Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Ashley Herring Blake

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-three 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 Ashley Herring Blake

Ashley Herring Blake is a reader, writer, and mom to two boisterous boys. She holds a Master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and cold weather. She is the author of the young adult novels Suffer Love, How To Make A Wish, and Girl Made Of Stars (HMH), as well as the middle grade novel Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter To The World (Little, Brown).

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramTumblrGoodreads

I don’t like talking.

No, really, I don’t like it at all.

I’m married and have small kids, so I’m not often alone, but when I am, it can take days, weeks, and probably months if I had them, for loneliness to set in. I feel foolish when I talk about my problems to friends, absolutely despise crying in front of people, and find it generally easier to brood silently and let it all coagulate into a giant tangles of knots in the center of my chest.

If I’m being honest, over the past several years, ever since my mom died, withdrawal feels much more natural to me.

Healthy, I know. I’m working on it. It’s hard to let people in. It’s hard, sometimes, to feel like you matter to those around you. It’s hard to put this into words, even as I write this post.

But one girl who helped me feel a little less alone with this baffling solitude in which I stuff myself sometimes is Marin from Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay.

Marin is grieving. Marin is without any family, quite literally. Marin finds it a lot easier to stay quiet, tuck herself away from those who know her, let relationships that mean a great deal to her disintegrate because she doesn’t know how to reconcile the girl she was with the girl she is now.

I’ve been there. Hell, I am there.

But when Marin’s best friend and former girlfriend, Mabel, bursts into her solitude, a funny thing happens.

She starts to talk. She starts to share what happened to her, how she feels about, not because she really wants to, but because she needs to. Silence is easier, but not always better. For Marin, she could either let her hungry heart swallow her whole or let it break.

Sometimes, the breaking is what saves us.

That’s a hard lesson. I don’t like to break. I don’t like to face down my own hurting heart because then, I’ll have to figure out exactly how to fix it.

Except it doesn’t mean that at all.

What is so beautiful about Marin’s story is that she didn’t find all the answers. She didn’t fix her heart. She didn’t stop hurting. She didn’t even get her damn girlfriend back.

But none of that is what she needed.

What she needed was her friend. What she needed was an ear to absorb her voice. What she needed what another human being to show her that she still mattered, that she was loved.

It hurt to admit that she was lost.

But only in admitting that can Marin –

No. Wait. Let me rephrase that.

But only in admitting that can I start edging my way back to being found.

Title How To Make A Wish
Author Ashley Herring Blake
Pages 336 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Romance
Published May 2nd, 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

Grace, tough and wise, has nearly given up on wishes, thanks to a childhood spent with her unpredictable, larger-than-life mother. But this summer, Grace meets Eva, a girl who believes in dreams, despite her own difficult circumstances.

One fateful evening, Eva climbs through a window in Grace’s room, setting off a chain of stolen nights on the beach. When Eva tells Grace that she likes girls, Grace’s world opens up and she begins to believe in happiness again.

How To Make A Wish is an emotionally charged portrait of a mother and daughter’s relationship and a heartfelt story about two girls who find each other at the exact right time.

Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Rachel Lynn Solomon

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-three 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 Rachel Lynn Solomon

Rachel Lynn Solomon is the author of the contemporary YA novel You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone (Simon Pulse, 1/2/18). A former journalist, Rachel currently works in education and loves tap dancing, red lipstick, and new wave music.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads

When Samantha Madison first dropped the v-word in Meg Cabot’s All-American Girl, I was shocked. Are we allowed to say that? I wondered. At 13, I was somewhat in denial about even having a body. Bodies were something we were supposed to be ashamed of – not something to discuss, let alone casually. Mine was an odd shape, and it did too many things without my permission. I blushed constantly. I was the worst player on my soccer team, which was the worst team in our division. I couldn’t find jeans that fit my combination of short legs and wide hips. My hair – was it supposed to do that, and how could I make it do something else?

Sam, who has plenty of her own insecurities, is brave for reasons entirely unrelated to the book’s main plot, which revolves around her saving the president from an assassination attempt. For me, her courage shines in this conversation between Sam, her sisters, and her older sister’s boyfriend:

“Do you even know what Georgia O’Keeffe is famous for painting, Lucy?” I asked, and when she said no, I told her:

Vaginas. That’s what Georgia O’Keeffe was famous for painting.

Or as Rebecca put it, as she came ambling past with her nose buried in the latest installment of the Star Trek saga, with which she is obsessed, “Actually, Ms. O’Keeffe’s organic abstract images are lush representations of flowers that are strongly sexual in symbolic content.”

I told Lucy to ask Jack if she didn’t believe me. But Lucy said she and Jack don’t discuss things like that with one another.

I was all, “You mean vaginas?” but Lucy said no, art.

I don’t get this. I mean, she is going out with an artist, and yet the two of them never discuss art? I can tell you, if I ever get a boyfriend, we are going to discuss everything with one another. Even art. Even vaginas.

The passage grew less shocking on my second and fifth and tenth rereads of the book, and as an adult, I’m so grateful for Meg Cabot’s fearless exploration of female sexuality in her books.

When I read the book as a teen, what stood out to me was Sam’s individuality. She draws semi-risqué celebrity portraits, dyes her entire wardrobe black, and listens to ska. Thanks to Sam, I discovered Save Ferris and Reel Big Fish. I applauded as Sam found her artistic voice and used her accidental fame for good when she stood up the president. Unrealistic? Sure. Empowering? Hell yes.

Fourteen years after I bought All-American Girl at Borders (RIP), I still love all those elements. What I love most, though, is that the book is deeply feminist. It was one of the few books I read as a teen that discussed female bodies and desire. That discussion is amplified in the sequel, Ready Or Not, which focuses on Sam’s decision to have sex with her boyfriend, the first son. It talks about consent and self-pleasure – the latter still a rarity in YA – and when Sam chooses to go all the way, there are zero negative consequences.

Now that I write YA, I often think how the narrative so many girls hear is that sex is fun for guys, but painful for girls. We learn that it’s normal for guys to think about it, to want it, but “slutty” for girls to do the same. Words for male anatomy are turned in to jokes; but “vagina” makes people cringe – the way it made me cringe as a young teen. God forbid we learn about all the great things our bodies can do! We need a massive shift in sex education in this country, and characters like Sam make me hopeful, continue to inspire me.

Maybe the politics in All-American Girl feel a bit like fantasy – the fictional president is involved in judging a national art contest – and some of the pop culture references are outdated. But in so many ways, this book was ahead of its time, and that’s why Meg Cabot and Samantha Madison remain my literary heroines: they are fearless and frank, and they put girls first.

Title You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone
Author Rachel Lynn Solomon
Pages 320 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
To Be Published January 2nd, 2018 by Simon Pulse
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

Eighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist — and to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon.

But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules.

When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s. The other tests positive.

These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving?

Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Lily Anderson

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-three 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 Lily Anderson

Lily Anderson is a school librarian and Melvil Dewey fangirl with an ever-growing collection of musical theater tattoos and Harry Potter ephemera. She lives in Northern California, far from her mortal enemy: the snow.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreads

A brash girl. A tactless girl. A girl who is fumbling and mean spirited. A girl too clumsy to play coquettish. A girl who is hiding herself from the world. A girl who wonders what it would be like to have her softness seen instead of being presumed to be hard as nails.

This probably sounds familiar if you’ve read either of my novels. Try as I might, I can’t quite pull the teen me out of my book characters. They always end up a little coarse, a little snappish.

I was an angry teenager, the kind of person who got called “jaded” a lot. If you’d asked what I was rebelling against, I would have unironically asked, “What do you got?” while I chainsmoked long white cigarettes.

And while I saw girls like me on film (Veronica Sawyer in Heathers, Janis in Mean Girls, Fairuza Balk and Rose McGowan in anything), the books I read were generally about nicer, better adjusted people. Until I overheard my best friends talking about a book with a blond girl with wings on the cover, Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block.

Dangerous Angels compiles Block’s first five books in the canon of her character Weetzie Bat, a girl in Los Angeles whose wishes are granted by a genie, setting into motion the events that will give her a giant blended family and artist’s colony. Dreamy, spunky Weetzie wasn’t who drew me into Block’s fairy tales. It was the foundling child and star of the second story, Witch Baby.

At the beginning of her eponymous story, Witch Baby doesn’t truly belong anywhere. She refers to Weetzie and her husband My Secret Agent Lover Man (yes really) and uncles Duck and Dirk as her “almost family.” Because she was found on the doorstep as an infant, she is forever comparing herself to the patron saint of cultural appropriation/Weetzie’s biological child, Cherokee Bat. She chastises herself for feeling too much, repeating “witch babies don’t cry,” even though she’s the only one of her kind.

Even as a child (Block never tells us exactly how old anyone is), Witch Baby is too angry, too sad, and takes up too much space. She roller skates instead of walking. She cuts out articles about how ugly and sad the world is and papers the walls of her room in them. She takes pictures instead of participating. She bangs her drum set, finding solace in the noise. She swears at people who get too close (well, sort of, stop trying to make “clutch” happen, FLB).

While adult me is less of a raging black sheep, I remember the visceral feeling of reading Witch Baby for the first time and seeing myself reflected back. Never before had I read a book that so succinctly captured the smothering anger of being young and not believing you could truly belong with your family. Witch Baby runs away a lot in her book — following her uncles and family friends and even tracking down her own listless biological mother — and finds that she doesn’t fit perfectly anywhere. She fits imperfectly everywhere and so does everyone else. And there’s a comfort in that.

Witch Baby recurs throughout most of the Dangerous Angels stories (except for the first and last which take place before her birth). She grows from a snarling child to a thorny teen. She lets herself make new friends, fall in love, be vulnerable. She finds her softness and, despite her younger self’s admonishments, she learns to cry. She lets people call her by her birth name.

They call her Lily.

Title Not Now, Not Ever
Author Lily Anderson
Pages 320 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
To Be Published November 21st, 2017 by Wednesday Books
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

Elliot Gabaroche is very clear on what she isn’t going to do this summer.

1. She isn’t going to stay home in Sacramento, where she’d have to sit through her stepmother’s sixth community theater production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
2. She isn’t going to mock trial camp at UCLA.
3. And she certainly isn’t going to the Air Force summer program on her mom’s base in Colorado Springs. As cool as it would be to live-action-role-play Ender’s Game, Ellie’s seen three generations of her family go through USAF boot camp up close, and she knows that it’s much less Luke/Yoda/”feel the force,” and much more one hundred push-ups on three days of no sleep. And that just isn’t appealing, no matter how many Xenomorphs from Alien she’d be able to defeat afterwards.

What she is going to do is pack up her determination, her favorite Octavia Butler novels, and her Jordans, and go to summer camp. Specifically, a cutthroat academic-decathlon-like competition for a full scholarship to Rayevich College, the only college with a Science Fiction Literature program. And she’s going to start over as Ever Lawrence, on her own terms, without the shadow of all her family’s expectations. Because why do what’s expected of you when you can fight other genius nerds to the death for a shot at the dream you’re sure your family will consider a complete waste of time?

This summer’s going to be great.

Her Story: Ladies In Literature With Aditi Khorana

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-three 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 Aditi Khorana

Aditi Khorana spent parts of her childhood in India, Denmark, and New England. She has a BA in international relations from Brown University and an MA in global media and communications from the Annenberg School for Communication. She has worked as a journalist at ABC News, CNN, and PBS, and most recently as a marketing executive consulting for various Hollywood studios including Fox, Paramount, and Sony. She is also the author of Mirror In The Sky. She lives in Los Angeles and spends her free time reading, hiking, and exploring LA’s eclectic and wonderful architecture.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads

I say this with a kind of conviction that only a book as brilliant as Anna Karenina might inspire: to read this book inevitably means to love Anna. She is arguably one of the best characters in all of fiction. And that is precisely why her suicide (a spoiler, but the book’s been around long enough that even those who haven’t read it might know of Anna’s eventual fate by now) is so tragic.

Some call Anna Karenina a love story. Others believe it is a cautionary tale. Leo Tolstoy saw it as a meditation on the intersection of free will and fate, a topic that so many of us indulge in and reflect on at various junctures of our lives.

And as we read the book, it is impossible not to wonder who Anna might have been had she lived in a different time or in a different place.

Anna is a formidable woman. She is intelligent, charismatic, worldly, beautiful, thoughtful and famously kind. She reads voraciously, writes children’s books, appreciates art. She is tastefully reserved, yet captures the attention and devotion of virtually everyone she encounters. She is committed to love – romantic love, but also friendship and is devoted to her brother Stiva and his wife Dolly, and to her son. She receives guests at her country home with warmth and despises fakery. When she makes what she considers a mistake, she is more disappointed in herself than you are. Don’t you already love her?

That’s the thing about Anna – she is relatable enough that she could be your friend – the kind of friend who you’d confide your deepest secrets too. And she would safeguard them, and give you the best advice, but she also sparkles in that way that only a very few do. She’s sort of so perfect that you want to hate her, but so kind, so vulnerable, so fair, that you can’t help but fall in love with her.

And yet she lives in a time, and in a society where laws are biased against women. There are prohibitions against divorce, a system of courtship that forces girls to marry young, and societal blacklisting of women who indulge in extramarital affairs.

In our world, Anna might have struggled with her passions, her desires, her choices and her fate. In the world of the book, Anna is hemmed in by a combination of her deepest wishes and the constraints of her society. It’s not love that eventually wrenches the best out of Anna, driving her to her demise. It’s the sexist mores of a patriarchal and misogynistic society.

The first time I read this book, when I was 22, I felt betrayed by Anna. I believed that with all her gifts, she would somehow maneuver her way into a better life, and when she didn’t, when she resigned herself to her ill-fated circumstances, I wept for her.

But by now, I’ve read the book at least half a dozen times (can you tell how much I love it?) and it makes me reflect on the idea that women, at any time, in any place, are hemmed in by societal mores that limit their freedoms. Brilliant women are punished for their brilliance. Mediocre men are rewarded for their mediocrity (see: the 2016 election for evidence of this). It was tragic then and it’s tragic now, and you’d think we’d be more cognizant of it as a society. When will we have a world where the playing field is level, where the Annas of the world are free to live the lives they’ve earned, the lives they deserve?

Meanwhile, Levin, a character who Tolstoy’s wife, Sonia often described as “Tolstoy, without the talent,” practically gets away with murder in the book (not literally, just in my opinion). It’s hard to ignore that Levin is also kind of like Anna, but without the brilliance, or the beauty, or the charm or wit or charisma or warmth or…anything else really. Levin is simply a meh guy who is surprised by his own good luck because he knows he’s meh. And let’s be clear here: his luck isn’t simply luck. It’s white, male privilege that he benefits from. Which is why his luck and his happiness infuriate me.

Levin is a bore. I once broke up with a guy because he thought Levin was the best character in Anna Karenina. What an idiot, right?

I could talk about this book forever. And I could talk about Anna forever, because she is beloved to me, and to so many readers across the world.

And while Anna might have been able to live out her deserved fate in this day and age, while she might have been able to divorce her husband, keep her child, marry Vronsky, be lauded and admired by her girlfriends for making a tough choice, and perhaps, even be happy, she would have still been paid 79 cents on the dollar (or ruble), been catcalled as she walked down the street, been maligned on social media by jealous idiots and laughed at if she asked for decent maternity care. She would have had to endure the election of 2016, an insult to all women, and she might have marched with us the day of the women’s march. Then again, who knows, maybe she would have thrown herself into the tracks in frustration over how cruel we are to women, even now. I hope not. I’d want her to persevere, just as I want all women to persevere, to succeed, to taste the happiness and success that could easily be theirs, if perhaps they find a way to just keep going.

RIP Anna Karenina. I hope one day we can create a world that is worthy of a character as amazing, as wonderful, as beautiful as you.

Title The Library Of Fates
Author Aditi Khorana
Pages 354 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Fantasy
To Be Published July 18th, 2017 by Razorbill
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

A romantic coming-of-age fantasy tale steeped in Indian folklore, perfect for fans of The Star-Touched Queen and The Wrath and The Dawn.

No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything — family, her childhood love, and her freedom — to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The palace is soon under siege, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on one another. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life — and another love — await?

Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Whitney Gardner

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-three 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 Whitney Gardner

Whitney is an author, illustrator, and coffee addict. Originally from New York, she studied design and worked as an art teacher and school librarian before moving to Portland, Oregon, where she lives by a bridge with her husband and two pugs. In the rare moment Whitney isn’t writing or drawing, she’s likely to be reading comics, knitting, and tending her garden or apiary. You’re Welcome, Universe is her debut novel.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramGoodreads

I have a very vivid memory of my favorite sixth-grade outfit. I’d wear a long, color blocked t-shirt dress over a pair of firework-printed leggings. My shoelaces were self-tying curls of neon elastic. Everything was hand-me-downs, and everything was mismatched. Not that I realized this. I sewed a hundred random buttons to a bowler hat and wore a necklace with a plastic fish suspended in water. I named him Salvatore. I introduced him to anyone who would ask.

I was…a weird kid. And if I had access to a time machine I would go back to one very lonely moment, the one where I hid crying under a bush at recess, and read aloud the Luna Lovegood parts of Harry Potter to myself.

“Hey kid, quit crying. Come here.”

“I’m not crying I’m singing to the worms.”

“Okay, well take a break for a second. I have something for you.”

“Slide it under here.”

“No, I’m not sliding anything to you. Come out. I can see you under there.”

“What? Whoa…You’re…”

“You. But bigger.”

I wish Luna came into my life a lot sooner than she did. Because even though Luna was strange like me, bullied like me, had seen some darkness like I had, she never seemed to let it stop her. She didn’t wallow. She fully embraced herself. I could have used someone like Luna in my corner.

“I want you to read these.”

“Um, yeah. Sure.”

“I’m serious. You should actually read them.”

“Too many pages.”

“You won’t notice.”

“I’m no good at it. Everyone says it.”

“You’ll get better.”

“Yeah when I’m a million years old like you.”

“I promise. You will love them. There’s a girl in them, and she’s just like you.”

“No one is like me.”

“She is. And she’s magic.”

I finally gave in and read Harry Potter when I was twenty years old. The minute Ginny Weasley introduces Loony Lovegood I recognized her immediately. Because she was me. Right down to the upside down newspaper. I felt proud of who I was when I was a kid for the first time ever.

“Can I read them to Salvatore? He’s my fish.”

“Yes. Of course.”

“So…When I’m old…”

“I’m not that old yet. Chill with the old.”

“Are we still…weird?”

“Weirder.”

“Ugh. Great.”

“Yep. It is.”

Title You’re Welcome, Universe
Author Whitney Gardner
Pages 297 Pages
Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Published March 7th, 2017 by Knopf
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural.

Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers set Julia up with a one-way ticket to a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and not even Banksy himself could convince her to give that up.

Out in the ’burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off — and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war.

Told with wit and grit by debut author Whitney Gardner, who also provides gorgeous interior illustrations of Julia’s graffiti tags, You’re Welcome, Universe introduces audiences to a one-of-a-kind protagonist who is unabashedly herself no matter what life throws in her way.