Book Meme 2012: Literary Love/Book Crush

Topic: What female character(s) have I had crushes on?

Hm. Tricky topic. I can admit to, in junior high especially, feeling pangs of longing for certain girls in the books I was reading, but these didn’t really last beyond the pages of the book. It was less that I thought they would be a great girlfriend for me in real life and more that I thought they were paired well with the book’s hero, and I wanted the romantic couple to be together at story’s end. Still, this was often because there were real qualities I liked in the girl, and I suppose that when my young self imagined what my perfect future girlfriend would be, some of the qualities of these literary girls may have found their way in to that image.

So I reflect now and try to think of the ones who attracted me most, and who I was most loathe to leave upon reaching the book’s end. One in particular stands out from the reading of my youth. I was surprised, because I often forget about this character. She’s not Eilonwy, from The Chronicles of Prydain, who, though possessing the inestimably attractive qualities of being a cute redhead, passionately affectionate, and stubbornly loyal, is nonetheless a bit too flighty and prone to too drastic mood swings for me. Nor is she a lofty Lúthien, too beautiful and ethereal a creature to ever notice a common boy like me.

But she is a princess. In her wisdom, wit, conscientiousness, and utter, wild beauty of spirit, she is as dazzling a princess and as firm a friend as any boy in any realm, real or imaginative, could hope for. To my fifth grade self, she was something akin to The Perfect Girl.

She was Leslie Burke, from Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson.

[SPOILERS for Bridge to Terabithia follow.]

Leslie is an Adventure Companion, one of the best a boy can hope for, especially a lonely, introverted boy. It is she who sees Jesse for who he is and determines to befriend him. It is she who pulls him into Terabithia, an imaginary kingdom of monsters and people to protect from monsters, that is both an escape from the troubles of the world and a training ground for how to deal with them. Even though she takes the lead in most of their adventures, she doesn’t lord over Jesse or boss him around. She encourages his artistic talent and is delighted to combine his drawing skills with her storytelling ability.

This is a girl who can do just about anything as good as a boy, and often better, but never brags, never lords it over him, never humiliates. She has her head in the clouds, but her eyes squarely on the people around her; as immersed as she is in Terabithia, the world of her imagination, she never forgets them. She loves justice, and justice means helping people in need.

Oh, and she loves The Chronicles of Narnia.

I only read this special book once, but I can remember the sickening feeling in my gut when I realized, slowly, and along with Jesse that Leslie had really died in that accident. It was hard to accept. When Jesse went into denial, I was right there with him—she had to come back, right? She was just too wonderful to be gone for good! But not this time. Jesse and I had to accept this, and move on. And we are able to, because of the strength Leslie gave us.

Just imperfect enough to be obtainable and relatable, just perfect enough to be absolutely wonderful, Leslie Burke was a girl who would stick with a boy and have the best adventures with him, and would be his perfectly-matched companion as they both mature into adulthood.

So that’s my childhood crush. The tragedy, of course, is that Leslie never gets to live into adulthood. So, thinking of a literary girl I might have a crush on now, if she were real, I set quickly upon a very recent acquaintance: Gwyneth from The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip.

Gwyneth is a reader and a writer, and she instinctively comes to these activities with a passion and thoughtfulness that immediately kindled in me the recognition of a kindred spirit. She is sensitive, kind, creative and yet practical, elegant in spirit yet still very down-to-earth, and she likes humble and chivalrous men. She also is strong and mature enough not to let her aunt and friends’ silly class obsession be a real obstacle to her love for Judd. If I couldn’t be in love with her, I’d at least want her as a close friend.


  1. Urania says:

    Gwyneth! I was grinning like an idiot at the resolution of her and Judd’s relationship on the last page of the book.

    “He was most reluctant to give up his daughter, but could not deny her what she seemed, so peculiarly, to want.”

    “Don’t be silly. He’s relieved that anyone at all would want a woman with such a deranged imagination and abnormal sensibilities.”

    1. David says:

      Their interactions were the highlight of the book for me, too. So much fun, such good people.

  2. Briana says:

    You seem very relucant to admit to any type of crush! But I actually agree. I wouldn’t say I’ve personally really “liked” any book character, but I’ve gotten very excited over how romantic and perfect I think two characters are together.

    I read Bridge to Terabithia several years ago, as well, and I think only once or twice. I mostly remember being sad and horrified. And also confused by Jesse. I was accepted Leslie was dead until he started insisting she wasn’t, and I then got some hope from him that was just squashed soon after.

    1. David says:

      I think it’s a pretty reasonable reaction for a child who’s never encountered death personally before, especially the death of a peer and friend. Even as an adult, it took a little while for me to process the fact that my Grandpa Joe really wasn’t here anymore. For Jesse, the effect is just multipled far more. Leslie’s death is so sudden and unexpected, and he wasn’t there to see it (which, if he was, certainly would have been worse, but it would’ve left him with no doubt).

      I really want to reread it, because I’m going off of my memory from some twelve or thirteen years ago combined with the Disney movie version, which was pretty darn accurate by my reckoning but hasn’t been confirmed by me yet.

      If you haven’t yet, check out Jubilare’s post on the same topic. She does a little better than me explaining the difference between wanting a character for yourself (romantically) and wanting them for another character.

      1. Briana says:

        I think it is a very normal reaction. I took the statement that Leslie was dead at face value, however (though I think I was just as shocked and thrown off guard as Jesse was at how suddenly it happened.) So when Jesse started insiting it wasn’t true, I had to go back over everything and think about whether there was something I missed that would indicate it was all an elaborate hoax by the author. And the more Jesse insisted, the more I had some hope. This was most likely also inpsired by the fact that I certainly hadn’t read many kids’ books at the time that featured death. I wanted a happier ending and sort of expected one from the genre.

  3. jubilare says:

    Bridge to Terabithia really did a number on me when I read it. I should try to read it again, though, now that I am an adult. At the time, it depressed me, but I still remember that it struck me as a beautiful story. My memories of the characters are sadly faint.

    1. David says:

      It seems to have traumatized quite a few young readers. I do remember being very sad — it was probably the first time I encountered so serious a death in a kids’/young adult story (although the Redwall series had a few traumatic ones, like the beginning of Mattimeo). But overall it didn’t scare me away. I think instead I gained a new appreciation for how such a tragedy could be used constructively in a story. The book does end with beautiful hope and healing.

      1. jubilare says:

        I think it was more a matter of hitting too close to home than a shocking encounter with death in literature for me. Me being me, I probably began obsessing about the possibility of losing people in my life who where dear and important to me. Mattimeo, and most other fantasy-type books were just enough distanced from me that, while I still cared about the characters, and hurt for them, I wasn’t struck with the fear of loss. Does that make sense? I hope it does. It’s another argument for my reading the book again, too. I understand death better now, and the fear of losing my loved-ones, while real, is something I have learned to live with.

        1. David says:

          Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I think I encountered Mattimeo first, and that was bad enough, with the children finding the bodies of the slain adults out in the rain. But it being fantasy, and featuring anthropomorphic animals, gave it a little distance. There’s no such distance with Bridge to Terabithia beyond it being a book: a boy loses his best friend and must grieve and cope. I don’t think I left the book worrying for my own friends — there was still a sense that “it’s just a story.” But while I was in the book, it was a very hard hitter.

  4. emilykazakh says:

    Oh, Leslie Burke. When I was 10, I wanted to be her so badly. I still want to be her. She’s a fantastic character.
    Funny – when I saw the meme in your previous post, I briefly thought of writing about Jesse Aarons for this one. 🙂
    The Bell at Sealey Head – haven’t read that one. I’ll have to look it up.

    1. David says:

      Do check it out! I reviewed The Bell at Sealey Head a couple months ago and really loved it. The protagonists are all people you’d want among your best friends.

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