folks a moment,” the vet said.

After he left, Jared’s mom sat, shoving her hands deep in the pockets of her leather jacket. The fluorescent lights hummed. His mom’s left leg jiggled impatiently. Jared wiped his nose on his sleeve. The harder he tried not to cry, the more he cried. The painted concrete walls echoed his sniffling back at him.

“I’m going for a smoke,” his mom said.

Baby thumped her tail when his mom came over to squeeze Jared’s shoulder. His mom’s eyes darted around the room, but she avoided meeting his. Normally, she’d be telling him sixteen was way too old to be acting like a big fucking wuss, but they could hear the vet and the receptionist talking in the front room, so she stayed quiet. She patted her jeans as she walked out. Probably forgot her lighter in the truck.

The world is hard, his mom liked to say. You have to be harder.

Baby licked his cheek.

“Gonna miss you,” Jared whispered in her ear.

Baby lifted a leg and farted. Jared laughed, and then it turned into crying that faded into more sniffling. His heart was a bruise because Baby’s heart was full of worms. The X-rays showed them curled in its chambers like glowing balls of wool. Time stretched and folded so it went both too fast and too slow. After his mom finished smoking, she’d come back and drive him to school. He hugged Baby hard and she grumbled. He wasn’t going to be alone after she died, but the world was going to be a lonelier place without her.

close this panel
Why it's on the list ...
Okay, okay. I’m cheating a bit. Jared may well be the protagonist in this 2017 Giller-nominee novel, but it’s his mother I’d most like to hang out with. I mean, if she’d let me. She is deliciously mercenary.
close this panel
Penelope
Why it's on the list ...
Penelope’s husband is away on business (okay: war) for like, one million years, leaving her with a surly teenage son, a lineup of pushy wannabe lovers, and a party crowd who keep setting up a beer tent and making a mess on her property. She is Fed. Up.
close this panel
The Outlander
Why it's on the list ...
t nineteen, Mary Boulton kills her husband and spends the rest of the novel an outlaw, on the run through the wilds of turn of the century frontierland, bloodhounds literally at her heels. Don’t worry: she still has time for mountain sex with a man known as the Ridgerunner.
close this panel
A Complicated Kindness
Excerpt

One

I live with my father, Ray Nickel, in that low brick bungalow out on highway number twelve. Blue shutters, brown door, one shattered window. Nothing great. The furniture keeps disappearing, though. That keeps things interesting.

Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing. Ray and I get up in the morning and move through our various activities until it’s time to go to bed. Every single night around ten o’clock Ray tells me that he’s hitting the hay. Along the way to his bedroom he’ll stop in the front hallway and place notes on top of his shoes to remind him of the things he has to do the next day. We enjoy staring at the Northern Lights together. I told him, verbatim, what Mr. Quiring told us in class. About how those lights work. He thought Mr. Quiring had some interesting points. He’s always been mildly interested in Mr. Quiring’s opinions, probably because he’s also a teacher.

I have assignments to complete. That’s the word, complete. I’ve got a problem with endings. Mr. Quiring has told me that essays and stories generally come, organically, to a preordained ending that is quite out of the writer’s control. He says we will know it when it happens, the ending. I don’t know about that. I feel that there are so many to choose from. I’m already anticipating failure. That much I’ve learned to do. But then what the hell will it matter to me while I’m snapping tiny necks and chucking feathery corpses onto a conveyor belt in a dimly lit cinder-block slaughterhouse on the edge of a town not of this world. Most of the kids from around here will end up working at Happy Family Farms, where local chickens go to meet their maker. I’m sixteen now, young to be on the verge of graduating from high school, and only months away from taking my place on the assembly line of death.

One of my recurring memories of my mother, Trudie Nickel, has to do with the killing of fowl. She and I were standing in this farmyard watching Carson and his dad chop heads off chickens. You’d know Carson if you saw him. Carson Enns. Arm-farter in the back row. President of the Pervert Club. Says he’s got a kid in Pansy, a small town south of here. Troubled boy, but that’s no wonder considering he used to be The Snowmobile Suit Killer. I was eight and Trudie was about thirty-five. She was wearing a red wool coat and moon boots. The ends of her hair were frozen because she hadn’t been able to find the blow-dryer that morning. Look, she’d said. She grabbed a strand of hair and bent it like a straw. She’d given me her paisley scarf to tie around my ears. I don’t know exactly what we were doing at Carson’s place in the midst of all that carnage, it hadn’t started out that way I’m pretty sure, but I guess carnage has a way of creeping up on you. Carson was my age and every time he swung the axe he’d yell things at the chicken. He wanted it to escape. Run, you stupid chicken! Carson, his dad would say. Just his name and a slight anal shake of the head. He was doing his best to nurture the killer in his son. It was around 4:30 in the afternoon on a winter day and the light was fading into blue and it was snowing horizontally and we were all standing under a huge yellow yard light. Well, some of us were dying. And Carson was doing this awful botch job on a chicken, hacking away at its neck, not doing it right at all, whispering instructions on how to escape. Fly away, idiot. Don’t make me do this. Poor kid. By this time he’d unzipped the top half of his snowmobile suit so it kind of flapped around his waist like a skirt, slowing him down, and his dad saw him and came over and grabbed the semi-mutilated chicken out of Carson’s little mittened hand and slapped it onto this wooden altar thing he used to do the killing and brought his axe down with incredible speed and accuracy and in less than a second had created a splattery painting in the snow and I was blown away by how the blood could land so fast and without a single sound and my mom gasped and said look, Nomi, it’s a Jackson Pollock. Oh, it’s beautiful. Oh, she said, cloths of heaven. That was something she said a lot. And Carson and I stood there staring at the blood on the snow and my mom said: Just like that. Who knew it could be so easy.

I don’t know if she meant it’s so easy to make art or it’s so easy to kill a chicken or it’s so easy to die. Every single one of those things strikes me as being difficult to do. I imagine that if she were here right now and I was asking her what she meant, she’d say what are you talking about and I’d say nothing and that would be the end of it.

It’s only because she’s gone that all those trivial little things from the past echo on and on and on. At dinner that night, after the slaughter at Carson’s place, she asked us how we would feel if for some reason we were all in comas and had slept right through the summer months and had woken up around the middle of November, would we be angry that we had missed the warmth and beauty of the summer or happy that we had survived. Ray, who hates choosing, had asked her if we couldn’t be both and she’d said no, she didn’t think so.

Trudie doesn’t live here any more. She left shortly after Tash, my older sister, left. Ray and I don’t know where either one of them is. We do know that Tash left with Ian, who is Mr. Quiring’s nephew. He’s double-jointed and has a red Ford Econoline van. Trudie seems to have left alone.

Now my dad, you know what he says in the middle of those long evenings sitting in our house on the highway? He says: Say, Nomi, how about spinning a platter. Yeah, he uses those exact butt-clenching words. Which means he wants to listen to Anne Murray singing “Snowbird,” again. Or my old Terry Jacks forty-five of “Seasons in the Sun.” I used to play that song over and over in the dark when I was nine, the year I really became aware of my existence. What a riot. We have a ball. Recently, Ray’s been using the word stomach as a verb a lot. And also the word rally. We rally and we stomach. Ray denied it when I pointed it out to him. He says we’re having a good time and getting by. Why shouldn’t he amend? He tells me that life is filled with promise but I think he means the promise of an ending because so far I haven’t been able to put my finger on any other. If we could get out of this town things might be better but we can’t because we’re waiting for Trudie and Tash to come back. It’s been three years so far. My period started the day after Trudie left which means I’ve bled thirty-six times since they’ve been gone.

From the Hardcover edition.

close this panel
Why it's on the list ...
Nomi Nickel is the girl we all want to be—I mean, if we all grew up wearing Docs and loving Lou Reed yet destined for chicken-slaughtering in a Mennonite town. Thanks a lot, Menno.
close this panel
The Bear

The Bear

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Paperback
tagged : literary
More Info
Excerpt

I can hear the air going in and out of my brother’s nose. I am awake. He is two years old and almost three and he bugs me lots of times because I am five years old and soon I will be six but it is warm sleeping next to him. I call him Stick. He always falls asleep before me and I listen to the air of his nose. I can hear my parents’ voices. They are farther away than I can reach and whispering because they think I can’t hear. I let out a squeak to let Momma know I am awake and she says “We’re right here” from too far away. I squeak again and the tent zipper undoes and I can see the sky in the crack. Her cool hand brushes my hair back and her fingers touch my cheek. “Shh, Anna,” she says and the sky zips away again. When I am inside a tent the outside is far away.

The tent is blue and sniffs like dust. My parents have a fire because it is the end of summer and they are cooking something too and not sharing with me. Bacon. I love bacon. My tummy rumbles and I want bacon but it will make Daddy mad. I sniff Gwen teddy bear instead. She is brown and smells like us. I hear the air whistle when it leaves Sticky’s nose. I feel nervous and I don’t know why. The night will be dark soon. And it might be the meat is making my tummy weird. When we were back at the cottage, Sticky was chewing on bacon and he shoved another in his mouth and another and another. When Momma saw she said
“Chew your food” but Stick couldn’t chew because his mouth was all full. He started to go red and his eyes got watery and I thought he was crying. I said “Ha-ha Alex’s crying” and Momma came and thumped him. A ball of bacon came out of his mouth. Momma got Stick in trouble for not chewing and I looked at the meat. It had spit on it. I felt a barf in my mouth. And I didn’t eat that bacon ball but it’s making my tummy feel weird.

The air is cold. I roll closer to Stick. His breath goes in my ear and it is warm. A little piece of light from the fire is having a dance on the side of the tent but only a little because it is not
dark yet. There is no music except Stick’s nose air and still the light flicks and rolls on the side of the tent. I can’t sleep. I tuck Gwen under the covers so she isn’t cold and I creep over to the door. The zipper has teeth that grab onto my skin. I go slow so it doesn’t bite and I open it just a little bit so my face can be out. The carpet here is made of pine needles. They smell like the yellow bottle I use to help Momma clean the bathtub. There are prickle pine trees all around our camp. These are the ones that forgot the needles on the ground. The moon is going to switch with the sun and the moon will have a tail that shows up on
the water. The water is not chop chop chop anymore. It sits quietly in the lake now because it is sleeping. Close to the water, really far away from me, I can see two shadows. I can hear fromthe whispers that it’s Momma and Daddy and they are laughing. Momma leans forward and I see a ponytail like a horse’s hanging down. Her face is smiling and I can see her teeth in a nice way. The only other thing I can see is Coleman.

Coleman is green like grass and he is so heavy I can’t lift him up. We bring him on canoe trips to carry our food and keep it cold. And we use him so that bears can’t rob the food from
us. Bears like our food if we let them and we don’t want to do that. So Coleman holds everything cool inside his body and has a metal tooth in the front that keeps him shut tight. He is really really big and a metal box. Stick and I can both fit inside him like when we play hide and seek at home. We can stay so quiet and hide in Coleman from Daddy and try to stop laughing with my hand on Stick’s mouth. When Coleman sits in the canoe he can’t fit across sideways and so Daddy needs to put him pointing to the front. Only Daddy can lift him up. When Coleman has to pee he has a little button at the side where I can push and his pee comes out and when I see it sometimes I pee too. Coleman is why we camped on the island because he is so heavy and big. The water was chop chop chop because the wind was  whistling in my ears and Coleman makes the canoe go tippy. If we went down the path to the next lake where we were supposed to camp then Daddy would have to carry Coleman and the canoe but Momma wanted to be here at the island to see the tail of the moon. Once I tried to pick Coleman up and I can’t.

I whisper hello to Coleman and Daddy’s head turns away from the fire: “Back in the tent, Anna.”
I stay still to make me dream.
“Did you hear me?”
I am awake.

“Last time, okay?”
“Yes, Daddy.”
“Sleep tight.”

I poke my head inside and Gwen missed me. She looks lonely and I tell her with my eyes that I am coming. I carefully take the zipper in my fingers. They feel furry in the tips and too tired to pull. Zipper will bite if I don’t watch out. I pull again and the zipper tries to get me between my thumb and pointy finger, the soft part that looks like it could be on a frog. I sit back and pull my hand away. The zipper must be hungry and so I will stay away. I grab Gwen and sniff and tuck her back into the sleeping bag.

I lie on my back and snuggle and the fire is dancing more on the side of the tent because it is a little more blue and gray outside. I watch it and my eyes start to shut but I don’t want
them to. Maybe if Stick is asleep then Momma will pluck me out of bed and feed me bacon. I want to ask out loud but my teeth are too fuzzy. My head is heavy like a rock. My eyes shut
again and I peel them open. I hear a sniff. It might have been from Sticky’s nose but it sounded bigger than that. Stick’s nose must be growing and in the middle of the night it will hog all the air. Something moves on the side of the tent. I see some fluff beside the dancing fire and I think the fluff is Stick’s hair. He has escaped. It might be his little white head sneaking out for bacon. A few of his fluffy hairs are sticking up as a shadow just outside the tent. His nose whistles beside me so I know it’s not, but the hair stands up and I think it looks thicker. The hair stands there shaking like my fingers when I am hungry. I watch it and it moves forward only a very little, as slow as a snail. It would be a hairy snail and much bigger and that means it probably isn’t a snail anymore. And the bacon smells and my eyes fall down and now I can open them only a crack. I see the hair move and I think as my eye shuts how did Stick stay sleeping and sneak out of the tent for bacon at the same time?

close this panel
Why it's on the list ...
Listen up, chumps: Anna is five years old, alone in the Algonquin Park wilderness, trying to escape the rogue black bear that literally just ate her parents. Also? She still has to look after her baby brother. She is capital-F-fierce. Try and beat her; you cannot.
close this panel
Hysteria

Hysteria

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback

One of The Globe and Mail’s “Favourite Books of the Year”

The closer she gets to the truth, the faster it slips away.

In the spring of 1945, fifteen year-old Heike circles in the mountains high above Switzerland. Pushed out the door by a worried mother, Heike and her little sister, Lena, have escaped Dresden only days ahead of the firebombs that will destroy that city, to cross a war-torn Germany on their own. But now, Lena is lost and Heike is alone, stalked by a feral dog.

Eleven years late …

More Info
comments powered by Disqus

There are two ways to make a reading list

This way:

  1. Click the "Create a New List" button just above this panel.
  2. Add as many books as you wish using the built-in search on the list edit page.

Or that way:

  1. Go to any book page.
  2. In the right-hand column, click on "Add to List." A drop-down menu will appear.
  3. From the drop-down menu, either add your book to a list you have already created or create a new list.
  4. View and edit your lists anytime on your profile page.
X
Contacting facebook
Please wait...