For those of you that don’t know, Katherine North (known as Kit) is the main character of Emma Geen’s debut novel, The Many Selves of Katherine North. Set in a future where humans have developed the technology to project their consciousness into the bodies of animals, the book follows Kit – an experienced projector, or ‘phenomenaut’ – as she starts to realise that her organisation might be far more sinister than she thought she knew. The book is Geen’s first novel and is already making waves, having received some very positive reviews, and Kit herself is at the centre of all this – whether she’s being a fox, a whale or a tiger.
But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
Kit is a very active character. It’s made clear that she’s had to jump through a lot of hoops to keep her job, and she still has to obey orders – she doesn’t, for example, get to choose whether she gets to be an elephant or an eagle, she just gets told. However, this doesn’t put a crimp in her agency. She investigates her employer, ShenCorp, when she starts to suspect them of various dodgy dealings, even though this could backfire spectacularly. When she’s in an animal’s body, and starts seeing other animals that shouldn’t be there, she starts investigating, believing that they might be artificial images inserted into the program in order to test her. And, of course, she runs away from her employer when she realises that she can’t trust them. Even though she spends a lot of the book taking orders, she’s still a very active character, so I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 1
- Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
Kit doesn’t really have many hobbies, but this is actually made clear that this is a part of her character – she’s a very insular person who simply doesn’t have a life outside of work. Her goals and beliefs are much more clear. Her main goal is to stay a phenomenaut for as long as possible – and as she’s beginning to fear she’s too old to carry on much longer, this is a real concern for her. Later, she wants to find out the truth about the animals she’s been seeing and get away from ShenCorp, and these are goals that come out of her experiences in the novel.
Her beliefs are also very well defined. Early on in the book, Kit is asked to road-test one of ShenCorp’s new ideas: body tourism. Whereas previously, Kit has been inhabiting animal bodies for scientific research – after weeks of careful study, and for months at a time – body tourism is exactly what it sounds like: allowing normal people to take a holiday by projecting themselves into an animal’s mind. Kit believes that this is fundamentally wrong, but after a near-death experience, has no choice but to go along with it. She believes that respect for the animals they inhabit is a crucial part of a phenomenaut’s role, and she is extremely uncomfortable with ShenCorp’s newest and most sinister development: projecting themselves into human bodies.
Her goals and beliefs are very well-defined and influence her character all throughout the book. They’re a direct result of her own experiences, so I’m going to give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 2
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
Kit is a very consistent character. She’s determined, resourceful, intelligent, curious, but also extremely awkward, snappy, a little paranoid and has very poor social skills. As far as her skills go, she’s a talented phenomenaut, but she’s also a terrible public speaker and has some trouble disassociating herself with the animals she temporarily inhabits.
SCORE SO FAR: 3
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
An intelligent but withdrawn young woman projects her consciousness into the bodies of animals – but soon begins to suspect that she’s not alone.
SCORE SO FAR: 4
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Kit doesn’t really have much of a love life to speak of.
She has a long-standing crush on her Neuro, Buckley – the scientist who talks her through the consciousness projections, and is effectively her closest link to the human world while she’s in an animal body. But this isn’t really a huge feature of the novel. It does influence her decisions a little, but most of the time she’s far too preoccupied with trying to work out what’s going on with the sinister ShenCorp. I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 5
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
Kit does develop over the course of the story. She becomes more paranoid, forces herself to confront some unpleasant truths, and finds herself becoming more and more isolated as the story goes on. But it’s not all bad – she also starts becoming more mature, and takes steps toward expressing her emotions and feeling comfortable in her own skin. I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 6
- Does she have a weakness?
Kit has plenty of weaknesses. She finds it very difficult to disassociate herself from her experiences projecting into animals’ bodies, and elements of their behaviour start bleeding through into her normal life. She can’t express her emotions well, runs away from her problems, doesn’t have many social skills to speak of and tends towards the paranoid. That’s a range of weaknesses that do actually hold her back, so I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 7
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
Kit drives the plot forward at every turn. She investigates ShenCorp, comes to question everything she thought she knew, and digs deeper and deeper into the mystery at every turn. Of course, a lot of the time she is following orders, so there is that to consider, but there’s no denying that she’s a real force on the plot.
SCORE SO FAR: 8
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
Kit is pretty progressive when it comes to gender stereotypes. She’s intelligent, resourceful, and determined. She’s widely acknowledged as one of the best phenomenauts in the field, despite the fact that she is a teenage girl. She struggles to express herself, grapples with paranoia, and is emotionally stunted in more ways than one. She acts like an animal on a regular basis, isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and has absolutely no issue with things that other people might find absolutely disgusting.
She also pays absolutely no attention to her appearance, not even caring that as part of her job she’s asked to shave her head. These are hardly traits that are common for teenage girls, so I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 9
- How does she relate to other female characters?
Kit has plenty of relationships with other female characters. There’s the other phenomenauts: Sally, a friend she lost touch with; Lisa, a girl she sticks up for; and Daisy, who she frequently butts heads with when Daisy bullies the younger girls. There’s Grandma Wolf – a creepy old lady who hangs around ShenCorp – who she both pities, and is frightened of. And then there’s Kit’s mother, who is suffering from a degenerative disease: she loves her, but she’s so far from the person she used to be that Kit finds it incredibly difficult to be around her. That’s a range of complicated and nuanced relationships on all counts, so I’ll give her the point.
Congratulations, Emma Geen! Kit is a very well-rounded character, with a range of clear goals, beliefs, skills and weaknesses. She develops throughout the story, isn’t completely dependent on her love life, has a range of relationships with a range of female characters and is an incredibly active figure. And she does it all while inhabiting a range of different bodies, which is no mean feat for any writer to pull off. If you ever get the chance to read this book, I highly recommend it.
Next week, I’ll be looking at Brooklyn Nine Nine. Amy Santiago, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.