Think badass female characters are exclusive to modern times? Think again. For every Buffy-esque heroine in the world today, there are at least two from the past just waiting for their stories to be told through YA historical fiction.
Since the beginning of time, there have always been fierce ladies making and deciding the fate of history, both in the real world as well as the stories we tell ourselves and others.
And yet, knowledge of these amazing women and their fantastic feats can be hard to come by.
That’s why historical fiction books are so great. They often shine a light on the women history books neglected to mention, or straight up forgot, and show the world just how amazing they were.
But in order for historical fiction to come to be, the right kind of inspiration needs to strike first. The beauty of that is that inspiration can come from the most unlikeliest of sources sometimes. Just ask YA historical fiction author Amy Trueblood.
In celebration of the release of her latest book, Across a Broken Shore, Amy Trueblood shared with us just where she draws her inspiration from and how being part of the Buffy fandom has influenced her writing.
How growing up with Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia inspired me to write YA historical fiction
I know the title of this article is strange. How is it possible that being a member of the Buffy fandom inspired me to write about women in the early twentieth century?
Well it’s simple. Buffy was the first female heroine I saw on television who truly pushed back against gender norms. In fight scenes, whether she was battling alongside Angel, Spike, or Xander, she never deferred to them. She battled shoulder-to-shoulder with the men and usually out-kicked, and out-staked, them all.
In the earlier seasons of the show, Willow was the brains of the group, but when it came to actually fighting the monsters she relied on Buffy and the “Scooby Gang” to save her. But towards the end of the series, Willow came into her own, capably fighting demons both her own and those ascending from the Hellmouth.
Even snotty, arrogant Cordelia (who was much more than a mean girl) found a way to tap into her own strengths to battle vampires, zombies, and other dark creatures.
Watching these girls kick butt week after week reminded me that we often forget how strong we are as females. That there are generations of women who came before us that battled not against demons, but society’s expectation as to how we should act, talk, and behave. Today’s women who are successful pilots, stuntwomen, athletes, can look to an earlier generation and know those first trailblazers paved the way for them.
In my YA debut, Nothing But Sky, I fictionalized the lives of brave, real-life women like Lillian Boyer, Ethel Dare, and Gladys Ingle. These women incinerated gender roles in the early twentieth century by climbing out onto the wings of a biplane (without a parachute) to perform death-defying stunts.
In my new book, Across a Broken Shore, the main character Willa pushes back against the belief that proper young women should not be doctors. In truth, real women like early physicians Elizabeth Blackwell and Lucy Wanzer used their intelligence and strength to push past their communities’ distaste for their chosen career.
By writing YA historical fiction, I feel like I’m honoring all strong female fandoms. Whether it be those who ship Buffy, Hermione, or Katniss, these characters were developed because their creators recognized the strength of women and wanted to represent them in a medium that would reach all of society.
I believe all our previous female rule-breakers, whether they be Margaret Sanger, Ida B. Wells, or Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, helped pave the way for strong female characters in all realms of entertainment. In bringing often unrecognized historical female stories to light, I hope to honor those fandoms who continue to love the indomitable strength of an unflinching female lead.
Here are some of my favorite YA Historical titles with brave female heroines. Like the women in my favorite fandoms, each of them knows their own mind, wishes, and goals. Despite monumental obstacles, they continue to fight against the expectations of society to prove they have an important role in the world.
‘The Downstairs Girl’ by Stacey Lee
In 1890 Atlanta, seventeen-year old Chinese-American Jo Kuan is just trying to survive. When an opportunity arises for her to anonymously pen an advice column called “Dear Miss Sweetie,” she uses the column to call out issues in her town. This book spoke to me in many ways, but I especially loved the way Jo used the power of words to shine a light on racism and sexism.
‘Capturing the Devil’ by Kerri Maniscalco
From the very first book in this series, I was gripped by Audrey Rose’s determination to follow her passions even when those around her were appalled by her interest in forensic medicine. In this fourth, and final, installment, Audrey Rose is at her best, working with her partner, and adorable suitor, Thomas Cresswell to track down a serial killer in 1889 New York.
‘Blood Water Paint’ by Joy McCullough
Through this captivating novel in verse, I was transported to seventeenth century Rome and was entranced by the world of painter, Artemisia Gentileschi. After the first line, I was immediately enamored with Artemisia’s intelligence, strength, and willingness to fight not only for her honor, but for the truth.
‘Code Name Verity’ by Elizabeth Wein
A beautiful story of two friends, Maddie and Queenie who take part in a secret mission behind enemy lines in Occupied France in 1943. After their plane crashes, Queenie (aka “Verity”) is captured by the Gestapo. As she bides her time in confinement, she unravels the story of her and Maddie’s friendship in hopes of staying alive. Every chapter is a testament to expert storytelling and the unbreakable bond between best friends.
‘Among The Red Stars’ by Gwen Katz
Valka is a young, female pilot who joins a squad of all female aviators (inspired by the real-life Russian Night Witches) to help bomb German troops during World War II. The push and pull between duty and the horrors of war made me root for Valka who is a compelling character who practically leaps of the page.
About ‘Across a Broken Shore’ by Amy Trueblood
The last thing eighteen-year-old Wilhelmina “Willa” MacCarthy wants is to be a nun. It’s 1936, and as the only daughter amongst four sons, her Irish–Catholic family is counting on her to take her vows — but Willa’s found another calling. Each day she sneaks away to help Doctor Katherine Winston in her medical clinic in San Francisco’s Richmond District.
Keeping secrets from her family only becomes more complicated when Willa agrees to help the doctor at a field hospital near the new bridge being built over the Golden Gate. Willa thinks she can handle her new chaotic life, but as she draws closer to a dashing young ironworker and risks grow at the bridge, she discovers that hiding from what she truly wants may be her biggest lie of all.