We all love her. The best female protagonists are smart and funny. They’re kind and sensitive-or maybe not-but we all want to be her. Sure, she may have problems-big problems- but we’d trade our 9-to-5 any day to step into her shoes for one hour. And that’s exactly what we do when we curl up with a good book.
So let me give you my fav-five females from contemporary fiction. Five women who rocked my socks, five women I’d call friend, five women who I’ll never forget.
In Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mystery series, Kinsey Millhone takes the number five spot. A smart loner with a unique skill set, she works for an insurance company, investigating claims. Twice divorced with no children, pets or plants, she keeps an overnight bag in her car even though she’s never been called away before. She likes the idea of having her things ready…just in case.
Kinsey is a character who has stood the test of time. With each novel in the Alphabet series, she becomes an old friend, a sister, and someone you want to vacation with. I like her dedication to each client, even when the odds are against her. I’d like to compare her to my character, Morgan Jewell in Fractured Girl.
From Lisa Unger’s Die For You, Isabel Raine is fourth on my list of best female protagonists. Happily married for five years, Isabel comes home from work one day and her husband is gone. Not that he hasn’t done this to her before. He did have an affair once. Isabel tried to forgive him for that. But now, she can’t reach him on his cell phone, and his best friend is lying for him…again.
In the morning, after she’s run through every emotion from worry to rage, her phone rings and it’s her husband Marcus calling. The only sound he makes is a terrified scream. Is he in pain? He is most definitely is in trouble and the police are unwilling to help because men leave their wives all the time. And when she goes to his workplace to look for him, FBI agents are ripping the place apart.
Then something hits her. Isabel Raine wakes up in the hospital with a concussion and those were not FBI agents. There is no money left in their accounts, and Marcus is still missing.
Isabel Raine is every married woman. She is devoted and forgiving, and now she must embark on a journey to find her missing husband. Discovering along the way that he was never whom he appeared to be, Isabel never waivers from her goal. I liked her steadfast determination and willingness to face her enemy.
Helena Pelletier from Karen Dionne’s The Marsh King’s Daughter takes third. Born into circumstances that no child should be subjected to, Helena is one tough kid who grows up to become a natural born killer. Helena’s mother was abducted at age 12 by a convict and psychopath. He kept her locked in a small cabin in the woods, in the marshes of the Upper Peninsula and had a daughter with her.
For twelve years, Helena learned about her world from her parents and an old stack of National Geographic magazines. Helena didn’t know television or electricity. Everything she knew, she learned from her mother and father. Her father taught her how to hunt and fish. She picked wild herbs and berries to eat and her mother cooked over an open flame. With nothing to compare it to, Helena didn’t worry that she was different. She didn’t know that she and her mother were captives until they escaped.
Now married and a mother of two beautiful girls, Helena learns that her father has escaped from prison and is coming for her. She is the only one who knows what he’s capable of and she knows how to find him. She knows because he’s coming for her.
In her free time, Helena hunts bears with only a dog at her side. If I spent time in the north woods, I’d want her at my side, too.
My pick for the second best female protagonist goes to Camille Preaker of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. And no, I wouldn’t want to be her. At the opening, Camille had been recovering from a short stint in the phych ward because she has a clear history of self-abuse. Set on a difficult assignment by her boss at a Chicago newspaper, Camille must return home to report on the developing mystery of two missing girls. And home, Wind Gap Missouri, is the last place she wants to be.
Camille is complicated with a capital ‘C’. From the first meeting with her mother, you get an inkling that our beloved protagonist’s issues may have begun there. But her memory is fuzzy. Add to that, Camille tends to drown her feelings with a little bourbon. And, she cuts.
As the mystery unfolds, we wonder who is at the heart of the crimes. The town is so small, that it would be hard for anyone get away with murder. Yet, Camille is forced to look at her past and deal with her mommy issues because she witnesses the same behavior toward her younger sister.
I commend Camille for owning her problems and facing them out right. That’s why, I’d invite her for coffee or dinner. I’d be proud to sit at the same table as Camille Preaker.
Best Female Protagonist: Lisbeth Salander
Finally, my all-time favorite female protagonist is Lisbeth Salander of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. She is tough and smart. She knows her limitations and overcomes them using raw intelligence and killer instinct. You don’t want to get on her bad side.
Larsson gives this character plenty of back story complete with psych wards, children’s homes and her refusal to accept any help or education. She ran away from foster homes and was arrested plenty of times before age eighteen. The Social Welfare board admitted in writing that she was “introverted, socially inhibited and lacking in empathy.” Lisbeth is a sociopath.
And she is the heroine of this trilogy. In her own way, she shows she’s incapable of caring for someone when her Advocat Palmgren dies and she considers herself in his debt. Lisbeth tries to fit in when Blomkvist hires her. She knows socially acceptable behavior, and throughout the first book, she is still learning how to fit in.
I loved watching her transform from a malcontent, victim of society, into a self-sufficient, cunning woman with the world at her fingertips. And I’d love to have her at my dinner table. I’d just be careful not to piss her off.