Top five female characters in literature

For International Women’s Day, Kiera O’Brien picks her favourite female characters from literature.

Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery

The young adult coming-of-age story - written 70 years before John Green was even born - features Anne with an ‘e’ falling off a roof, accidentally getting her “bosom” friend Diana drunk, dyeing her hair green and smashing Gilbert over the head with a slate. Her rich imagination, individuality, relationships with her “kindred spirits” and hot-headedness (written at a time when women didn’t even have the vote) make her one of the most vividly-drawn children’s characters ever.

Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by J K Rowling

The real hero of the biggest children’s book series of all time - without Hermione, “the Boy Who Lived” would have been eaten by Fluffy the three-headed dog halfway through Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and never even got close to defeating Voldemort at the end of book seven. She does all the heavy lifting brains-wise for the Golden Trio, while simultaneously dealing with institutional Muggle-born prejudice.

Matilda Wormwood from Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda is the character every bookish little girl thought was secretly based on her. Not only is she a mathematical genius, is reading “Darl’s Chickens” by the age of four and has the power to move objects using just her mind, but she is also steely-minded enough to get incredible revenge on all the evil adults in her life.

Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

Katniss has become the default “strong female character” in recent years, probably because she can shoot an arrow though an enemy’s eye from 50ft away. But if she was only made up toughness and brawn then she’d just be Divergent’s Tris, and Katniss is so much more. Though she loves her sister and later Peeta in a fierce protective way, she is sharp and intelligent, even cunning - in the first book using her romance with Peeta to manipulate an audience of her enemies. When did Bella Swan ever think of that?

Lyra Belacqua from the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman

Lyra gets to be a tough, tomboyish, dirty-faced, exiled-king-of-the-armoured-bears-befriending, Alethiometer-wielding, Gyptian-children rescuing heroine because she’s balanced out by her daemon Pantalaimon, the physical representation of her soul, whose loyalty and kindness connect with the reader.

Kiera O’Brien is The Bookseller’s charts editor and the author of Millie vs the Machines (Quercus Children’s Books).