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Girl Power: 15 Inspirational YA Female Protagonists

YA Female

Justin Bieber. Smart phone addiction. Colorful nail polish. Angst. Teenage girl stereotypes prevent this large percentage of the population from being taken seriously, when that’s one of the things they need and desire most. These fifteen feminist YA novels represent teen girls accurately: They’re brave. They’re smart. They’re capable. They know what they want. Dive into any one of these books and help to give these people and this genre the credit they deserve.

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Polly and the One and Only World by Don Bredes (Green Writers Press)

A next generation cli-fi fantasy, Polly and the One and Only World, by Don Bredes, introduces fifteen-year-old Polly Lightfoot and her raven, Balthazar, both on a mission to transport an irreplaceable grimoire through treacherous wastelands, government-controlled checkpoints, and hostile territories. Putting a futuristic spin on past events, Polly’s migration parallels themes from the Salem Witch Trials, complete with heretics, religious zealots, and witches and mages burnt at the stake.

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Haunted: The Arnaud Legacy by Lynn Carthage (Kensington Publishing)

Phoebe isn’t exactly sure why her family has suddenly relocated from sunny California to a dismal stone monstrosity in Grenshire, England, but she does know it has something to do with her. Haunted, the first book in Lynn Carthage’s The Arnaud Legacy series, is an eerie, chilling mystery complete with ghosts, malevolent ancestors, gruesome tragedies, and a bit of romance.

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Tear You Apart by Sarah Cross (Egmont)

The town of Beau Rivage is riddled with fairy-tale curses and enchantments that shape the lives of its inhabitants. Unfortunately, Viv and her friends know all too well that once-upon-a-times are not always followed by happily-ever-afters. Tear You Apart, by Sarah Cross, is a contemporary romance tangled with well-known themes and players straight from the brothers Grimm.

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Strong Female Protagonist: Book One by Brennan Lee Mulligan, illustrated by Molly Ostertag (Top Shelf Productions)

Strong Female Protagonist, a webcomic turned graphic novel, written by Brennan Lee Mulligan and drawn by Molly Ostertag, is an accurate relatable portrayal of a modern young woman figuring out that the world is not black and white—and that she cannot save it simply by punching supervillains in the face. The last bit is maybe not within the purview of the average twenty-year-old, but in the midst of a swirl of current events and fantastical happenings, the titular character’s struggles feel all too real.

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The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Books)

This girl’s got guts. Even as she wanders the mystery-shrouded forest full of creepy-crawlies from Haitian folklore and faces up to the frightening newcomer to her village, Corrine La Mer brings badassery and wisdom beyond her years. Launching brave kids into the world of the horror novel, and leading them through it with lyrical prose, author Tracey Baptiste knows just how to seize kids’ attention.

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Silence by Deborah Lytton (Shadow Mountain Publishing)

Silence, Deborah Lytton’s second novel for young adults, concerns the unlikely match between a Broadway-bound singer who experiences temporary deafness after an accident and a pianist with a speech impediment and a traumatic past. It is a touching story about the forces that so often threaten us into silence and the struggle to find a voice anyway.

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The Age of Amy: Channel ’63 by Bruce Edwards (Lambert Hill)

Edwards’s The Age of Amy: Channel ’63 plops a fresh protagonist into a quirky setting to deliver a riotous young-adult adventure. Hilarity and magical realism bolster sixteen-year-old Amy’s cynical worldview, and while the absurdities of the plot pile up—but only in fun ways—the result is ultimately heartwarming. A vibrant teen protagonist with a sharp sense of humor makes for an entertaining guide to the weird world of this surreal, touching novel.

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The View from Who I Was by Heather Sappenfield (Flux Books)

After a suicide attempt on a cold Colorado night, Oona Antunes suffers the effects of frostbite, hypothermia, and a wound she can’t name that cuts deep into the core of who she is. She discovers that the roots of her problems go beyond herself, and to fully understand what happened that night in the woods, she must confront not only her own pain but the hidden past that’s suffocating her father. The View from Who I Was is a story of the damage that can be passed down through the generations, and the healing that can arise from tragedy.

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Seed by Lisa Heathfield (Running Press Teens)

Having lived in an isolated community her entire life, Pearl begins to question the motives of their leader, Papa S., when a family from the outside world comes in to start a new life. Conversing with the charming teen boy that has entered their community, Pearl soon realizes that Seed is in fact a cult, and that Papa S. may have been lying to her from the beginning.

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Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani (Tu Books)

On the anniversary of her father’s death, Claire Takata finds a letter from him to her stepfather. Claire never had a reason to believe they even knew each other. Struggling to understand why her parents kept this surprising history hidden, Claire combs through anything that might give her information about her father—until she discovers that he was a member of the yakuza, a Japanese organized crime syndicate. Her father’s legacy casts ominous shadows that threaten her family, her friends, her newfound love—and her life.

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The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin Books)

In a girls’ juvenile detention center, Amber can hardly imagine would freedom would feel like. Outside, Violet is days away going to Julliard for ballet when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking the girls’ darkest mysteries. Amber and Violet share their stories, and Orianna’s, until the whole picture is bared—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants to reveal.

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Avalon Rising by Kathryn Rose (Flux Books)

“Frost has the good sense not to test my patience by settling on my tools,” Avalon Rising begins, showing the strong personality of Merlin’s former apprentice and narrator of this novel, Vivienne. Camelot’s knights are rebuilding after a war and are racing the Black Knight for the Holy Grail. With a prophecy threating Vivienne’s beloved, she commandeers an aeroship and takes fate into her own hands.

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Strange Skies by Kristi Helvig (Egmont)

This sequel to sci-fi thriller Burn Out amps up the suspense as seventeen-year-old Tora attempts to escape from government capture on a planet called Caelia, the “new Earth,” since her home planet is dying. She must risk her life to save her father and her friends, and perhaps to engineer a revolution that could prevent a militarized government on their new home.

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Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown by Michael Alan Nelson (Pyr)

Michael Alan Nelson translates his comic into a prose novel with Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown. Teenage protagonist Luci Jenifer Inacio das Neves, aka “Lucifer,” a sort of supernatural Robin Hood who is hired to help a policeman find his kidnapped daughter, Gina. But Lucifer starts to fall for Gina’s boyfriend, even while she risks her life a dark underworld filled with demons, witches, and demigods.

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Out of the Dragon’s Mouth by Joyce Burns Zeiss (Flux Books)

Coinciding with the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon and based on a true story, Out of the Dragon’s Mouth tells of the story of fourteen-year-old Mai, a Vietnamese refugee in Malaysia who comes of age through her experiences of being separated from her family by the war, not wanting to disappoint her ancestors, and befriending fellow refugees with a variety of heartrending struggles.


Aimee Jodoin
Aimee Jodoin is deputy editor at Foreword Reviews. You can follow her on Twitter @aimeebeajo.

Aimee Jodoin

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