Sick of damsels in distress? Can’t bear another princess waiting for her prince charming? Here’s a list of young adult fiction books with strong female heroines who know how to look after themselves.
1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
No list of contemporary YA books, especially one about strong women, would be complete without Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen is a sharp and intelligent heroine who puts her own survival, and that of her family, first. Importantly, The Hunger Games has shown both the publishing industry and mainstream Hollywood that stories with strong female leads can be a commercial success. The Hunger Games trilogy has been translated into 26 languages and sold over 50 million copies in both print and electronic formats.
2. Divergent by Veronica Roth
The tone, and the brutality, of Veronica Roth’s Divergent will bear a strong resemblance to the world of The Hunger Games for many readers. Set in a future version of Chicago, where society is divided by factions, 16 year old Beatrice bravely chooses to leave her Abnegation faction and to become Dauntless. Choosing to change factions will define her identity for the rest of her life and brave Beatrice has chosen to join the faction that prizes courage above all else. Divergent is the first book in a trilogy. The second book in the series, Insurgent, was published in May 2012 and the yet to be named final book is due be released on 26 September 2013.
3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Popular YA author John Green, creator of Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns, ventured into writing with a female voice for the first time in The Fault in Our Stars. His heroine is Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenager who has advanced thyroid cancer. This book is a rare gem set in our own time that moves past high school romances and flighty friendships, and explores life and death, illness and love, and a teenager who is faced with her own mortality.
4. Tomorrow When The War Began by John Marsden
Ellie and her friends return from a camping trip to discover their sleepy home town, and the entire world, has changed completely. Faced with an unknown invader Ellie finds courage, wisdom and initiative to save her own life and the lives of her friends. Tomorrow When The War Began and its sequels are one of the most popular and critically acclaimed series of young adult novels in Australia and have sold over 3 million copies.
5. Uglies by Scott Westerfield
300 years after an apocalyptic disaster, Tally Youngblood is waiting to turn 16 when she will qualify for the operation that will transform her from being one of the ‘uglies’ to one of the ‘pretties’, changing her life and lifestyle completely. But then everything changes and Tally is forced to make a choice between her friend and the chance to have operation. Tally is led down a road that will completely alter how she sees herself and the world around her. Uglies is a book with important messages for a contemporary audience, without becoming preachy or judgemental.
6. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
When You Reach Me is a homage Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, the 1960s classic which followed the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe. Stead’s novel is set in 1970s Manhattan. Streetwise Miranda’s life takes a twist when she discovers mysterious notes from someone who tries to convince her that he or she can see things that have not happened yet. When You Reach Me captures the interior monologue and observations of kids who are starting to negotiate the complexities of friendship, family and identity. This is a great book for slightly younger readers (9 and up) though teenagers will love it too.
7. Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis
Mare’s War is told in alternating chapters. Half of the chapters follow Mare Boylen and her experience of running away from home to join the 688th African American Battalion of the Women’s Army during World War II. The other chapters follow a modern day road trip being taken my Mare and her granddaughters Octavia and Tali. Neither Octavia nor Tali are thrilled to be accompanying their eccentric grandmother all the way across the country for a family reunion. But as they learn about their grandmother’s war time experiences, Octvia and Tali are inspired to overcome their own fears and anxieties. Exploring themes of independence and courage, Tanita S. Davis’s novel is a unique twist on historical fiction and features two generations of strong minded women.
8. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
This ground breaking 1999 young adult novel is written in a diary format with a unique, non-linear plot. Melinda Sordino is high school student who becomes an outcast after she calls the police who break up the end of summer party. This book moves well beyond the ‘popular people are stupid’ cliché though. Melinda has been raped and, unable to verbalise what has happened, she retreats into herself and nearly stops speaking all together (Sordino is an Italian word for deaf or mute). Melinda may not be a gun-toting superhero but she is tough and she is smart, and a very memorable character. Speak has won several book awards, including the Golden Kite Award for Fiction. Despite these accolades, the book has also faced opposition and censorship: Speak ranked 60th on the American Library Association’s list of Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for 2000 to 2009.
9. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Daisy, the strong willed protagonist in Meg Rosoff’s award-winning How I Live Now, is a 15 year old American staying with her cousins on a remote English farm. At first utopian, their existence degenerates into horror as war encroaches on the farm. Through the several month period covered by the story, Daisy grows from a self-centered girl into a determined survivor. The film adaption of How I Live Now will be released in 2013 with Irish actress Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Atonement) playing the lead role of Daisy.
10. Estrella’s Quinceanera by Malin Alegria
Estrella Alvarez has earned a scholarship to an elite private school and has begun to make friends with some of her wealthy classmates. With her new lifestyle, she is mortified when her mother insisting on throwing her a quinceañera, complete with mariachi band and puffy-sleeved orange dress. Estella’s search for identity and fight for independence from her loving but strict family are wrought with humour, yet remain poignant and true. The tone of the book is light, but Estrella’s journey through the maze of culture and class is deftly handled. Readers from all backgrounds will see themselves in Estrella’s struggle to discover herself and to stand firm against outside expectations.