Jim Hines put out a call for guest blog posts about representation in SF/F, about what it was like to grow up without seeing people like yourself in the books you read. I thought about writing something like that, and realized I couldn’t: people like me were all over the books I read growing up – this is partly because I’m on the privileged side in several axes (white, cis, able-bodied) and partly because some of the ways I’m not actually predispose people to become readers and authors (bookish and somewhat socially inept).

(I’m going to talk about all kinds of books here, not just SF/F; my brain doesn’t really think about things in partitions like that.)

Now granted, a lot of them them were either consigned to the margins or told the wrong story.

There were the ones that were sidekicks; Hermione Granger wasn’t born yet, but Irene in the Danny Dunn books or Sally in the Encyclopedia Brown ones filled pretty much the same role. I don’t think Edith Nesbit ever wrote a female main character except in The Railway Children. There are only bare hints that Jane in the Dark is Rising books is unusual in any way, fewer glimpses than even for her brother Barney.

Then there were all the stories like Jo March’s or Anne Shirley’s, about how the heroine learned to knuckle down like Postumia into the shape society had designed for her. There were more modern versions, too – my childhood libray was full of teen romances, like Rosamund du Jardin’s, about girls learning to fit in and get boys.

Still, then there were the rest of them. For every du Jardin book, there was one by Betty Cavanna about a girl who pursued her passion and just happened to end up with a boy who shared it with her. I didn’t really read the Betsy-Tacy books as a kid, but they were there and Anna Quindlen has pointed out that not once in any of the books does anyone ever question Betsy’s desire to have a career. (In fact in the last one, there’s an older married woman who is running her own publicity bureau; she offers Betsy a job twice.) I never read Angela Brazil or Elinor Brent-Dyer, with all their school girls planning out their careers; I don’t think my library had them. But what I did have, having inherited them from my mother and grandmother, was a whole slew of 1950s mysteries featuring Judy Bolton and Connie Blair (also by Cavanna, under a pseudonym), and older books about adventurous girls like Polly Brewster or Marjorie Dean or the Meadowbrook Girls.

I also had books by the likes of Anne McCaffrey and Madeleine L’Engle, where you can see the transitions in their works. Lessa of Pern, rescued by men and subject to dragon-induced rape, is no feminist icon – but Menolly, the first female Harper, definitely is. Meg Murray changed as she grew up but she found friends before that – though it was disappointing that she abandoned her own work as soon as her kids started coming, especially as her own mother didn’t. At least her daughter Polly didn’t seem inclined to do so (though she definitely did conform more as she grew up, sigh). Vicky Austin definitely has different expectations in her later books (1980s) than in her earlier ones (1960s). And I can think of a hundred more heroines in YA SF/F that have been written in more recent years.

So yeah, lots of girls like me in many ways. It’s true, though, that as far as being Jewish goes, there were the All-of-a-Kind Family and Margaret of Are You There, God? and that’s about it. If I weren’t cis, or had darker skin or had a disability, I might have found characters who felt like me inside, but I’d have been pretty much SOL finding one who shared my experiences. That’s getting a bit better, but slowly.