The Female Heroes We Need || How to Be a Heroine Review

Initial Thoughts:

Definitely worth the read, though things did slog on when the chapters were about books I wasn’t familiar with. That said, I might have to look up a few books she did mention…some did sound pretty interesting.


How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much

by Samantha Ellis
Vintage Books, February 2015
Nonfiction, autobiography
Rated: 3.5 / 5 cookies

While debating literature’s greatest heroines with her best friend, thirtysomething playwright Samantha Ellis has a revelation—her whole life, she’s been trying to be Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights when she should have been trying to be Jane Eyre.

With this discovery, she embarks on a retrospective look at the literary ladies—the characters and the writers—whom she has loved since childhood. From early obsessions with the March sisters to her later idolization of Sylvia Plath, Ellis evaluates how her heroines stack up today. And, just as she excavates the stories of her favorite characters, Ellis also shares a frank, often humorous account of her own life growing up in a tight-knit Iraqi Jewish community in London. Here a life-long reader explores how heroines shape all our lives.

You know, I’ve learned quite a bit about my brand of heroine after reading about someone’s own experiences with…hah, reading. One is definitely that each fictional character–female or not–has a different impact on someone else’s life. Samantha Ellis takes her analysis of characters to a deeper front, and the text itself is a self-reflection of a period of her own life, but occasionally her writing did resonate with me.

That’s not to say that I completely agreed with her choices or her analysis of said choices; honestly, some of the characters she resonated with were either characters I’d never heard of or characters I didn’t care for. No amount of praise from other readers could induce me to read Wuthering Heights, so thank you, Cathy, but next. (That said, the song by Kate Bush is an absolute classic.)

That’s not to say that I completely disagreed, either. I thought she was spot on about Scheherazade being the perfect example of a heroine:

Why didn’t I come to Scheherazade sooner? She’s perfect: Middle Eastern, a storyteller, a feminist. And she’s not born to be a heroine but she definitely becomes one.

I also loved her analysis of Lizzy Bennet, and Ellis did make me come around to Jane Eyre–enough that I didn’t fully resent having to read Jane Eyre several times for school. I even liked seeing Scarlett O’Hara in a different light. In fact, on occasion, Ellis made me curious about certain books, including the apparently risque Riders series.

Mostly, though, what I got out of the whole book was that while I read it, it made me think about the female characters I looked up to when I was a kid, to the female characters I admire in the present time. It made me retrospectively ponder the importance of having these female characters as role models, or inspirations, or even as avatars to events that I could only live vicariously through their eyes.

How to be a Heroine gives much to ponder about. In fact, I might do something Instagrammy-fun around that sometime next March, when Women’s History Month comes rolling around again.

3.5 out of 5 cookies! Definitely thought-provoking and retrospective, and I enjoyed the premise, even if I didn’t totally agree with everything.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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