Smart, Sassy Heroines Pack A Literary Punch

Mary C. Curtis

Mary C. Curtis — a syndicated columnist at The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer — is known to her husband and son as "she who must be obeyed." hide caption

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"Three Books ..." is a series in which we invite writers to recommend three great reads on a single theme.

You may not like her, but you do what she wants. She's a tough chick, a woman with attitude and an instinct for survival. She's quick with a quip and totally in charge — of herself and those around her.

Curled up on the couch in a fuzzy robe and slippers — book in hand — I don't feel so indestructible. That's why I look for my tough chicks in literature.

'Out of Sight'

'Out Of Sight'
Out Of Sight, by Elmore Leonard, paperback, 368 pages

Elmore Leonard is the king of wise-guy dialogue. In the book Out of Sight, he created Karen Sisco, a smart woman every bit equal to the Detroit lowlifes she encounters as a federal marshal.

Guns? She's got them, from pump-action shotgun to a sexy Sig Sauer, held snug against her thigh. Even when pushed tight against escaping bank robber Jack Foley in the trunk of a car, Karen's dressed sharply and talking coolly. She earns the bad guy's respect — and yours.

'The Accidental Tourist'

'The Accidental Tourist'
The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler, paperback, 352 pages

Muriel Pritchett is the opposite of Karen Sisco. She's a mess — a divorced dog-trainer with frizzy hair, pointy, painted fingernails and a son who wheezes. At first, this whole package repels Macon Leary, The Accidental Tourist of Anne Tyler's novel. Macon is playing it safe after the death of his son and his marriage.

Then Muriel crashes into his life, trailing chaos. But there is good in her — heart and soul and yes, resilience. In a childhood picture, Macon sees it: "It was her fierceness — her spiky, pugnacious fierceness as she fought her way toward the camera with her chin set awry and her eyes bright slits of determination."

'Ida: A Sword Among Lions'

'Ida: A Sword Among Lions'
Ida: A Sword Among Lions, by Paula J. Giddings, hardcover, 816 pages

The demons Ida B. Wells faced down were real. She was nobody's chick, but there's no denying her resolve. Wells was a civil-rights crusader, journalist and suffragist in the late 19th- and early 20th century. Her true story is told in Ida: A Sword Among Lions by Paula J. Giddings.

This Mississippi-born child of former slaves always stayed one step ahead of angry racists. In 1883, when Wells was dragged off a first-class railroad car reserved for whites, she sued. She campaigned against lynching and wrote editorials in a Memphis newspaper.

In portraits, you see the intelligence and the fire in her eyes. Yet, in the hands of Giddings, we see a Wells that could be insecure, image-conscious and far from perfect — which only makes her fight for justice more impressive. Wells has never gotten the recognition she deserves — a price strong women often have to pay.

For a woman looking to make her mark, there's no list of rules, as these real and fictional characters reveal — whether they're cuffing a bad guy, soothing a lost spirit or leading a nation to fulfill its promise. Just show me an obstacle that can stand up to a well-placed kick from a high-heeled boot.

Three Books ... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Bridget Bentz.

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Out Of Sight

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Elmore Leonard

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