I’m not actually as cheesy as the headline suggests; this list is completely composed of fictional characters, naturally. Furthermore, I only like people this much in books and movies. A good story to me is only as good as two things: the author’s style and the characterization of people. In no particular order, I give to you the voices in my head.
10. Jane Eyre
This one is incredibly important to me. I grew up oddly infatuated with Victorian and Romantic literature – I was quite a lady in my time – and the Brontë sisters were a few writers I looked up to. I was in middle school, at the face of any and every adverse moment thinking to myself, “What would Jane do?” She’s been beaten, she’s been battered, she’s been outcasted her whole life. She was bullied her entire childhood and adolescence, yet she came out a woman as strong as ever. The most compelling quality about her is that she didn’t let any of her experiences make her bitter. Jane always kept her head high, remained the bigger person, and demanded the respect she knew she deserved. Essentially, she had the backstory to set her up to be a great villain: an orphan who has not only been neglected, but painted in the wrong colors her whole life, then heartbroken even further, but she remained true to herself. Jane did not internalize the things that happened to her. At a very dark time in my life, I looked to her as a model. She’s prim, she’s proper, sis has gone through it. She gets betrayed by the love of her life and has the courage to walk away from him. Amazing. Girls, learn a thing or two from my Jane.
9. Dicey Tillerman
Now keep the same sentiment, but bring it back over to the states in a less classy and more crass setting. The Tillerman Cycle is a highly underrated series and actually my favorite, with “Homecoming” being the first installment and the first time I fell in love with Dicey. She’s not cute, she’s not girly, she’s not sensitive at all, and she doesn’t have to be. She’s got issues and she still perseveres. At the tender age of 13, her mentally ill mother leaves her and her three younger siblings of various ages alone in a parking lot in Connecticut, never to return. Dicey knew it was up to her to take care of her brothers and sister from then on. She takes on the role of the mother figure and does what she has to. “Homecoming” is all about the journey this motley crew of personalities take, on foot, down south to a grandmother they have only heard about in Maryland. Spoiler, they make it, but reading about the process is all the fun. Another spoiler, the “homecoming” isn’t as sweet as one would hope. Enjoy the following six books!
8. Jeannette Walls
Speaking of sh*tty family situations, Jeannette Walls is among the most inspiring people to me of all. Technically, this one is cheating because “The Glass Castle” is actually a memoir and her story is very much real, but we can enjoy it just the same. Being the figure I can relate to the most out of this list, Jeannette is a testament for anyone who feels they had it hard growing up and need to work even harder than most because of that in order to reap the same success in life. After a rather unorthodox upbringing and a whirlwind of experiences as she moved from place to place and discovering herself, Walls reached that success as a writer, and then some. There isn’t an aspect about this living legend that I don’t look up to. From being so poor her family had to move around constantly, to graduating from Columbia and Barnard and living on Park Avenue, Walls is a trailblazer with a hell of a memoir.
7. Santiago/The Boy
If that got a little too real for you, let’s ring it in to a more abstract piece, with just the same amount of life lessons of course. “The Alchemist” is one of those books I read at least every year or so to realign myself. Santiago, though not much of a personality in the book, is meant to be a reflection for the reader. That’s how I read it anyway, and I trust Paulo Coelho wholeheartedly with matters of self-realization and enlightenment. The thing I like about Santiago is he follows his intuition. He has a dream, a reoccuring dream and changes his whole life in order to get to the bottom of this dream. He is fearless. He has no family, besides his sheep (oh yea, he’s a shepherd, real relatable) which he has to sell in order to fulfill his dream of traveling from Spain to the pyramids of Egypt. He doesn’t know why or how he must do this, but something in his gut tells him to do everything he does in the novel, and it works out in the end. (Law of attraction, anyone?) There is something to be said about this act of courage to abandon a comfortable, but complacent life, in order to see what is out there.
6. Atticus Finch
Now, I wouldn’t be an English major without mentioning my boy Atticus. Daddy of the year award goes to this guy. I don’t think I need to go too in-depth with this one. Amongst being a badass lawyer, morally-bound, nice, respectable and not dripping in toxic masculinity from what I can remember, he actually treats his kids as people. He talks to them as equals instead of sugar-coating the truth and I just really appreciate that.
5. Holden Caulfield
Alright, now here is where you’ll question whether I really am an English major. I am fully aware of the problematic nature of this character that everyone loves to hate, and even more so of the problematic nature of the people who do idealize him (red flag when a straight guy tells you “The Catcher in the Rye” is his favorite book), but I… like him. I love this book honestly. Holden is deeply flawed and that’s ok. I love people with flaws, I don’t trust them otherwise. He’s not actually a bad person or anything and he’s actually very much aware of himself. I think I just like him because I relate to the inner workings of his mind so much. Sorry.
4. Captain Marvel
This is mainly a nod to the MCU in light of recent cultural events. While I adore many of the superheroes, (Scarlet Witch, I see you) I gotta shout out Captain Marvel. She transgresses the attempts of those she thought she could trust around her to suppress the very parts of her that make her who she is. She is constantly told she’s just a girl, she’s too emotional, therefore too “weak,” but Captain Marvel embraces those qualities of herself and throws out that entire narrative created as a byproduct of hegemonic masculinity. Mic drop.
3. Francie Nolan
Let’s refocus on a quaint little story told about a quaint little girl in quaint little Brooklyn. “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is a coming of age story I still think about today, years later, in my 20’s. She’s a dreamer, she’s resilient, she’s yet another strong girl that doesn’t let her circumstances dictate the life she wants for herself. Francie goes through things we can all relate to, grows from them, and is better for it. Reading this story is like hugging Francie and having her hug you back. What I like most about her is that she finds the silver lining in everything, she carries around a pocketful of sunshine. What you can learn from her is that you can grow flowers from where dirt used to be.
2. Landon Carter
Please ignore this one. I just had to pay homage to my brief Nicholas Sparks phase, I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic after all. However, as corny as his books are, “A Walk to Remember” is one of the best. A close tie to John from “Dear John,” Landon shows the most character development through the novel. Going from the classic reckless bad boy to a complete sweetheart who turns his life around after falling in love with Jamie. Ah, my heart. We stan men who acknowledge their feelings, hold themselves accountable and actually change for the better.
1. Serena Shaw/Pemberton
Let me introduce you to an ICON. “Serena,” a book as well as a major motion picture, dazzlingly starring Jennifer Lawrence, is a story of a woman doing what she can to climb to the top in the middle of great depression America, no matter who she has to step on. It doesn’t start off looking like she is the protagonist, or that it is a female lead at all, but she steals the screen from Bradley Cooper as the story unfolds. Although “Serena” may seem like a tragedy, you have to isolate Serena’s dark, mysterious and cunning character and look at it for what it is: her story. My favorite part is when she literally sons the men in this story, including her own husband, and comes out kicking. She’s truly empowering. If I watch this movie again there’s no knowing what edgy move I’ll make next.