Growing up in the '90s meant we were consumed with many — now completely useless — activities, like which lyrics would make the best AIM away messages, how the F to keep our Tamagotchi alive during a school day, and whether we would end up with Justin Timberlake or J.C. Chavez (because for some reason, we had to choose). But what we really could've used in the '90s were fewer boy bands and more badass fictional heroines to show us the way — like Ms. Mockingjay herself, who on November 21 will return to our movie theater screens and continue her fight to bring the Capitol to a crumbling heap of dust.
We had spectacular Girl Power leaders IRL with the Spice Girls, Gwen Stefani, and Alanis Morissette, but we didn't have enough of them coming out of the pages of our favorite books. We needed more tales of women going against the grain, loving themselves completely and not changing for anyone else, and who didn't stand for people telling them they weren't [insert belittling adjective here] enough to achieve their goals.
A vivid imagination is one of the most powerful tools a child can have. Reading about a young girl taking on an entire government body to defend the rights of other citizens via surviving a deadly reality show competition and then a horrific war? That is how you show a kid that anything is possible. That's how they learn they can do anything regardless of gender, income, race, or social status. During a decade of grungy flannels and neon scrunchies, here are the fictional heroines of today that every '90s girl needed back then.
1. Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games
We might as well start with the arrow-shooting goddess mentioned above. Katniss Everdeen doesn't have time to swoon over popular Capitol performers, and she couldn't care less about the latest fashion trends. Girl is just trying to survive and protect her family. She really would've put our obsession with celebrity into perspective, and maybe we would've spent more time outdoors rather than daydreaming of Devon Sawa in that lake scene in Now and Then. You know the one.
2. Sookie Stackhouse, The Southern Vampire Mysteries
The telepathic waitress from Charlaine Harris' book series is really kind of wonderful. Unlike Bella Swan from Twilight, Sookie never wants to become a vampire. Her life is stressful and she struggles in every aspect, but even after falling in love with multiple vamps, she has no desire to become one. Sookie is different and other people see that. Some accepte her, but most do not. And she doesn't let those people bring her down. We could all stand to care a little less about what others think of us — and definitely could have used someone to teach us that during our emotionally fragile teen years.
3. Amy Dunne, Gone Girl
If you've read Gone Girl, you know that Amy isn't exactly a standup human being. OK, she is actually pretty terrible. But she is a fighter. Gillian Flynn created a complex female character who isn't just one thing — Amy Dunne is many things and she understands what is expected of her based on her looks and status. And despite those expectations, she chooses to go her own way. Amy Dunne is one-of-a-kind, just like each one of us. Flynn's rich character development could have taught us a thing or two about embracing our individuality, no?
4. Cassia Reyes, Matched
Cassia has lived a life that was chosen and tailored for her. She even has her future husband chosen for her. In the middle of the soulmate-choosing ceremony, she sees two faces instead of one. She knows which one was specifically chosen for her. But Cassia is curious and she starts to realize that everyone should be allowed to choose how they want to live their lives, and with whom they want to spend the rest of their days. Then she fights for that right.
The reason Cassia's predicament resonates with teens (and would've done wonders for all of us who grew up in the '90s), is because our teen years are filled with restrictions. With parents, teachers, and people always telling us what we could and could not do – how could we not want to rebel? Cassia certainly does. She would've been our hero. The Beastie Boys probably would've liked her too.
5. Lisbeth Salander, Millennium Series (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)
It's important to determine your own moral code and not deviate from that. Understanding and acknowledging your boundaries and what you consider right vs. wrong will make you a stronger friend, employee, boss, lover, and person. These are things we usually determine when we're in our teen years, and most of us learn through mistakes. Lisbeth is the kickass final product of someone who has an unshakable moral code. Maybe she would've kept me from all those worthless chat-room conversations that began with "a/s/l?" Because that was clearly a sketchy disaster waiting to happen.
6. Hermione Granger, Harry Potter
In the '90s, we had cruel, evil witches...
...and we had Sabrina.
And all of them were awesome, don't get me wrong.
But Hermione is a powerful witch and a gorgeous genius who isn't afraid to speak her mind. Hermione is a well-rounded person with a wide range of emotions and reactions. She is never pushed under a label of "good" or "evil" and nothing more, like the other witches of the '90s were. I'm just saying, this is the kind of witch we've always wanted and needed in our coven.
7. Eleanor Douglas, Eleanor and Park
Eleanor has a style all her own, and even though that makes her wonderfully different in a sea of high schoolers who all wear the brands considered "cool," it makes her a target for bullies. She's also bullied because of her weight. And then she meets Park, and Park falls in love with her just the way she is.
I mean, what's "cool" anyway? You don't really understand what that word means until you're older and no longer care if people consider you cool or not. Because cool is really about being yourself and being happy – whatever that looks like. But throughout adolescence, it's hard to resist letting others tell you what's cool and trying to become whatever that cool thing is just to seek approval (or to avoid becoming a target of ridicule). So to have a character like Eleanor, who struggles like the rest of us did during our teen years, find someone who loves everything about her, it just takes you back to the time when you wanted to find your own Park. Having someone who just gets you would've made all the difference during a confusing fashion decade of oddly loud color combos, ripped denim, and muted, dark outerwear.
8. Arya Stark, Game of Thrones
She does what she wants, says what she wants, fights how she wants, and she's still a child. If she can endure losing pretty much everyone she loves and still maintain a sliver of sanity, then '90s girls everywhere could've shed fewer tears over the demise of the slap bracelet.
9. Astrid Krieger, Firecracker
Astrid is a brilliant, sassy little spitfire who gets kicked out of private school and is forced into public school by her parents. She's set on revenge to expose the traitor who turned her in, and will stop at nothing short of using a horse and a basket of sandwiches to defeat her enemy. Sure, Astrid has some anger issues, but she's hilarious in her scheming ways, and unique in every other way, much like the legendary Clarissa Darling.
On TV we had Clarissa and Phoebe Buffay to encourage us to always be our weird and wonderful selves, but we didn't have very many similar characters in books at the time — none that had a slightly dark edge like Astrid does, anyway. Astrid is basically a celebration of emotions and feelings, even the less flattering ones. At the peak of hormonal development, we really could've used a fictional example like Astrid as a way to cope with the highs and lows of high school drama.
10. Tris Prior, Divergent
Tris is presented with the opportunity to choose her destiny. Who does she want to be? What kind of life does she want to live? We take for granted that we can make this choice right after high school and then a million more times throughout our lives. Tris gets to make this choice only once, and she chooses to live bravely and fearlessly.
Does anyone else wish they could've lived a little more like Tris back in the day? I do. The younger you are, the braver you are. It's just that simple. Your every decision isn't clouded with the scary and jaded knowledge of real-world adulthood. Every single one of us '90s gals could've taken more risks when we were teens. When the consequences weren't so intense, and when we had all the time in the world to learn from our mistakes. But even though we are no longer kids in flower hats and printed vests, we can still live fearlessly. Thanks, for the reminder, Tris!
11. Claire Beauchamp, Outlander
OK, so Claire is on a second honeymoon with her husband when she wanders into a time-traveling portal at a landmark location in Scotland that sends her from 1946 back to 1743, and has to figure out how to survive in a very rough time of war. And yes, she meets a perfect specimen by the name of Jamie Fraser who makes the story a whole lot of fun, BUT so many things do not go her way. She is always forced to adapt quickly and think three steps ahead.
That's life, though, isn't it? No matter what horrible situation Claire is faced with, she sucks it up, comes up with a strategy and learns how to adapt. Women of 1743 needed a role model like Claire, as did the women of 1946, as did we, the children of the '90s. You don't really know how to adapt to change while you're growing up because going to school forces you into a life of routine. But once you leave school, you need to figure out how to deal with change (college and new friends), hardships (breakups and job losses), and any other crappy thing life may throw at you. Claire's story would've served as a nice cautionary tale that you need to keep pushing through the obstacles in order to make it.