Living vicariously through kick-ass heroines

This is cross-posted at The Season.

I will never be a kick-ass heroine. Oh, I’ve had adventures and am proud of the things I’ve accomplished, but I’ve come to understand myself well enough to know my limits.

I will never chase after a villain. In fact, the second I get nervous about a situation, I’ll leave as run away as I can. And I am not a natural runner.

I will never investigate a crime. If I witnessed one, I’d beg for police protection, even if it was just a pickpocketing.

I will never be someone’s bodyguard. I’d like to think I’d throw myself between my husband and a bullet, but I say this with the confidence of knowing his reflexes are much better than mine and he’d shove me out of harm’s way.

The bravest thing I’ve ever done was telling a friend that I liked him in a way that would complicate—and perhaps even end—our friendship. Fortunately, he returned my feelings and we ended up falling deeply in love and getting married. At the time, I was terrified – stuttering and shaking with nerves. Looking back, though, I remember that I was spending the night at his apartment that night, and he’d invited me to share his bed instead of sleeping on the floor, so if I hadn’t been so nervous and ignorant I would’ve caught his massive flashing signals of interest.

Friends often tell me they love reading books with kick-ass heroines. While part of me is drawn to heroines who have infinitely more gumption than I ever will, I feel much more inspired by women who struggle with—and overcome—everyday insecurities, as I have.
Some authors can combine the two with fantastic results. HelenKay Dimon’s Leave Me Breathless is a great example. Callie, the heroine, is a former FBI agent who’s now a bodyguard for a judge. (A very hot judge. Apparently it’s not an oxymoron.)

But Callie’s also insecure about things that, to me, make her human. She’s initially jealous of Ben’s close relationship with another judge, someone who’s better educated and seems more “right” for Ben. I’m usually not fond of jealous characters, but Callie never goes over the top with her jealousy, and she quickly figures out her jealousy is misplaced.

Kick-ass heroines usually have a very worthy goal—keeping someone they love alive, for example. In general, though, I’m more taken by heroines whose central conflicts are more personal—learning to trust again after being betrayed, or growing in confidence despite being a naturally shy person. These qualities sometimes earn a character the dreaded insult “Mary Sue”, but I think it takes a special kind of courage—a kind that’s often undervalued—to  recognize what’s holding you back from achieving your dreams and decide to do something about it.

I’ve only read two of her contemporaries, but Lisa Kleypas springs immediately to mind. Blue-Eyed Devil features a woman who’s survived horrific abuse from her husband, and it affects the way she relates to the hero when she starts falling in love with him. She never uses her strength or intelligence to physically overpower her ex-husband. In fact, the hero saves her instead of the other way around. But she faces her issues and works through them because she refuses to be a victim.

To me, that’s the most kick-ass thing a person could ever do.

Do you prefer heroines who are physically kick-ass, or emotionally kick-ass. If you’re not a gutsy person, do like living vicariously through strong, brave heroines? Any books to recommend where the heroine is a good balance, or where she’s emotionally strong without being physically courageous?


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