Categories: Entertainment

12 Must-Read YA Books with Strong Female Leads

Representation matters, and that’s why it’s important to share all things female in our narratives. Now more than ever, there’s an opening for strong female leads to show the courage, strength, intelligence, beauty, and power in each woman. Head out to your nearest bookstore and read-up these books!

On the Come Up – Angie Thomas

Through Hip-Hop, Brianna speaks her truth. Trying to help her family during a financial crisis, 16-year-old Bri seeks to become one of the greatest rappers to hit the charts. The pressure of being the daughter of an underground rap icon who’s talent was cut short, economic stresses, and going viral because of controversy is a big fight to fight, but her dream is bigger. On the Come Up is a story about dreams, that highlights the hardships of poor and working-class black families in the USA. 

Angie Thomas, also the author of The Hate U Give, wanted to give a voice to those who feel hip-hop isn’t spoken about enough. There is some parallelism between Brianna and the author; they both had, at a young age, a dream of becoming rappers and a desire to help their family’s during economic hardships. 

“Be wonderfully passionate about what’s right. You will draw hatred and animosity no matter what you do, so you might as well make a stand and make it count for something. You’ll never silence me and you’ll never kill my dream, just recognize when you say brilliant that you’re also saying Bri.” – Angie Thomas, On the Come Up

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

In suburban Shake Heights, where structure, planning, and order is valued and difference, unless pre-checked, remains hidden, the glass ceiling of one the most pristine families, the Richardson is shattered by the arrival of nomadic photographer Mia Warren and her daughter, Pearl. Unable to plan for the way relationships develop, Pearl and Mia become a haven for the four Richardson children. Soon lies, desires, and deeply hidden secrets resurface by a local case, when close friends of the Richardson’s try to adopt a Chinese baby, who’s mother, a friend of Mia, tries to reclaim. 

Celeste Ng shares a glimpse into what she noticed while growing up at Shaker Heights, Ohio. Little Fires Everywhere evaluates the meaning of motherhood, friendship, mistakes, and the errors of judging a person by their past and appearance. This novel challenges stigmas and marks the similitude between people, who at a glance, seem like opposites. 

“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.” – Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

What’s better than a lead female character? How about three leads and two supporting ultra-successful female characters. Big Little Lies explores the underbelly of what it means to be a mother in modern society. Be it, single, remarried, stay at home, or working  mother. The pressure society exerts, and the secrets women are expected to keep, to save face. Add murder to the mix, and you have a gripping story about redemption and strength. 

Liane Moriarty marries her mystery with comedy, bringing to life unique, dynamic, and relatable characters in real-life situations. Her use of language and characterization exalts the female voice in each facet: intellectual and emotional. Big Little Lies is about helping others in their weakness and becoming better because of it. All those little lies told that only convince the ones telling them can lead to dangerous ways. 

“She’d swallowed it whole and pretended meant nothing, and therefore it had come to mean everything.” – Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

A 19th-century book that still resonates with lessons for the women in this century. The story narrates the story of four sisters from childhood to adulthood. This coming of age story focuses on the strifes girls face on their way to womanhood, from first loves, careers, caregivers, expectations, and sisterhood. The four girls are talented in the arts and love each other dearly yet in their separation, sacrifice, and through tribulation, they grow into the women they wish to be. 

Loosely based on the author’s life, Little Women is an inspiring heartwarming work of literature. From top to finish, you’ll love the dynamic between these four girls and feel wiser at each lesson and morale their mother imparts. 

“I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.” – Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

This 19th-century historical novel defines the world’s double standard and punishment for women who indulge in self-pleasure. In 17th-century Salem Massachusetts, single-mother Hester Prynne is shunned and labeled as an adulteress by society. As punishment, she is to wear a scarlet “A” on her garments and is left alone to raise a child who’s actions border on sinister. As she holds her peace on who Pearl’s father is, the town aldermen try to take her child away. Hester must prove to be a fit mother and grow her strength as her presumed husband returns to town, and her lover a secret. 

A Scarlet Letter is haunting. The darkness of the plot is matched by the solemnity of the setting. Yet, against all odds and internal and external problems, Hester prevails. She represents courage, selflessness, which, her lack of innocence, gives her the strength to push through and not fall into being what others taught her to be. 

“I have laughed in bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and What I am!” – Nathaniel Hawthrone, The Scarlet Letter

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Sisterly love and sacrifice before Frozen was even a thing. The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to participate, in her sister’s place, in a twelve-districts survival televised competition to the death. Raised in one of the poorer districts, she has learned to survive and take care of those she loves most. But, to save her family, she risks it all. 

A great novel and popular film adaptation. The Hunger Games shows the female gender as it once was seen by ancient civilizations. Katness is strong, brave, skillful, just as many female warriors of yore. She becomes a beacon of hope for a better society. Which resonates with modern feminism. 

“I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun.” – Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

Lisbeth Salander is hired by an affluent uncle who seeks to investigate his niece’s disappearance circulating forty years of mystery. Lisbeth, the tattooed and pierced prodigy, is paired with journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Together they uncover how rotten corruption reaps. 

The Swedish author, Stieg Larsson conceptualized Lisbeth, as a way to heal from childhood trauma. (Trigger warning) In Sweden, as a child, he witnessed, without daring to intervene, as a girl named Lisbeth was gang-raped. Never receiving her forgiveness, he translated his guilt into a mystery novel in which the lead was also a raped victim who takes her anger and transforms it into force to use at her work.  

“Don’t ever fight with Lisbeth Salander. Her attitude towards the rest of the world is that if someone threatens her with a gun, she’ll get a bigger gun.” – Stieg Larsson 

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

A dystopian novel that follows a polluted world with a depleting population, and few fertile women left. Gilead, what was New England, overthrew the US government and established a ultraconservative state. Offred, the handmaid to one of the most important families in Gilead, Commander Fred, is expected to bed and bare him a child in place of his barren wife. As no one is to be trusted, she refuges in her past. But, the ultimate heresy is that she narrates her story and records what’s happening for future generations. Her belief in the future may just save it and her. 

Offred is an interesting character, she is mostly compliant, she didn’t inherit her mother’s active resistant nature, and she has always needed a man in her life. Yet, she survives the transition. Her life changed, she was separated from her daughter and husband, took for granted everything before, but survived. She’s smart, caring, and strong in a quiet manner that may be misunderstood. In essence she walks so future generations can run and not everyone is a hero, but she was brave and that is enough. The scenes in the book are daunting enough as Atwood chose to illustrate only real events in her book. 

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” – Margaret Atwood, Handmaid’s Tale

See Also

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

During Nazi Germany, Liesel picks up an unlawful hobby of book stealing and becomes friends with jew Max, a boy her foster family shelters. Her affinity for books began when she stumbled upon “The Gravedigger’s Handbook” which she takes as her own. Her foster father teacher her to read and she soon advances to taking books from book-burnings and the mayor’s wife library. Her relationship with the Jew is just as passionate as her love for books, and both, when too close, may burn all in its path. All the while, death is waiting and watching.

Markus Zusak’s Liesel is beautifully imagined. Funny, sad, emotional, and artful. There is a girl who, at the time, was at the right side of history but didn’t conform to what she was told was normal. Her thirst for knowledge is a haven for both Max and her. Their friendship a sign that equality could be obtained and that love can flourish in strife. 

“She was the book thief without the words.” – Markus Zusak, The Book Thief 

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

In rural Georgia during the 1930s, poor, motherless, and sexually abused 14-year-old Celie writes letters to God that end up narrating her life story. As she grows and moves from one abusive relationship to another, she meets with other black women with whom she overcomes her problems and finds her independence. 

Alice Walker’s novel is praised as a prime feminist work. Through Celie, she sheds light on the abuses African-American women faced and face, and the strength they have that has transcended centuries of hardships. What would break others, has made Celie and the rest, stronger. 

“I’m pore, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook, a voice say to everything listening. But I’m here.” – Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Throne of Glass – Sarah J. Mass

In this fantastic story that takes place in the tyrannical Kingdom of Adarlan, teenage assassin Celaena Sardothien is held imprisoned and must compete against other assassins to buy her freedom as King’s Champion. There she joins forces with the captain of the guard and the Crown Prince of Adarlan. The fight for freedom will reveal hidden truths about her and her world. 

Beautiful, and a badass is the leading lady of this story. As a champion for YA fans, this fantasy saga shows a killer side to a woman’s fight for freedom and respect. 

“My name is Celaena Sardothien. But it makes no difference if my name’s Celaena or Lillian or Bitch, because I’d still beat you, no matter what you call me.” – Sarah J. Mass

The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo

Harlem grown Xiomara “X” Batista pours her anger and passions into her poetry. Yet, her words and feelings are all contained in her leather notebook. She wishes to let it all go and joined the school’s poetry club, but standing in her way is her mother’s disapproval and the fear of sharing her feelings. No matter what, Xiomara feels it’s her calling to perform and speak to the world after many moments of silence. 

Priced for representing the Latino community, Elizabeth Acevedo’s stories, and poetry have enamored and inspired poets and others, as well. Showing the pressures of Latina women to abide by their mother’s wishes and society’s expectations and the freedom that comes with the arts of words and expression.

“And I think about all the things we could be
if we were never told our bodies were not built for them.” – Elizabeth Acevedo 

Which female lead inspires you? Tell us in the comment section!

Feature Image Source:
Cristina Rosa-Casiano

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