6 Novels with Strong Female Protagonists by Patricia Engel


[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to welcome author Patricia Engel to the site today. She’s sharing five badass protagonists you should add to your TBR. Take it away, Patricia!]

My new novel, Infinite Country, opens with Talia, a fifteen year old girl, escaping from a juvenile detention facility in the highlands of Colombia to which she was sentenced after committing a crime that many might find justified. The reader learns that Talia initiated the plan to trap one of the nuns who keep watch over the girls in the facility so that together, a dozen girls are able to flee into the night and disappear into the Andes mountains.

I love writing about courageous and creative young women who aren’t afraid to define their own lives despite the realities or identities that might already be carved out for them by family or by social or cultural expectations. Here are a few of my favorite novels that feature bold and brave young women who unapologetically take their destinies into their own hands.

The Lover by Marguerite Duras

The story comes from the author’s own childhood growing up in then-occupied French Indochina, as a lower class white French girl who engages in an affair with a wealthy Chinese man that financially benefits her struggling family. It explores the racial and economic complexities of colonialism, and the ways the teenage narrator has already fully possessed the woman she will grow to be despite her oppressive mother and opportunistic bully brothers.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I was never a fan of Jane Eyre. I much prefer Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’ brilliant answer to Bronte’s madwoman in the attic. In Rhys’ rendering, we see the young Bertha, whose real name is Antoinette, in her home in Jamaica until she’s married off to the rich Englishman who will take her to England and lock her away so she can only dream of freedom. Antoinette’s inner world, the only place where she can remain free, is fascinating, until she takes action in a spectacular way.

The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero

This gorgeously written novel features Ana Falcón, who lives in New York after leaving her homeland in Peru, and who will do just about anything to make it in this new and often unwelcoming country and ensure a better life for her family. Ana is tested beyond measure, but she’s so sharp and daring, that all the risks she’s willing to put herself through keep the reader enthralled till the very end.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

This is the story about not one badass girl, but of two: Chula and Petrona, who are inextricably linked when Petrona comes to work in Chula’s home amid the chaotic backdrop of Colombia’s civil armed conflict. Rojas Contreras beautifully depicts how these two characters who come from seemingly different worlds, bond in unexpected and life-altering ways. 

A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar

Jarra’s narrator, Nidali, is my favorite kind of protagonist; vulnerable, honest to a fault, with opinions all her own, and who is bursting with so much life that you know it’s only a matter of time before she will outgrow the restrictive life that contains her. Born in the US and raised in Kuwait, the brilliant and wise beyond her years Nidali navigates her imposed displacement by taking control of her future the way no one else can. 

The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

The love story of Amabelle and Sebastien anchors this extraordinary and devastating love story through the unfathomable obstacles that separate them as a result of the Rafael Trujillo’s militarized massacres of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. The lovers are separated when they try to escape the threat of genocide together to return to their homeland of Haiti. Amabelle’s story of hope and resilience despite so much uncertainty is unparalleled. 

About the Author:

Patricia Engel‘s most recent novel, The Veins of the Ocean, won the 2017 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year. She is also the author of It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, which won the International Latino Book Award, and of Vida, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award and the Young Lions Fiction Award; winner of a Florida Book Award, International Latino Book Award, and Independent Publisher Book Award, and named a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. For Vida, Patricia was the first woman to be awarded Colombia’s national prize in literature, the 2017 Premio Biblioteca de Narrativa Colombiana. Her books have been translated into many languages. She has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others, and is the recipient of an O. Henry Award. Her short fiction has been anthologized in The O. Henry Prize Stories, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, and elsewhere.

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel, out now!

I often wonder if we are living the wrong life in the wrong country.

Talia is being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia after committing an impulsive act of violence that may or may not have been warranted. She urgently needs to get out and get back home to Bogotá, where her father and a plane ticket to the United States are waiting for her. If she misses her flight, she might also miss her chance to finally be reunited with her family in the north.

How this family came to occupy two different countries, two different worlds, comes into focus like twists of a kaleidoscope. We see Talia’s parents, Mauro and Elena, fall in love in a market stall as teenagers against a backdrop of civil war and social unrest. We see them leave Bogotá with their firstborn, Karina, in pursuit of safety and opportunity in the United States on a temporary visa, and we see the births of two more children, Nando and Talia, on American soil. We witness the decisions and indecisions that lead to Mauro’s deportation and the family’s splintering—the costs they’ve all been living with ever since.

Award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Patricia Engel, herself a dual citizen and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, gives voice to all five family members as they navigate the particulars of their respective circumstances. And all the while, the metronome ticks: Will Talia make it to Bogotá in time? And if she does, can she bring herself to trade the solid facts of her father and life in Colombia for the distant vision of her mother and siblings in America?

Rich with Bogotá urban life, steeped in Andean myth, and tense with the daily reality of the undocumented in America, Infinite Country is the story of two countries and one mixed-status family—for whom every triumph is stitched with regret, and every dream pursued bears the weight of a dream deferred.

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