15 Empowering YA Fiction Books To Read On International Women's Day
March 8 marks International Women's Day, a yearly celebration that focuses on celebrating women and our economic, political and social achievements throughout history. This year, though, women and those who seek to support them are taking things a step further with the The Day Without Women, a strike that seeks to prove just what the world would be like without women workers.
While not all women are privileged enough to be able to choose not to work that day (which is an issue that cannot, and should not, be ignored) there are many ways that women can choose to participate. Perhaps they will simply try not to spend money to support any local businesses. Maybe they will just wear red in solidarity. Still others may choose to create, to make their voices heard in their own ways. And, of course, we have to suggest some reading.
While we've all read classics like the Alanna books by Tamora Pierce, the Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games trilogy, there are tons of other young adult books out there with badass female protagonists, both in contemporary and fantasy. We've rounded up fifteen of our favorites for you to choose from. Read them on March 8 (or, in fact, any time at all) to get a little extra dose of heroism as you fight the powers that be, however you do it.
1'The Female Of The Species' by Mindy McGinnis
Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best: violence. While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, so she relegates herself to the shadows. But during her senior year, circumstances bring her together with Jack, the star athlete and valedictorian, who still harbors guilt over the role he played the night Anna's body was found; and Peekay, a preacher's daughter whose identity is tangled up with her dad's job. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, and sets the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever. This is an unapologetic and unflinching book that will jump start conversations about today’s youth, feminism and how we view the sexuality and treatment of women in general.
2'Juliet Takes A Breath' by Gabby Rivera
Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing: she’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism. Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle. This is a bold, unapologetic narrative about knowing yourself despite the labels people give you, and the ones we give ourselves.
3'The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas
This moving, timely book inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement follows Starr Carter as she deals with the aftermath of being the sole witness to her best friend Khalil's shooting death by police. Khalil was unarmed, and soon, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. And Starr is the only person alive who can tell everyone what really happened that night. Readers will fall in love with Starr as she mourns her best friend, struggles with her identity, and fights for what's right.
4'The Vivian Apple Duology' by Katie Coyle
Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed "Rapture," all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn't know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country road trip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. You'll love Vivian and Harp's strong friendship, no-nonsense attitudes and ferocity in their pursuit of the truth.
5'Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked… until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo — but she is surprised when he seems to like her back. Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant — along with several other unlikely candidates — to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City — and maybe herself most of all. With fierce female friendships, body confidence galore and tons of Dolly Parton references, this is the ultimate in fun YA female empowerment.
6'Up To This Pointe' by Jennifer Longo
Harper has always had The Plan. One goal. To become a professional ballet dancer. She'd never let anyone get in the way of that, not even the boy both she and her ballerina best friend Kate are both drawn to. But when Harper's life takes an unexpected turn she lies her way to the icy dark of McMurdo Station . . . in Antarctica. She’s related to Robert Falcon Scott, the explorer who died racing to the South Pole, and she takes inspiration from him in a effort to forget the life she imagined. Extreme, but somehow fitting—apparently she has always been in the dark, dancing on ice this whole time. And no one warned her. Harper's struggles make way for bravery, boldness and reinvention in an empowering contemporary read.
7'This Side Of Home' by Renee Watson
Identical twins Nikki and Maya have been on the same page for everything—friends, school, boys and starting off their adult lives at a historically African-American college. But as their neighborhood goes from rough-and-tumble to up-and-coming, suddenly filled with pretty coffee shops and boutiques, Nikki is thrilled while Maya feels like their home is slipping away. Suddenly, the sisters who had always shared everything must confront their dissenting feelings on the importance of their ethnic and cultural identities and, in the process, learn to separate themselves from the long shadow of their identity as twins. In her inspired YA debut, Renée Watson explores the experience of young African-American women navigating the traditions and expectations of their culture.
8'The Education Of Margot Sanchez' by Lilliam Rivera
After stealing her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded for the summer, forced to work in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts. With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises — the admittedly good-looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood — keep her from her goal. Margot's narrative is very much one of learning, making mistakes and coming up with her own rules as she learns more about her true self. But she also battles a lot of tough issues with real ferocity, including the toxic, old-school Latino machismo culture that her father and older brother prescribe to, as well as the gentrification that is changing the neighborhood around her, for better or worse.
9'A Tyranny Of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls' by Various Authors
This collection of short stories criss-crosses America — on dogsleds and ships, stagecoaches and trains — from pirate ships off the coast of the Carolinas to the peace, love, and protests of 1960s Chicago. Join fifteen of today’s most beloved YA writers (from Marissa Meyer to Marie Lu) on a thrill ride through history with American girls charting their own course. They are monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They're making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell.
10'The Winner's Trilogy' by Marie Rutkoski
In a world that would make her a warrior, Kestrel, the general's daughter, is a strategist, using her intellect to outsmart and manipulate everyone around her. But she is finally equally matched with Arin, a slave in her household who, unbeknownst to her, is plotting to overthrow the government and win back his people's land. But they are both startled to find that they are kindred spirits, and the unexpected consequences of their feelings for each other create unfathomable consequences. Both of these characters are bold and brilliant in their own ways, plotting, hiding truths, and fighting for what they want, need and believe is right — some of which surprises even them.
11'Nimona' by Noelle Stevenson
Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are. But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona's powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.
12'The Six of Crows Duology' by Leigh Bardugo
While Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom focus on a diverse crew of deadly outcasts led by criminal prodigy and gang leader Kaz Brekker, the two main female characters Inej and Nina are a level of badass all their own. Both are fierce in their own rights, with Inej being known throughout their dark and disorderly city as "The Wraith" one of the deadliest assassins around, and Nina using her beauty and wit to seduce anyone in order to get what she wants. But, more than that, both women are struggling with PTSD, having been taken from their homes and families, and forced to endure beatings and demeaning work in the brothels. But while their painful pasts are a part of them, they don't define them. To see powerful, brave, brilliant women kicking ass and redefining themselves and their lives is one of the best parts of this stellar duology.
13'The Lunar Chronicles' by Marissa Meyer
This fantasy, sci-fi series is chock full of awesome female characters. Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter all come from different places, have different motivations, and though all have painful backstories. But they all have one thing in common...they are all willing to do whatever it takes to fight for their futures and dismantle the tyrannical government who wants to take over everything. And they all do it on their own terms and with their own very specific skills. The story starts with Cinder, a cyborg and the best mechanic in New Beijing. This reputation brings Prince Kai himself to her weekly market booth, needing her to repair a broken android before the annual ball. Although eager to impress the prince, Cinder's intentions are derailed when her younger stepsister is infected with the fatal plague that's been devastating Earth for a decade. Blaming Cinder for her daughter's illness, Cinder's cruel stepmother volunteers her body for plague research, an "honor" that no one has survived. But it doesn't take long for the scientists to discover something unusual about their new guinea pig. Something others would kill for. Never has a fairy tale been so fierce.
14'The Throne of Glass Series' by Sarah J. Maas
Whatever your opinions on the ships within this series (and believe me, I have opinions) the most important factor of these books has always been the ferocity of Celaena Sardothien, the kingdom's deadliest assassin. For those uninitiated, when the series opens she has just served out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, and she is dragged before the Crown Prince. He offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. If she beats her opponents, other thieves and killers sponsored by members of the king's council, she'll serve the kingdom for four years and then be free. But then one of the other contestants turns up dead ... quickly followed by another. As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined. This series has grown and shifted incredibly since the first novel, but one thing has remained the same: our main character, who is not afraid to fight, to kill, and to battle whoever stands in the way of her and her true destiny.
15'The Witchlands Series' by Susan Dennard
Susan Dennard's Witchlands series follows best friends and witches Safiya and Iseult, both of whom have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home. Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she's a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden. And Iseult's true powers are hidden even from herself. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. Focusing on female friendships and powerful women witches, this is a fierce YA fantasy read.