I love a good underdog story. And I like my female protagonists strong, sharp-voiced, keen-eyed, and hard to push over. Some might say that one cannot be both badass and an underdog at the same time, but I think they're wrong. Here are my favorite storybook heroines who make my case:
1. Katniss Everdeen in "THE HUNGER GAMES" by Suzanne Collins
It's not every girl who can handle ball gowns and slings and arrows with equal aplomb. Who can't appreciate District 12's famed survivalist who outsmarts and outlasts by feigning suicide by nightberry, all the while juggling multiple love interests and a celebrity culture gone haywire? Katniss Everdeen is the reigning female badass.
2. Lee Fiora in "PREP" by Curtis Sittenfeld
Feisty, keen-eyed underdog Lee Fiora subtly navigates four years of an elite class hierarchy and improbably wins the affection of The Big Guy on Campus. But sometimes badass girls let their feistiness get in their own way. You just can't read that taut last scene between Lee and Cross in the school gym without wincing at, oh, the authentic high-school-ness of it all. And they just don't make 'em like that Cross Sugarman anymore.
3. Esther Greenwood in "THE BELL JAR" by Sylvia Plath
In this brilliant classic, Esther Greenwood demonstrates that it's not necessary for a heroine to be likable to be sympathetic. It's impossible not to mourn Esther's increasing isolation, descent into madness, or the idea of such talent wasted. Also, underdog stories don't always have a happy ending.
4. Lorene Cary in "BLACK ICE" by Lorene Cary
I dare anyone to read Lorene Cary's beautifully written coming-of-age memoir about being the first African-American female student to attend prestigious, WASP-y St. Paul's School in New Hampshire with a dry eye. With her incredible candor and clear-eyed unsentimentality, I was rooting for this barrier-breaking scholarship student in an extremely privileged, extremely alien environment from the very first page.
5. Marianne Dashwood in "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" by Jane Austen
Though Elinor's my favorite of the Misses Dashwood, the word "irrepressible" was definitely invented for Marianne. Whether she's setting tongues wagging by publicly chasing after that jerk Willoughby, or taking off across the moor in a storm and falling deathly ill as a result, only to be dramatically rescued by Colonel Brandon, Marianne never cares what other people think of her, and lives passionately as a result.
6. Lisbeth Salander in "THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO" by Stieg Larsson
Love or hate the trilogy, there's no denying that this tattooed, antisocial, androgynous antiheroine - decidedly on the spectrum - is one badass underdog. Tasing, chaining up, sodomizing, and blackmailing your sadistic legal guardian/rapist into declaring your legal independence? Just an average Tuesday night for Lisbeth Salander.
7. Tess McGill in "WORKING GIRL"
Okay, this wasn't a book, but Tess McGill is the original Feisty Workplace Underdog. Who doesn't love a coworker who can say, totally unironically, "I have a head for business and a bod for sin"? Or tells her boyfriend, "I am not steak. You can't just order me!" She's made it impossible to take the Staten Island Ferry without raising a silent little toast to working girls everywhere. Go Tess!
Helen Wan is the author of the new novel "The Partner Track."