Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon to Mars

by Nathalia Holt

Little, Brown & Company, 2016

352 pages

The space industry was a dominating presence in my early childhood. My father was a technical writer for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), and my grandfather was retired from Aerojet, where he had helped to develop the fuel for the Saturn V moon rockets.

One of my favorite childhood memories is of visiting JPL on Family Day, peeking into clean rooms at satellites under construction and taking photos in front of scale models of spacecraft. I also loved dinner at my grandparents’ house, where Grandpa would often entertain us with stories of his Aerojet days.

Those stories were utterly fascinating, full of massive explosions and mad scientists – to the point that I sometimes wondered whether he might be embellishing things. Then about five years ago, I watched a documentary on the early Soviet space program. I sat mesmerized as an old Russian chemist told stories that could have come straight from my grandfather’s mouth. And the documentary makers had archival footage to back it up. It really had been as crazy as Grandpa described.

I was content as a kid just to listen to my father and grandfather’s stories, but ever since watching that documentary, I’ve wanted to learn more on my own. Nathalia Holt’s Rise of the Rocket Girls caught my attention for that reason, and because it dovetailed with both my father and grandfather’s histories.

Rocket Girls tells the story of JPL and Aerojet’s women “computers” – mathematicians who manually performed the complex calculations that underpinned the early space program – and the evolution of their work into computer programming and space engineering. The two labs were founded by the same people and, in their early days, sometimes shared resources. Holt tells their joint history to the point of their divergence, then focuses exclusively on JPL.

According to Holt, it was not uncommon for companies to employ women computers in the 1940s and ’50s. Calculating was seen as a kind of secretarial function, despite the higher-level math skills required for it. Computers typically had some college training, though not necessarily a degree, and worked for a few years until they married or began having children.

JPL, however, was different. Its entire computer department – including the manager – was female, and the lab actively encouraged long-term career development for the women.The environment was certainly not perfect, especially in the lab’s earliest days, but overall, both JPL and the women computers continually broke new ground for professional equality. When computer programming entered the picture, the lab provided training so the women’s skills could evolve with the industry – other businesses simply laid off their women computers and gave the programming jobs to men. And at a time when it was common practice to fire a woman because of marriage or pregnancy, JPL offered flexible schedules and other unheard-of accommodations so the computers could combine motherhood with full-time employment.

It was this last thread of the story that most inspired me. I knew plenty of wonderful women growing up, but 80 percent of them (including my own mother) were full-time homemakers. Even after I graduated from college and had my own career, most of my female coworkers were either childless or had grown children. So when I went back to full-time employment a few years ago, I had almost no personal examples for juggling my joint roles of marketing director and mother to a young child.

Holt covers this juggling act at length, outlining the women’s struggles, coping mechanisms, and successes. She also delves into their reasons for persevering – how unsuited they felt to homemaking and the deep sense of fulfillment they gained from their work. This latter material was so important to me. I recognized myself in the women who needed the intellectual stimulation of challenging projects and the satisfaction of seeing them through to completion. It reminded me of something I said to my husband soon after returning to full-time employment: “I didn’t realize how desperately I needed to do something I feel good at, and be appreciated for it.”

Overall, it was quite an uplift to read the story of these smart, pioneering women who took the plunge into a new industry and paved the way for future generations of women engineers. Some of them stayed with NASA for decades – in fact, Susan Finley, who started her career in 1958, is still there. I came away from Rocket Girls with an “If they could do it, what’s my excuse?” mindset. It bolstered my determination to be the best version of myself, both as a mother and an employee, and my belief that it’s possible to do so.

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Chasing Vermeer

by Blue Balliet; ill. by Brett Helquist

Scholastic, 2003

254 pages

Though there’s just one title, this is really a review of three books: Blue Balliet’s series of art mysteries starring three middle-school kids who live in modern-day Chicago.

I read the first book, Chasing Vermeer, with my daughter after a librarian friend recommended it. She mentioned it, and I picked it up, in part because she thought it might be a good Read Like a Girl book. Unfortunately, I ended up disappointed on that front.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the book, and so did my daughter.

The story centers on Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay, two Chicago schoolmates and neighbors who become good friends as they solve the mystery of a stolen Vermeer painting.

The plot is engaging and well structured, the setting nicely articulated, the style just quirky enough to be fun but not trite. There are also authentic, positive depictions of family relationships and school – a nice balance to the wealth of post-apocalyptic, hyper-alienated fiction currently flooding the middle-grade market.

But Petra – the girl of the pair – isn’t really all that inspiring. She’s smart but not very strong, a relatively flat character who rarely takes the lead and needs frequent rescuing. Ultimately, I walked away feeling that both Petra and Balliet were holding out on me.

Then I read the next two books in the series, The Wright 3 and The Calder Game. By the time I was halfway through book two, Petra had become far more interesting. And by the time I finished book three, I was highly impressed.

In The Wright 3, Calder’s best friend Tommy (who has been living in New York) returns to Chicago and upsets the balance of Petra and Calder’s friendship. All three of the kids are interested in the plight of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Robie house, which is slated for demolition. But their ability to save it is hampered by the uneasy dynamics of their relationship – until Petra makes a conscious decision to be the mature one and foster meaningful cooperation within the group.

She does the same again in The Calder Game, when Calder disappears on a trip to England with his father. A large Alexander Calder sculpture disappears at the same time from the village where the Pillays are staying, and it’s up to Petra and Tommy to solve both mysteries.

Without Calder around, Petra and Tommy quickly fall into jealousy and mistrust of each other. They might have been able to cooperate on their previous adventure, but there is still no genuine friendship between the two of them. As before, Petra ends up being the first to realize the pettiness of their rivalry and the first to set it aside in favor of focused effort to find their mutual friend.

In the process, she figures out what is needed to build a true friendship with Tommy and deliberately moves in that direction. Eventually, he responds in kind, and they succeed in both solving the mysteries and forming a solid bond with each other.

Taken as a whole, then, the three books are definitely Read Like a Girl-worthy. Petra’s character arc – from bland, shrinking word nerd to confident, mature friend and leader – is both realistic and inspiring. It shows girls that the awkwardness and uncertainties of the preteen years can be managed and even overcome with confidence. And at a time when “mean girls” often rule the roost, it shows that true friendship, maturity, and kindness can win the day.

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A Wrinkle in Time

by Madeleine L’Engle

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1963

256 pages

A Wrinkle in Time is one of those books I think I have very clear memories of – and then I read it again and discover that I missed something entirely.

I first read A Wrinkle in Time – or, rather, had it read to me – when I was in elementary school. The school I attended, which housed grades K-8, placed a high priority on reading. Every day, the teachers focused on reading in three ways: they read aloud to their students (even in the higher grades), they had the students read aloud to each other, and they set aside time for the students to read on their own.

L’Engle’s science fiction novel was one of many inspiring books read aloud to me at that school. For whatever reason, my teacher didn’t continue with the series, but I came back to it as an adult and read the remaining four books in the quintet.

And then, just a couple of months ago, I read A Wrinkle in Time with my daughter. I prodded her into reading it with me because I remembered it as an inspiring book. And it was, but not in the way I recalled.

The story was as compelling as ever. Thirteen-year-old Meg Murry travels through space and time to rescue her father, who has been missing for years after taking part in some mysterious government project. Her brother Charles Wallace, her new friend Calvin, and three odd neighbors (Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit) accompany Meg on the trip.

Under the neighbors’ guidance, the children “tesser” to various planets in search of Mr. Murry. They learn that the universe is under attack from a Dark Thing – the embodiment of evil – and that Mr. Murry has become trapped on a planet, called Camazotz, that is wholly given over to the Dark.

Arriving on Camazotz, they find Mr. Murry imprisoned by IT, the disembodied brain that controls the planet and its inhabitants. He is a prisoner because he refused to succumb to IT, and the children are only able to bring him away because Charles Wallace yields to IT’s telepathy. Meg must then return to Camazotz alone to rescue her brother, if she can.

The travelers are a band of misfits if ever there was one. The neighbors, who sound as add as they look, turn out to be paranormal beings analagous to angels. Calvin is the most popular boy in school, but he’s also awkward-looking, deeply misunderstood and neglected by his parents, and unsure of how to handle his own inner gifts. Charles Wallace, a 5-year-old telepath and genius, has a reputation for being developmentally disabled because he rarely speaks to anyone but his family.

And then there’s Meg. She was the missing piece, the element I had forgotten. Sure, I remembered that she is the main character and (more importantly) the crucial operator in the rescues of both Mr. Murry and Charles Wallace. What I didn’t remember is that she is a complete anti-hero.

In short, Meg drives me nuts. For most of the book, she’s a whiny, entitled, hand-wringer with a near-pathological inability to control her own emotions. She wants everyone to do everything for her. She’s the kind of person you want to smack around or douse in cold water, the way cartoon characters do with blibbering hysterics.

But as the book progressed, I realized that’s the way many 13-year-olds are. Thanks to raging, roller-coaster hormones and the vicissitudes of adolescent neurological development, it’s completely normal for a child Meg’s age to be self-centered and emotionally volatile. L’Engle, being the mother of three children, was probably all too aware of this.

Once I had this epiphany, I started to feel grateful for Meg’s messiness. My own daughter is closing in on her tenth birthday, and I realized how edifying it is for her to read about a girl who’s fully in the grips of adolescent turmoil, yet is ultimately able to get beyond it when something important is at stake.

More than that, the very qualities that make Meg so hard to deal with are the ones that feed her ability to rescue Charles Wallace. She learns how to turn her weaknesses into strengths, how to redirect her liabilities into productive channels. She learns how to operate outside herself and attain maturity through the process of seeking a worthy and challenging goal.

And with adolescence looming on the horizon for my daughter, that is an inspiring example for her to have.

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Dead End in Norvelt

by Jack Gantos

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011

341 pages

I have a thing for dark humor. I’m also a fan of period fiction (sometimes truly historical, sometimes not) and stories with a strong regional flavor. Give me a book, TV show, or movie that combines the two, and I’m in heaven.

So I’ve been itching to read Jack Gantos’ Dead End in Norvelt ever since I read the ALA Newbery committee’s description of the book. I finally got my hands on a copy, and it did not disappoint. Even better, I discovered that (although the main character is male), the book has a handful of terrific female characters that make this story a perfect fit for my Super Secondaries series.

Here’s the story: young Norvelt, PA, resident Jack Gantos is in deep trouble. He got caught playing with his father’s WWII souvenirs, and he cut down his mother’s prized corn. So instead of spending his summer playing baseball, watching movies at the drive-in, and hanging out with his friends, he’s grounded until further notice.

His only escape is Miss Volker, an elderly neighbor who does double duty as the town nurse and obituary writer. Jack’s mother has loaned him out to the old lady, whose severe arthritis is getting in the way of her work.

As Jack works for Miss Volker, he learns something about the fascinating history of his hometown and its residents, how grown-ups cope with harsh economic realities, and what it means to live – and die – well. As more and more of the town’s elderly residents do the latter, he also begins to ask some questions. Is Norvelt’s soaring death rate just a coincidence, or is someone bumping off the old ladies a bit before their time?

As you’ve probably guessed from the main character’s name, Dead End in Norvelt is semi-autobiographical. Norvelt, PA, is the author’s true hometown, one of dozens of New Deal settlements founded during the Depression for the relief of unemployed coal miners and their families. Most of the town history related in the book is real, and Gantos communicates it in an entertaining way.

But it’s not just the history that makes this story a winner (though it won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction as well as the Newbery). Gantos’ wry style and strong voice are deeply engaging, and the macabre humor is side-splitting. And then, of course, there are the ladies: Dead End in Norvelt has three strong female characters to inspire girl readers.

First there’s Jack’s best friend Bunny, who is very small of stature but huge of personality. Her father is the town undertaker, and exposure to his profession has made Bunny the exact opposite of a shrinking violet. While Jack swoons in the autopsy room, Bunny goes in for a closer look. When arsonists plague Norvelt, she organizes a nighttime fire patrol. In short, she is one of the spunkiest, sassiest girls I’ve ever encountered in fiction. For girls who are athletic, fascinated by the weird side of life, dealing with physical limitations, or just loud and proud, she’s an excellent point of contact with the story.

Next there’s Jack’s mom, a big-hearted and capable woman. With Jack’s father frequently out of town on construction jobs, she often holds down the fort alone. And when insufficient income and other setbacks arise, her resourcefulness keeps the family afloat and provides for Norvelt’s elderly residents. She’s not perfect: her desire to protect Jack can make her fearful, but she always summons courage when it’s needed, as when she faces down an armed stranger in the family’s backyard. In a time when girls are still bombarded with messages to fit a mold for the sake of winning love and approval, she shows how to operate as part of a loving family and caring community without sacrificing identity or principles.

And finally there’s Miss Volker, a fiery, sharp-witted old lady who teaches Jack to think both for and outside himself. She is one of Norvelt’s original residents, a deep admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt (for whom the town is named), and dedicated to educating and caring for Norvelt’s citizens. In addition to the town obituaries, which she pens as wider historical lessons, she writes a “This Day in History” column where she encourages readers to question and look beyond the victors’ narratives that make up most textbook versions of history. Politically progressive, outspoken, and tenacious, she teaches Jack and readers that women’s voices are an essential part of the social conversation. She is also a healthy model of single womanhood – encouragement that women needn’t marry or have children to find fulfillment in life, career, and relationships.

Dead End in Norvelt is an excellent read any way you slice it, a hilarious and touching coming-of-age story with plenty to engage both boys and girls. But with these three ladies as part of the story, it becomes inspirational as well.

Read about the further adventures of Jack and Miss Volker in From Norvelt to Nowhere, published in 2013.

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200px-Up_a_Road_Slowly_coverUp a Road Slowly

by Irene Hunt

Follett, 1966

192 pages

Irene Hunt’s Up a Road Slowly is a problem book.

I can’t remember where I first heard about it, but I do remember being told that it’s a great book for girls. By the time I finished reading it, however, I wasn’t sure – and even as I write, I’m feeling the tug of indecision.

Don’t get me wrong: I loved the book. I read it in long sittings, reluctant to put it down. And when my daughter is a bit older, I’ll recommend it to her. So why the uncertainty? Well, keep reading, and we’ll explore it together.

Up a Road Slowly follows Julie Trelling from age seven, when her mother dies and she is sent to live with her Aunt Cordelia, to age 17, when she graduates as valedictorian of her high school class. There’s not much plot, to be honest. The book is more about people: Julie, the folks she loves, and how her relationships with them influence her growth.

My favorite thing about the story is the sheer variety of female characters. They are traditional and unconventional, smart and brainless, cool-headed and mentally unstable. Moreover, the central female characters – Aunt Cordelia, Julie, her sister Laura, and her stepmother Alicia – all find fulfillment because each deliberately chooses the path that is right for her. In other words, Hunt doesn’t try to fit every girl into the same box. Her book is a healthy reminder that there are many valid roles for a woman to fill: scholar (Alicia and Julie), professional (Cordelia), homemaker (Laura), and more. The point is not to value one role above the others but to choose, to make sure that you are filling your role intentionally and because it is the right one for you.

I also love Hunt’s realism. For a classic, the book offers nuanced and fairly progressive treatments of sticky issues such as alcoholism, mental illness, and sexuality. Julie’s alcoholic Uncle Haskell, for instance, is a layered character whose behavior has complex origins – he’s not just a morally bankrupt drunk. And her schoolmate Carlotta, who becomes pregnant by the manipulative Brett Kingsman, is not just a tainted slut – she’s an impressionable girl who is unfairly used and discarded, and Julie both recognizes the injustice of her fate and the importance of maintaining an open heart toward her old friend.

So what’s the problem? There are a couple, actually. First, the book’s attitude toward romantic love bothers me. There are steady messages that strong, successful women will not find fulfillment unless they fall in love and/or marry. Alicia, despite having an established career as a respected teacher, equates being uncoupled with “insecurity” and calls it “frightening”; Cordelia says, “A woman is never completely developed until she has loved a man.” Worse, Julie adopts this philosophy wholeheartedly: once she reaches adolescence, she is fundamentally unhappy and ill-at-ease until paired off with a boy.

Second, I’m not entirely keen on Danny Trevort, Julie’s longtime friend and eventual lover. He’s obviously supposed to be Julie’s ideal match, a boy who deserves her because he is kind and good and appreciative of her talents. But he has a very proprietary and, at times, condescending attitude toward her. When she’s drifting in the wrong direction, he tends to try and bully her back onto the right track (there’s one unsettling instance where she resists this behavior, and he tells her baldly to “Shut up”).

The issue of romantic love in general, and Julie’s relationship with Danny in particular, are central to the book, so these problematic elements form a strong counterweight to the empowering messages found elsewhere in the story. Hence my hesitation. As I was mulling things over, however, I realized that Up a Road Slowly would be worth a review because it makes an excellent case study.

After all, it’s good to have a plan for dealing with books like this: beautifully written, potentially inspiring stories that nevertheless carry some problematic baggage. Many classics, particularly those written pre-1900, fall into this category. Crack one open, and you’re likely to find inspiration right along side paternalism, racial and gender stereotypes, colonialism, or worse.

My suggestion? First, match the book to the girl. The younger or less mature the girl, the less problematic content the book should have. Then be ready to talk. As she reads, or after she’s finished the book, ask her what she thinks of it. Ask specific but open-ended questions about problematic passages: “What do you think of the way Danny talks to Julie when he’s angry? What makes you a ‘complete’ person?”

It’s not a question of whether a girl will encounter oppressive messages in life – it’s a question of when. Train her to recognize those messages for what they are, and to question them, and you train her for empowerment. Books like Up a Road Slowly can be a part of that process. Because, ultimately, a thinking girl is an inspired one.

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Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

by Kate DiCamillo; ill. by K.G. Campbell

Candlewick Press, 2013

233 pages

Finding inspiration in the sublime or the exceptional is fairly easy: the girl who bravely battles the wilderness, cancer, or a super-villain is an obvious candidate to inspire the next generation of women.

The problem is, most girls don’t live that kind of life. So while books about extraordinary people and situations are important, so are books that celebrate the ordinary or even oddball. That’s where most girls are going to find a point of identification and, by extension, of inspiration.

Which brings us to Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, illustrated by K.G. Campbell.

Preteen Flora Belle Buckman is a character many girls can easily identify with. She lives in an ordinary middle-class home in an ordinary middle-class neighborhood. Her clothes, her bedroom, her dad’s car, her street – they all look like anything or anyone you’d encounter in your own home or city.

Flora also faces challenges many girls can easily identify with – the kinds of problems that are a part of many ordinary people’s lives. Her parents are divorced, she and her mom don’t quite connect, and she misses her dad, whom she sees only on weekends. She copes by escaping into her favorite hobby and by detaching herself from her peers and family. She calls herself a “natural-born cynic” and takes “Do not hope; instead, observe” as her motto.

Flora’s life becomes suddenly un-ordinary, however, when Ulysses the squirrel appears. Flora rescues the rodent after he suffers a run-in with neighbor Tootie Tickham’s vacuum cleaner. The accident endows him with superpowers: super strength, the ability to fly, and the ability to compose poetry (though he has to type it, since he does not receive the power of speech).

Being devoted fans of comics, Flora and her dad know that every superhero must have an arch-nemesis – and they quickly figure out that Ulysses’ is none other than Flora’s mother. With the help of Tootie, her great-nephew William Spiver, and Mr. Buckman’s neighbor Dr. Meescham (who tends to speak in wise but enigmatic axioms), father and daughter set out to save Ulysses from his climactic encounter with the enemy.

If all this sounds a bit oddball, it is – deliciously so. Flora & Ulysses is the geek’s version of Judy Blume’s middle-grade problem novels. The characters are all a little wonky, comics and superhero references are everywhere, the kids are incredibly smart, and there’s a touch of magical realism to boot.

Overlaying it all is DiCamillo’s classic wry humor and barely self-conscious lyric phrasing. Campbell’s beautifully-shaded, animation-style pencil illustrations are the perfect accompaniment.

Being a geek myself, I would have loved this book even if there were nothing inspiring about it, but of course it is inspiring, or I wouldn’t be writing about it here.

Flora’s friendship with Ulysses calls out all the best in her. It opens her heart, commands her courage, and pushes her intelligence to its limits. It also leads her to call out the best in others: she gives Tootie a chance to be decisive and brave, her father a chance to reforge their bond, Dr. Meescham a chance to nurture others, and William Spiver the chance to belong. By book’s end, she’s even pulled her own denial-steeped mother back to reality.

This all happens through means that are kooky rather than heroic, but perhaps the quirkiness is what helps make the messages unforgettable. Flora & Ulysses tells girls that changing things for the better – whether in their own lives or the lives of others – is not just for superstars, the popular, or the beautiful. However “outside” they may think themselves, there are people waiting to welcome them in and befriend them. Hope is for everyone. And extraordinary opportunities to become an even better version of themselves are waiting right in their own backyards.

Which all means that, for ordinary girls facing ordinary problems, Flora is a heroine for the books.


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Lord of the Rings

by J.R.R. Tolkien

Allen & Unwin, 1954-55

I don’t just talk about Lord of the Rings, I gush. J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy about the fictional realm of Middle Earth is one of my desert-island books, a work of art that comes closer to my own personal definition of literary perfection than does any other book I’ve read. (See? Gushing. I told you.)

My infatuation with this incredible story has nothing to do with the book’s genre, or even with the specific plot, though I like both quite well. It’s more about the craft: the fully-realized universe, the luxurious descriptions, the way Tolkien somehow holds onto subtlety as he dances around the edges of allegory and archetype.

It’s also about the characters: their backstories, their secrets, their choices, their surprising depths. There’s Gandalf the wizard, whose true identity and role in the drama are half-veiled even to himself, and who continually surprises his companions with his humor, compassion, and power. There’s Aragorn, the secret heir to an ancient line of kings, who is both intimidating and endearing, a peerless warrior and a gifted healer. Or Sam, whose rough appearance and speech hide a deep appreciation for beauty and a profoundly loyal, courageous, and noble heart.

And then there are the women. LoTR is predominantly male, to the point that there are really only two significant female characters in the entire 1,000-plus-page epic. But what characters they are! Of all the Super Secondaries I can imagine profiling, these two lead the pack.

First there’s Eowyn, niece and adopted daughter of King Theoden of Rohan, the nation of Gondor’s chief ally in the fight against the dark wizard Sauron. Strong and valiant, she yearns for battle, but cultural norms keep her trapped at home. So she disguises herself as a man and rides with her countrymen to war, where she plays a key role in the climactic battle against Sauron’s forces.

Critically wounded and disillusioned by violence, she finally returns to wholeness through the wise care of Gondor’s Healer and the gentle Lord Faramir (himself wounded in the war). She decides to become a healer herself and, after marrying Faramir, becomes co-ruler of one of Gondor’s provinces.

On the surface, Eowyn’s inspirational value may seem dubious. After all, she gives up her warrior ambitions, marries her Prince Charming, and settles down to a happy princess life. Except that it’s not quite that simple.

In the LoTR universe, war is not an occupation but a tool, waged only for a time and at greatest need. The ultimate good is lasting peace and active participation in it. So Eowyn’s trajectory matches that of the book’s two great leaders, Gandalf and Aragorn, who both become men of peace after Sauron’s defeat. Her choice to become a healer is a sign of great wisdom; and because of it, she maintains an active and important role in the restoration of Middle Earth.

Galadriel the elf-queen is the other strong female character in Tolkien’s saga. Along with her husband Celeborn, she rules the hidden forest sanctuary of Lothlorien. She is the most powerful and one of the oldest of her people in Middle Earth, and it is her magic that maintains Lothlorien as a refuge from and center of resistance to Sauron’s destruction and power.

Her story is harder to follow than Eowyn’s, especially for those who aren’t familiar with The Silmarillion, a separate book that outlines Middle Earth’s beginnings. But for very astute readers, the clues are there to follow. Galadriel is so powerful that even the demi-gods fear her; they test her loyalty even as they use her as an ally. She is the only character who can read Sauron’s mind and see into the future. And even objects that bear her magic have the ability to repel Sauron’s darkness and ancient evil.

She is, quite simply, one of the most inspiring female characters I’ve ever encountered. Tolkien is abundantly clear that the fight against Sauron would have failed without her – when the story ends, she ranks with the greatest champions of Middle Earth.

Even without Eowyn and Galadriel, Lord of the Rings is inspiring. It has a unique blend of humanity and earthiness coupled with epic themes of good vs. evil, monumental sacrifice, loyalty, and love. And there is simply no one else who can write like Tolkien. His love for his work oozes out of every word.

But these two strong women – their fearlessness, their power, their dedication, and their amazing accomplishments – mean that girls can find inspiration just for them in the pages of one of English literature’s greatest classics.

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