One day I was chatting with my women friends about the heroines from fantasy and science fiction books that inspired us when we were kids. We talked about Alanna from the Song of the Lioness series, Sabriel from the Abhorsen series, Cimorene from the Enchanted Forest series, and many more. We agreed that these heroines set us on the path toward feminism and self-empowerment.
But one of my friends in this conversation said, “I read all of those books when I was a kid, but then one day I looked in the mirror and realized that none of those heroines looked like me.” What my friend saw in the mirror was a black woman.
My heart broke when I heard that. The fantasy heroines of my childhood were so important to me. When I saw girls treated unfairly, or was treated unfairly myself, it was these fictional girls who gave me the courage to resist, and support other girls as they fought to resist. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have no heroines from my books who I could identify with.
So, in the interest of fighting back, I present to you a list of my favorite heroines of color from YA fantasy and science fiction. Read them to inspire yourself, or more importantly, buy them and recommend them for girls of color who you know. You could make a huge difference in their lives.
1. Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games
If your mental image of Katniss Everdeen is represented by Jennifer Lawrence, you may be wondering what I’m talking about. The truth is, the casting of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games movies is a gross case of whitewashing, turning a character of color into a white character in an adaptation. This is how Katniss describes her friend Gale and her own family in The Hunger Games.
He could be my brother. Straight black hair, olive skin, we even have the same grey eyes. But we’re not related, at least not closely. Most of the families who work the mines resemble each other this way.
That is why my mother and Prim, with their light hair and blue eyes, always look out of place. They are. My mother’s parents were part of the small merchant class that caters to officials, Peacemakers, and the occasional Seam customer… She must have really loved him to leave her home for the Seam.
This is clearly a system where paler people in District 12 have an economic advantage on the basis of their skin color over the Seam, Katniss’ people, who are poor and hungry. Later on, Katniss describes Seeder, a woman from District 11, which is clearly coded as an analog to the American South under slavery, as looking just like a Seam woman except for her eye color. Katniss reads to me as multiracial, or perhaps Native American. (For more thoughts on this, read here.)
What Katniss actually looks like. Art by Zombie-Sasquatch on deviantArt.