We all remember Rory Gilmore’s Chilton graduation speech, yes? You know, the one where she waxes poetic about living in a world of books, and credits her totally enviable mother with filling her life with creative role models like Jane Austen, Eudora Welty, and Patti Smith. Rory’s teenage literary influences were, shall we say, a little more mature than my own — but that’s Rory for you, after all. Her speech speaks to me for many reasons, not the least of which is because, like Rory, books influenced me growing up, too.
From Hermione Granger to Katniss Everdeen, teenage girls today are at no loss for the kinds of literary role models that make me question how cool my real life actually is — and was, back in my teenage dreams of yore (although I don’t know that I’d necessarily want to be Katniss Everdeen — that girl seems to have a lot on her plate). The book characters whose lives I coveted in my teens faced death a little less daily than Hermione and Katniss, but they’re no less badass for it.
Here are nine book characters I totally wanted to be as a teen. And, admit it, you did, too.
Vicky Austin of "A Ring Of Endless Light"
Communing with dolphins is enough to make any teen — OK, anyone — covet the life of Madeleine L'Engle's beloved Vicky Austin. Vicky is the reflective and intelligent protagonist of eight of L'Engle's novels, and is the philosophical loner within her large family. What's beautiful about Vicky is that she isn't afraid to do things like think deeply, question the status quo, or love freely. This is a girl who is never at a loss for a romantic interest (although, seriously, I'd take a dolphin over a date every single time).
Anne Shirley of "Anne Of Green Gables"
Anne — with an E — Shirley has all the sass I wish I'd had as a teen. She's admirably well-read, not afraid to speak her mind, turns a hair disaster into a chic new do, and above all, the girl squashes all of Gilbert Blythe's flirtatious teasing without a second thought (even when her well-intentioned BFF Diana Berry informs her that she should be a little more coy and a lot less aggressive). Plus, Anne follows her writerly dreams all the way to success.
Jessi Ramsey of "Jessi's Secret Language"
As the most devastatingly uncoordinated ballerina my school dance troupe had ever seen, I wanted to be Jessi Ramsey SO BADLY. I rocked the Jessi-inspired leotard-and-jeans look way longer than was seasonally appropriate. Jessi is also multilingual (English, Spanish, American Sign Language), has the kind of unfailing best gal pal that is so hard to find in real life, and boasts the cutest baby brother in the world, nicknamed Squirt.
Lena Kaligaris of "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants"
I wanted to be Lena Kaligaris long before Rory Gilmore... I mean, Alexis Bledel... played her in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie (and then I only wanted to be her more). Lena is an exotic young artist with every kind of youthful romantic hangup that makes for an epic love story when you're 15. Plus, Lena got to go to Greece. OK, sure, I'm definitely more of the slightly disgruntled, homebody Tibby-type character today, and every day. But a girl can dream, right?
Claudia Kincaid of "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler"
I know, I know: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is technically a children's novel. But I didn't care when I was a teen, and I don't care now. Why? Because Claudia Kincaid runs away from home and MOVES INTO THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART in New York City. Do I really need to say more?
Susan Caraway of "Stargirl"
When Susan Caraway arrives at Mica Area High School she answers to the name Stargirl. As the ultimate role model for teenage nonconformity, Stargirl goes makeup-free, wears kimonos, plays the ukulele during lunch, cheers for both teams at high school sporting events, and dances in the rain like nobody is watching — except everybody is, and the girl still doesn't care. Her changes to the student body are unforgettable, and last long after Stargirl's own teen years are gone.
Claudia Kishi of "Claudia's Big Party"
One member of the Baby-Sitter's Club just didn't seem like enough for this list (because honestly, didn't you kind of want to be all of them, depending on what day of the week it was?). First of all, Claudia has a private phone line. That was a really big deal back in the pre-cellphone stone age when I was a teen, aka 2002. She is also an artist who always wears whatever she wants, and what she wants to wear is always on point. Claudia was sort of the Lane Kim of the Baby-Sitters Club, before there was a Lane Kim — hiding junk food and Nancy Drew mysteries all over her bedroom, from her overly strict but caring parents.
Hope Yancey of "Hope Was Here"
You have to love a girl who changes her name from Tulip to Hope when she's 12 — and practices being "Hope" for a month first, to make sure she can live up to the name. As a waitress at the Welcome Stairways diner, Hope becomes involved in the diner owner's much-favored campaign for mayor, by unveiling city corruption and ultimately saving the entire campaign. All this before her freshman year of college. The girl's a fighter.
Jo March of "Little Women"
The fact that Jo March is beyond infuriated that she cannot accompany her father to the Civil War as a volunteer chaplain makes me love her character more than words can say. Jo never accepts her role as a proper 19th-century woman, and instead fights against it at every turn — swearing, failing at housework, expressing strong opinions, rejecting the idea of marriage, and once even publishing a play she had written. She's all kinds of amazing.
Image: Victoria Nevland/Flickr