Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as thirty-nine authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!
About Brittany Cavallaro
Brittany Cavallaro is the author of A Study In Charlotte (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins), an IndieNext and Junior Library Guild pick, and the first in a trilogy. She is the author of the poetry collection GIRL-KING and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, cat, and collection of deerstalker caps.
I still don’t know the name of the woman who changed my life.
I was a headstrong kid in a small, Catholic town, dissatisfied with the drab world around me. How could I be anything else, when, by day, I sat in a school that taught me that girls should be quiet and obedient, ‘pure’ and pliable, that homosexuality was a sin, that provocative clothing provoked assault?
And the rest of our town seemed to agree, even if my parents didn’t. I spent my school years pushing my willful, messy self into a box that I only opened up at night. That’s when I got to wrap myself up in bed and read about dragons and girl-knights and magic. I’d burned through every Tamora Pierce and Marion Zimmer Bradley and Anne McCaffrey novel when my mother asked a coworker for book recommendations.
The next day, she brought in a stack of hardcovers as tall as I was. Here, she told my mom. Your daughter might like these.
That was an understatement. I loved the Valdemar series, Mercedes Lackey’s books about a world with a strong, intelligent female queen, where girls and boys were chosen by magical horses (yep) to be Heralds, their country’s lawbringers. Valdemar, a country whose most tragic hero was a gay man (I reread Vanyel’s story, The Last Herald-Mage series, until the pages began falling out) and whose fiercest mercenary captain was a woman named Kerowyn.
By my rough count, there are fifty-three Valdemar books (and counting), almost all of them in trilogies, but I still like By The Sword, Kerowyn’s story, the best. Kerowyn, too, was willful and messy, a girl who worries that she’s all wrong. She’d rather be outside, hunting and riding and practicing knife-work, than helping in the kitchen. Then, at her brother’s wedding feast, raiders attack, killing or disabling all the men and stealing away her brother’s bride. Kerowyn is the only one left to save her. She rides to her mysterious grandmother’s house for help, and with the help of her magic sword, rescues her sister-in-law.
Sound familiar? Maybe. But what struck me at thirteen was what happened after. Kerowyn arrives home, a hero — except no one else agrees. Women don’t do what Kerowyn did. People laugh at her. They’re afraid of her. Against all odds, she proves that she was brave and smart and strong, and now she’s being punished for it.
So she leaves. Goes to train with her grandmother and her swordswoman partner, where the only other student is a handsome prince. Sound familiar? Well, maybe — but the two have unsatisfying, fumbling sex until the prince, smitten, asks Kerowyn to marry him, and she decides actually, this isn’t for me either. Which is when she sets off to climb the ranks in a mercenary company.
Sure, maybe a magic horse shows up at one point. Maybe she does find true love (of a less princely variety). She remains a badass the whole way through. What By The Sword taught me was that, despite what the world wants from you or the way the world reacts, you can make your own decisions. You don’t have to say yes to the prince. You can have casual sex and still be a good person. You can save the day and still be vilified for it. You can only do the things that are right for you, that make sense for you, and damn the world’s opinion. You can be your messy, willful self no matter what anyone else thinks.
I left that small town at sixteen to go off on my own adventure — to a performing arts boarding school to study creative writing on scholarship. I brought By The Sword with me; I’ve brought it everywhere with me since, and I reread it every year. My magic horse might have never shown up, but part of me lives in Valdemar, even now.
Title A Study In Charlotte
Author Brittany Cavallaro
Pages 321 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Mystery, Re-Telling
Published March 1st, 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon.com ● Chapters ● The Book Depository
The first book in a witty, suspenseful new trilogy about a brilliant new crime-solving duo: the teen descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. This clever page-turner will appeal to fans of Maureen Johnson and Ally Carter.
Jamie Watson has always been intrigued by Charlotte Holmes; after all, their great-great-great-grandfathers are one of the most infamous pairs in history. But the Holmes family has always been odd, and Charlotte is no exception. She’s inherited Sherlock’s volatility and some of his vices and when Jamie and Charlotte end up at the same Connecticut boarding school, Charlotte makes it clear she’s not looking for friends.
But when a student they both have a history with dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Danger is mounting and nowhere is safe and the only people they can trust are each other.