Reached, Crewel: Two Fearless Heroines I’m Thankful For, A VH1 Celebrity Thanksgiving

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Reached by Ally Condie and Crewel by Gennifer Albin

OK, sure, I’m thankful for my (growing) family, food on the table and all that this Thanksgiving, but it ain’t my job to talk about those things here at VH1 Celebrity, so I get to skip to the lighter stuff and tell you that this year, I’m thankful for the heroines. Specifically, the heroines of a number of young adult novels I’ve been digging into this fall, and who, despite being teens in alternate universes, still manage to inspire this crusty old lady with their ability to rise above dreary circumstances with nothing but their wits. There are a whole lot of them, but I’ll narrow it down to the protagonists of two books that came out in the past month: Cassia, the heroine of Reached, the conclusion to Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy; and Adelice, the girl at the center of Gennifer Albin’s Crewel.

After saying goodbye to Twilight, and looking at a long wait for the next Hunger Games movie, I think we’re pretty lucky that there’s been a steady flow of other fantastic girls like Bella and Katniss jumping out of their pages. Not that I’d lump them all together, though. Cassia is unlike any others you’ve met: She began Matched perfectly content with the dystopian Society that dictated everything in her life from what she ate every meal to whom she’d married. And at first, it wasn’t any sort of mortal danger that woke her up from that illusion, it was a poem. As we’ve followe Cassia’s journey out of society, into the wilderness to follow her exiled love Ky (in book 2, Crossed) and back to work under cover for the rebellion in Reached, we see her grow brave and confident. We also see her become an artist in her own right, writing poems in a world finally realizing that 100 carefully selected classics aren’t enough. And then, strangely enough for such an entertaining book, it is actually Cassia’s skills as a statistician (orĀ “Sorter” as they’re called) that proves to be what turns her into a hero for thousands. A girl who saves the day with math and literature? Yes, I think we could use a few more of those.

And as I closed the cover on that trilogy this weekend (until we hear more about the movie, which is supposed to be directed by David Slade), I was very grateful to have the beginning of another series to turn to almost immediately. Crewel is another dystopian novel, and again its protagonist finds herself boosted from ordinary existence into one with great responsibility, whether she chooses to work within the system or to break it down. Again, though, this is not a world you’ve encountered in any other book. In Arras, women called Spinsters control everything in the world on their looms — food supplies, life and death, travel, weather, you name it. But though they control the fabric of the universe in their hands, their lives are not their own, which is why Adelice’s parents tried to get her to hide her natural weaving talent. You know what’s coming next (or there’d be no book!) — she’s discovered and whisked away to a life of caged luxury. Not that this spunky girl will let things stay that way. With every official she talks back to, every punishment she survives despite her sharp tongue, you too feel yourself standing up a little taller. We’re not gonna let the man treat us like that!

To tell you the awful truth, there was one thing that made me a little bummed when I found out I’ll be having a boy in February: I was really hoping to get to share these heroines with a daughter someday. But now that I think about it, these ladies are such badasses, I think even my son will one day enjoy reading about them as much as he’ll read about male wizards and pirates and pilots and whatever else it is boys like. In the meantime, I’m thankful I can pretend part of me is still the teenage girl dreaming about taking control of my own future, and I hope some actual teenage girls are doing that in real life too.

Stay tuned all week long as other members of the VH1 Celebrity team share the things in pop culture they’re thankful for!

[Photos: Penguin, Farrar Straus Giroux]