When I said in my writeup for my favorite female characters of 2015 that it was difficult to narrow down a year’s worth of awesome, badass, and complex women into a short list, I wasn’t being hyperbolic. When I reviewed that post in preparation for this year’s, I was still a little unsure about leaving off Dorothy Shaw. And this year was, if anything, even harder. There were a lot of characters that I considered and may well regret leaving off, but nonetheless, here’s my list of memorable women and girl characters of 2016:
Mercy Wong, Outrun the Moon
I knew when I read Outrun the Moon that Mercy, its bossy-cheeked 15-year-old heroine, would be the one to beat for this list, and I was right. Seriously, she’s just so good: indomitable, clever, and just plain fun, Mercy is one of my favorite protagonists ever. She’s the Chinese-American teenage girl character I didn’t even know I needed.
Lady Eboshi, Princess Mononoke
I grew up in a predominantly Asian-American community and everyone in my social circle grew up on Studio Ghibli, but I didn’t actually watch many Hayao Miyazaki movies as a kid. After watching Princess Mononoke, I realized I had to amend that. I think Lady Eboshi is one of the best antagonists I’ve ever encountered. She’s so compelling and complex–how she fosters loyalty among her followers by giving work and shelter to lepers and prostitutes is probably not either benevolence or exploitation but a fascinating mix of both.
Charlotte A. Cavatica, Charlotte’s Web
I know I know, Charlotte’s Web is another classic that I really, really should have read/watched a long time ago (I wasn’t interested in a lot of classic children’s literature as a kid). But anyway, oh, goodness, how I loved Charlotte! Imperious, beguiling, bloodthirsty, wise, and true–she’s such a fantastic character.
Lydia Blankenship, The Serpent King
Not sure if I picture Michelle Trachtenberg as Lydia because she looks like real-life teen fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson, or because she plays a sorta similar role to Wendy in Mysterious Skin.
Surprisingly, Lydia was the character I related to the most this year. We’re different in important ways–she’s way more confident and sure of herself than I ever was in high school, and I grew up in California and not a small town in the Deep South–but we come from similar family backgrounds, and her passion for art and writing and her ambitions for the future really resonated with me. Jeff Zentner creates such beautiful, complex, real relationships between characters, and the mix of very genuine love and compassion with privilege blindness that Lydia has in her friendships with Dill and Travis is just so good.
Lady Susan, Lady Susan
I think there’s a strong case to be made that Lady Eboshi can’t be neatly classified as a villain, but I encountered some great unabashedly evil villainesses this year as well (Amy Dunne is the obvious and yet another way overdue choice, and Jacki Weaver’s crime family matriarch in Animal Kingdom was terrifying). But I think my favorite of them all might be Lady Susan Vernon, the delightfully scandalous antiheroine of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. She’s a horrible person–her treatment of her daughter is unforgivably abusive–but her shamelessness is so fun to read. I can’t wait to watch Love and Friendship!
2016 marked such a dark year for women, witnessing girls and women be powerful, brilliant, complicated, and nasty in both real life and fiction was a godsend. And for 2017, I look forward to many more such women to come, because we’re going to need them.