51g5E9YAGrL._SL160_Dreamwood by Heather Mackey is set roughly 100 years ago in a slightly alternate version of the Pacific Northwest. Lucy, 12, has just run away from her boarding school to join her father in his explorations. He is a scientist specializing in clearing ghosts – however while ghosts are acknowledged by most people as real, they have begun to be dispersed by the use of electricity, and his profession is not exactly admirable anymore.

When Lucy arrives in the town of Saarthe, she discovers her father has disappeared into the wild forest of a place called the Devil’s Thumb. Helped along by a mysterious little man in a cottage, and accompanied by a boy named Pete, Lucy sets off in search of her father, as well as a cure for the disease that has been destroying the trees and everyone’s livelihoods.

With the help of a native girl, Lucy and Pete make it to the forest and begin searching for the miraculous dreamwood, a type of tree they believe will cure the rot, and hopefully lead them to her father as well, since he was also searching for it. But the forest is extremely dangerous, and they have to abide by strict rules. A sort of intermediary adversary emerges when Lucy is betrayed by someone she thought was a friend, who even has minions, but he manages to destroy himself without her help, and the real adversary is the last dreamwood tree itself, which has poisoned the forests in vengeance for the settlers’ logging activities.

Lucy ends up having to face the tree alone (although, being a tree, this final confrontation with the adversary is wordless), which has been feeding off her father in order to make its own magic. She makes a painful offering, and in turn manages to save her father and the forest.

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“You are who you are because you forgot who you were.”

The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby doesn’t feature a titular girl per se (although she is a “Wall” – you have to read the book to discover what that is), but the protagonist’s name is simply “Gurl” which is interesting in itself.

Gurl lives in an orphanage, abandoned as a baby with no name – so the unpleasant matron simply calls her what she is (no explanation of the spelling). She lives in a world much like our own, but where most people can fly to some degree or another, although Gurl cannot. One night she escapes to explore the city, and discovers two things – a cat (rare in this world) who follows her home, and the startling fact that she is capable of becoming invisible.

Gurl names the cat Noodle (strangely the second animal companion named Noodle I have encountered recently) and hides her away, but the matron captures her and uses her as leverage to make Gurl steal things for her. In the meantime, she begins making friends with Bug, a fellow orphan who discovers her secret. Together they rescue Noodle and escape, helped along the way by a crazy Professor and a mysteriously  helpful stranger. They find out that Gurl is being sought by a gangster named Sweetcheeks (the real adversary, more frightening than the matron) who wants an invisible girl for his crime business. His minions are the rat-like man-creatures who live in the sewers (although they turn out to have an unexpected soft spot).

There appears to be a companion betrayal, but it is complicated and he remains on her side in the end. There is a theme of the orphans forgetting who they are. There is even a “return home” in the middle, although Gurl doesn’t realize it. She does defeat Sweetcheeks, but not really on her own in a final standoff. However, in doing so she discovers her true identity, and her place in the world.

51CTRVEEHPL._SL160_While I’ve mentioned Princess Nevermore by Dian Curtis Regan before on this blog, I realized I never actually profiled it independently, so I’m correcting that now. This book is probably the best example of a “reverse” Girls Underground plot – one where the girl starts off in the magical otherworld and enters the real world – and in this case, the otherworld is specifically underground, so that’s perfect! (Check out the reverse tag for more examples.)

Quinn is Princess of the underground kingdom of Mandria, where all magical creatures live since fleeing our world long ago. Her parents exist but are never seen in the story and seem rather distant. Nearing her 16th birthday, Quinn must soon choose a husband and begin her royal duties – but she would much rather journey to the world above and have adventures. A magical mistake sends her to that world, but traps her there too.

Quinn surfaces near an amusement park called WonderLand (as I’ve noted before, Alice in Wonderland references are very common in GU books), and immediately meets an old man who mysteriously knows about Mandria, and his two grandchildren Sarah and Adam. The teens show her the ways of their world and become her companions to some degree. The adversary in this one is a bit anemic, a jock named Zack who lusts after Quinn and then covets her power once he sees her do some subtle magic.

Eventually Quinn must choose between the wonders of the world above – and her blossoming love for Adam – and the familiar joys of her home underground. She has a final showdown with Zack as he tries to steal her magic, before finally discovering the way back home.

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“‘I don’t want to be in a new world,’ Lillian said. ‘Maybe so,’ the crow said, ‘but you don’t want to go back to the old one just yet, because over there you’re a dead little snakebit girl.’”

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest – written by one of my favorite authors, Charles DeLint, and illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Charles Vess – is an expansion of their previous picture book, A Circle of Cats. It is perhaps just an Honorable Mention as far as GU plot goes (no overall adversary), but it’s a lovely book worth mentioning.

Lillian is an orphan who lives with her aunt on a farm far from anything else. One day while in the forest, she is bitten by a snake. As she lays dying, the wild cats of the woods gather around her and use their magic to transform her into a kitten – something that won’t be dying. With a fox as her companion and helped by other animals along the way, she visits the possum witch to regain her human shape. The witch undoes the events of the day, but with a warning that other things may also be changed – and when Lillian returns, she finds that her aunt has been snakebitten instead, and has died.

After weeks adjusting to her hard new life, Lillian decides to try to fix what she has inadvertently done, although by this time she believes it to all have been a dream. She seeks the counsel of a native elder, who sends her to the frightening bear people, where she serves the elder in hopes she will help her. (There is a man there who is somewhat of an adversary, but she never really confronts him and he’s not the final barrier to her goal.) But when she finds a potion that enables her to talk to animals, they (including her previous fox companion) help her figure out the truth, and she escapes the bear people to return to the possum witch again.

Once more a kitten, and her aunt alive, Lillian must find one more ally to help her return to her human life with everything intact.

51bsImxUyGL._SL160_“She had expected magic to be very clean and powerful, but instead it was messy and uncomfortable and full of decisions.”

Another “Titular Girl“! Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee is essentially a re-telling of the Snow Queen fairytale (as was Breadcrumbs, previously highlighted here), but manages to be its own story as well. Ophelia, 11, has just lost her mother to illness, and is taken with her older sister and her distant father to a faraway city where it always snows, so her father can work on a special museum exhibition of swords (his specialty). One day while wandering the museum halls, Ophelia finds a boy locked in a secret room, who wants her to help save the world. He tells her he was sent there by wizards 300 years ago to help defeat the Snow Queen, who will soon (in three days’ time) cover the world in ice and snow.

She must perform a series of dangerous tasks – all set in the museum, which means it’s one of those GU stories entirely taking place within a single building – to find a magical sword, and the person who will wield it, and free the boy. The frosty museum curator is, of course, the adversary, the Snow Queen herself (although it takes Ophelia a ridiculously long time to realize this), and she has minions including horribly monsters called “misery birds.” Once Ophelia frees the boy, he becomes her companion, but gets re-captured pretty quickly. She also must rescue her sister, who falls prey to the wiles of the curator.

Once Ophelia finally finds the sword, at the last minute, she realizes the identity of the one she’s been looking for (no surprises here, especially since it’s a GU story), and faces off against the Snow Queen in a sword fight, defeating her before the world freezes forever.

labyrinthAs long-time readers will know, this whole Girls Underground idea started with the movie Labyrinth – my favorite movie of all time, which I’ve seen hundreds of times. As I was watching it again recently, it occurred to me to write down some of the lessons from the Story, ones that are actually quite applicable to many spiritual and magical journeys.

If that is the way it is done, then that is the way you must do it.

Say your right words.

The way forward is sometimes the way back.

You can’t look where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re going.

Quite often it seems like we’re not getting anywhere, when in fact we are.

You get a lot of [false alarms] in the labyrinth, especially when you’re on the right track.

You can’t take anything for granted.

No, it isn’t [fair], but that’s the way it is.

51If8a4ttRL._SL160_Just a quick note on an “Honorable Mention” – the movie Nightbreed based on a Clive Barker story. This is an example of “If the story were about her” – the protagonist’s girlfriend Lori goes in search of answers about her supposedly-dead boyfriend, and ends up discovering the strange world of Midian. She saves a child and is subsequently allowed into the otherworld, goes literally underground, and eventually unites with the so-called monsters there against an evil police captain and psychiatrist. Since it’s not her story, she doesn’t get the final confrontation and certain other necessary GU elements, but from her perspective, it comes close to qualifying.

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“Jem, remember who you is. You’ve waited your whole life for this!”

The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff is a pretty solid GU story, with a decently intelligent protagonist, wise guides and helpers, a nicely complicated set of adversary figures…. and the best part, a pair of golden-furred rats named Noodle and Pie. I couldn’t quite get over those names through the entire story, they are just too wonderful.

Jemma is the youngest child of the Agromond family, who rule their land with cruelty and darkness. She is about to turn 13 when her world is blown apart – she discovers she is not their child after all, and rebels against their evil ways. She flees the castle, with the help of servants and animals, and is accosted in the forest by the spirits of children the Agromonds have killed. They want her help, but she must save herself first.

Eventually, Jemma makes it through the perilous forest and is helped by her friend Digby. They set off to find her real parents, though she temporarily ends up having to rescue Digby before they can move on. Once with her birth family, Jemma’s full history and ancestry is revealed, and she begins to learn how to harness her innate magical abilities, for she is the answer to her whole country’s prayers.

Before she is ready, Jemma is forced to confront the Agromonds when she must rescue Digby’s siblings who have been stolen. She returns “home” and pretends she is on their side, but things fall apart and she is almost defeated. In the end, she must face off against the demon the Agromonds have been working for – alone, of course – and then with her companions’ help, take care of the rest of the family. Then she is able to release the spirits of the children, and dispel the evil Mist that had ruined the land.

Interesting in that the adversaries are her “parents” (distant parents, indeed), and that she feigns a conversion to the dark side the way some other Girls Underground actually succumb to it (Helena in Mirrormask, Lily in Legend).

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How will you celebrate the day Alice fell down the rabbit hole?

Whenever I’m in the YA or Intermediate section of a bookstore or library trying to find potential Girls Underground stories, I’ll usually check out anything with a girl’s name in the title. There’s a good shot it will be what I’m looking for. At the very least, it indicates that a girl is the protagonist. Here are the Girls Underground books I’ve covered so far which use this convention (although some might not immediately seem like names):

And of course, anything that simply refers to a “Girl” also bears investigation:

“The traffic flow from folklore to fiction and film has always been heavy.” - Maria Tatar, Secrets Beyond the Door

An exploration of story…

In which I describe examples of the Girls Underground archetype that I have discovered in literature and film. For more information regarding the concept, including its earlier incarnations in fairytales and mythology, visit the pages linked above. Here is a list of all the examples I have covered thus far.

Alice Days

Celebrate one of the primary inspirations for Girls Underground - Alice in Wonderland - with a holiday down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass! Check out the Alice Days page for party ideas, movie recommendations, and more.

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