Winter is not my favorite season and in the middle of February it seems largely like a test of will power. New year’s has come and gone and with that some overly ambitious resolutions have bit the dust as well. Here in the heart of the coldest season I find I have to make myself do the hard things, go running, get out of bed and meditate, and now I’ve decided to give up caffeine and sugar. Maybe this is why I’ve been drawn to books with powerful young girls as their narrators. There was never a time in my life when I felt I knew so strongly, or I could do what I wanted so much as when I was a young girl. The determination, the earnest knowing of the right thing, and the ability to survive it all lived so fervently in my childish heart. Margot Livesey and Karen Russell have given us two spunky, motivated, and heart -warming characters in Gemma Hardy and Ava Bigtree. Livesey’s Gemma in The Flight of Gemma Hardy, is a take on Jane Eyre but very much her own spirit making her way through the harsh Scottish landscape. And Ava, in Swamplandia, tackles the wilds of Florida’s west coast swamplands. In the harsh face of a winter wind these two heroines make it seem that anything is possible if you follow your own heart and spirit.
Here is a selection from The Flight of Gemma Hardy
I had got up while the sky was still dark and washed, dressed, and stolen out of the hotel at top speed. Only when I reached the main street had I allowed myself one swift backwards glance and there, in the dark façade of the hotel, was a single window glowing directly above mine. I had yearned then to run back, and hurl myself into his arms. Instead I had taken a firm grip on my suitcase and made my way to the taxi rank outside the Kirkwall Hotel.
And from Swamplandia,
“Dear God,” I prayed awkwardly, unrolling the tongue of my bedroll, “let me not veer away from this darkness amen.”
“God” I’d whisper, feeling sometimes an emptiness and sometimes a spreading warmth. If a word is just a container for feeling, or little matchstick that you strike against yourself – a tiny, fiery summons – then probably I could have said anything, called any name, who knows? I didn’t have a normal kid’s ideas of the Lord as an elderly mainland guy on a throne. The God I prayed to I thought of as the mother, the memory of love. She was my own mother sometimes, baggy-eyed and smiling in the Chief’s heavy canvas work clothes in the morning, one of the Chief’s cigarettes hanging from her mouth.