Are you between the ages of 20-30, female, and super into historical fiction? Well, do I have a ranking listicle for you. It’s this one, and it’s the best Dear America protagonists, ranked.
If you’ve never heard of the Dear America series, here’s a quick rundown: the books were fictionalized diaries from girls experiencing different historical time periods and events. History was made accessible in these books, and I was getting the story from someone, though fictional, who was my age.
These books aren’t perfect. There are not nearly enough stories about girls of color or other minorities. Some are too obviously revisionist, just by nature of portraying the girls reacting positively to historical events. But the books really made me wonder what my diary might look like if some cataclysmic event happens in my lifetime, and where my era on Earth would stand in human history.
As it turns out, Donald Trump is our president. And if my calculations are correct, my diary should be turned into a Dear America book in about 200 years (if the world lasts that long). I’m not proud of this place in history being my place in history, but I’ll be damned if I don’t write about how his actions affect the nation, intertwined with the daily and weekly occurrences in my life: the true Dear America way.
Without further ado, here’s my ranking of the patriotic darlings of the Dear America novels!
From Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess, Russia, 1914 by Carolyn Meyer
This Anastasia is nothing like the 1997 animated version, nor is she like the real life version. She’s just a very privileged, bored young lady in pre-World War I Russia. Kind of a snooze for her, but majorly exciting for every other class of humans in Russia. Where is the Royal Diaries account of a young teen girl socialist fighting the czar’s policies, Scholastic? But Russian palaces were probably incredibly ornate and overall #boss, and Anastasia lived in them, which is cool.
Let’s be honest: Hattie is a terrible name. And she’s a pretty big downer for her entire diary detailing her travels on the Oregon Trail. But Hattie is tough and actually survives the real life game of Oregon Trail, without ever having to carry back 200 pounds of buffalo meat, even though she shot 400, or dying of dysentery. Very cool, Hattie! Hattie also learns how to make Johnny Cakes at some point in her journey. And in the end, I just really like reading about old timey food.
Cool points: Prudence probably had a British accent, which automatically gives her an edge. But girl was a Tory! I know Dear America was trying to switch up the perspective on us, but I have always been so invested in the success of rebellions. I really do enjoy depictions of colonial life—and I always envisioned Prudence growing up and having an illicit love affair with an American soldier. Can we get some decades late fan fic sequels?
From A Picture of Freedom by Patricia M. McKissack
Clotee is a slave in the 1860s who secretly teaches herself to read and write, who stays behind on the plantation where she lives to help other slaves escape to freedom. That’s maybe the most badass sentence I’ve ever typed. She endures abuse and loss, and showed me what true strength really was. Clotee, you rock.
From As Far as I Can See by Kate McMullan
Meg has amazing style, but is pretty bratty. She’s a Southern belle sent to live on the prairie and can barely keep it together. She adapts, she learns, and she eventually loves the country. Cool of you to rise above, Meg, and also to support abolitionism in 1850s Kansas! This book dealt with moving (I moved when I was 8), women’s and states’ rights, and slavery: not an easy balance to pull off. Also, Meg had red hair, which I desperately wanted as a child. Bonus points.
From Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor, England, 1544 by Kathryn Lansky
The OG HBIC: Elizabeth I did not deal with slackers. People hated her. Her sister wanted to kill her. She had daddy issues. She felt like a tomboy and loved being outside. She struggled with the separation of church and state. She is the ultimate relatable #woke #teen. One of the coolest royals of all time. One of the coolest Dear America girls of all time. Game respects game.
From Where Have All the Flowers Gone? The Diary of Molly Mackenzie Flaherty by Ellen Emersen White
Molly seems like a hippie at first, but has a lot of insight about the Vietnam War and counterculture. She has a laid back aesthetic, but is very goal driven and opinionated. She also has great taste in music and a killer center part. The 60s were an intense time to be alive, and Molly keeps everything in perspective. She also loves animals more than people. 60s cool girl.
From My Brother’s Keeper Virginia’s Diary, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 1862 by Mary Pope Osborne
First of all: Virginia is one of the coolest girl names EVER. Secondly, Virginia lives in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania at the time of the Civil War. She sees Abraham Lincoln in the flesh and admits to not really being able to understand what he was saying… at the GETTYSBURG ADDRESS. Because she was a KID at the Gettysburg Address. I mean, I reread Virginia’s diaries more than any of the other ones because I think it blew my mind that kids were around during the Civil War. The time was sad, confusing, exciting, and so completely different from my own childhood that I was fascinated.
In the books, Ginny is unapologetic, caring, curious, and devoted to her family and friends. She likes to read, and write, and is a feminist. She would fight in the Civil War if she could. And she won’t be tied down by her gender, age, or general disadvantage as a human in 1860s America. Therefore, she is THE COOLEST of all Dear America, My America, or Royal Diaries gals. Case closed.
Which Dear America girls did I miss? And should we start a book club to reread them and remember what America is all about? Tweet me!