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Ask any reader her favorite literary heroine, and she'll stare off into the distance, smiling, then immediately start reeling off names and anecdotes: Katniss! Elizabeth Bennett! As Anne Patchett put it, "Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings." Here's what 9 of our favorite fictional women have taught us about our own, very real lives.

Go for the Deferral

Kathy, the stoic narrator in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go, has always felt a connection with her boarding school classmate Tommy. (Warning: spoilers ahead.) While the two have some extraordinary circumstances with which to contend—they happen to be clones, created so that their organs may be harvested—their romance operates under the usual rules. So when Kathy's best friend stakes her claim on Tommy, Kathy walks away. By the time Kathy and Tommy find one each other again, he's on his deathbed. In their world, rumor has it that clones may receive a deferral that will spare their life, if they can prove they are really in love...and thus human. Sure, love saves us all, but in this instance, love would really, really save Tommy, who is about to have all of his organs removed. As Kathy puts it, "There was something in Tommy's manner that was tinged with sadness, that seemed to say: 'Yes, we're doing this now and I'm glad we're doing it now. But what a pity we left it so late.''' He may be correct, but what we love about Kathy is that even in an existence defined by disappointment, when she should know better, she allows herself to love generously, as if that deferral were still possible, long after she finds out that it is not. We should all love like it will save us from being sliced open. You know, so to speak.

Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro
Vintage

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