My forthcoming novel features the much-touted strong female lead, and in my travels so far I have had the pleasure of meeting equally strong women, both in person and in fiction. Two such great individuals and great writers (and not coincidentally New York Times bestselling authors!) are Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Alice Monroe, and their books, which I've just finished reading, feature women on journeys of self-discovery. They are both beautiful books and well worth spending time with.
Henry's book, Coming Up for Air, focuses on Ellie Calvin, a woman of Atlanta society, whose dominant mother passes away, leaving Ellie wondering who her mother, Lillian, was and if she knows who she is herself. Ellie knew Lillian as a stern mother who insisted on solid prospects for her daughter rather than romance. After her death, she discovers her mother's diary, written on New Year's Day every year. The woman in the diary was once a passionate participant in the Civil Rights movements and would have given everything up for an unnamed lover. This spurs Ellie on a quest where she learns of her mother's hidden past and determines to change her own future.
Henry writes beautifully and handles the deep emotions of her heroine with delicacy and subtlety. She uses images to convey emotions in ways that words never could, developing themes of the natural world that will stay with you. Birds, flowers, and an ecstatic Jubilee time, where the sea life of Mobile Bay come to the surface as a sort of offering to local residents, give the story fragility and depth.
Monroe, like Henry, is a wonderful writer who uses the natural world as a counterpoint to her human story. The Butterfly's Daughter follows Luz Avila, a Mexican-American born and raised in Milwaukee, as she discovers her past and her family's culture. The grandmother who raised Luz dies before she and Luz are able to make an important trip to Texas to visit family. Confused, Luz decides to make the journey herself in a bright orange VW Bug. Luz follows the same path that the monarch butterflies follow on their mysterious and arduous journey back to their homeland in Michoacán, Mexico, to the Valley of the Butterflies.
Monroe's story moves briskly through Luz's adventures as she makes her way to Mexico. The people she meets are reflective of herself and her family history, the loss of her mother, her isolation from her family except for her grandmother, her struggle to survive and get ahead, and her search for strength within herself. Like the fragile butterfly, Luz finds that she has an enormous amount of inner strength.
Both of these great women writers have produced wonderful books about finding your inner strength, knowing yourself and being active in determining your future. Please check them out!!