This month, the boys in the book club decided to focused on some of the strong female protagonists in YA fiction.
We are looking at books with strong female leads this month. The success of the Hunger Games series continues, and builds, with each new movie. The recent release of Catching Fire has refueled the interest in the strong women of young adult fiction. But, as I started gathering this list, I realized I didn’t want to just focus on the Katniss and her friends. In my opinion, to be a true heroine, a girl has to make the tough choices with her eyes wide open and accept the consequences – good or bad. Happy endings aren’t always guaranteed and the good girl doesn’t always get the guy.
Read-alikes for the Hunger Games abound – and many have strong female characters. Dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction continues to be a strong theme in young adult fiction providing avid readers lots of choice. The young women in these books are physically strong, independent, and have been forced to make tough decisions. These 16-year-olds aren’t always the most eloquent bunch but they can throw a punch and aren’t afraid to break a nail getting the job done:
- Legend by Marie Lu. Unlike Katniss, June Iparis was born into the right District. She is a prodigy who has proven her strength, cunning, and intelligence at the military university that is grooming her to become an important member of elite in the Republic’s fight against the Colonies. When her brother is reportedly killed by a rebel, she vows to bring him to justice. Soon she realizes her hunt for justice may bring down the government she has vowed to protect.
- Blood Red Road by Moira Young. Saba’s world is filled with dust, heat, and broken promises but she also has a fierce love for her twin brother that lightens the daily struggles. When her father is murdered and brother kidnapped, she embarks is a quest to rescue him. If she happens to overthrow the government and become a killer on the journey – well, that’s a price they have to pay for taking him.
- Divergent by Veronica Roth. Beatrice Prior never really felt she was as selfless as a member of the Abnegation should be but leaving one’s faction is a serious action. When her tests suggest that she may have an aptitude for more than one faction, Bea realizes she has a choice; should she stay with her family and the Abnegation faction or should she take a risk and choose to become Dauntless.
The ability to fight is not the only characteristic of a strong girl. These girls fight back and stand tall without their fists:
- Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi. Juliette Ferrars is jail for murder. No one knows why her touch is fatal and no one really cares – except the Reestablishment that see in Juliette the makings of a perfect weapon. So, Juliette, what are you willing to kill for?
- Uglies by Scott Westfeld. Tally Youngblood is about to turn sixteen and become beautiful and as perfect as society can make her. When Tally’s friends show her that the operation also modifies one’s personality to make it “right”, Tally starts having second thoughts about what it means to be “pretty”.
Not all the strong young women live within the pages of the dystopian society. Although, traditionally, fantasy has been strongly influenced by the male hero, the girls are definitely gaining ground.
- City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. The phenomenon of Twilight has garnered Bella Swan a lot of fans, but I would have to argue that she is not a strong female protagonist. The story of Clary Frey, on the other hand, has the forbidden love, action, and heartbreak with a girl who doesn’t wait for the guy to save her.
- Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. Orphan Alina Starkov has one constant in her life – her best friend Mal. When Mal’s life is threatened when their convoy is attacked, Alina unconsciously protects him, uncovering a power she has unknowingly been repressing all her life. With her new power comes a new life; one in which Mal is not welcomed. Can she remain true to herself in this new world of power, politics and privilege or will she become a pawn in a war of power?
- Eon by Alison Goodman. Eon is a crippled slave that has been groomed to be a Dragoneye; for the opportunity to be chosen by a Dragon. But, Eon has a secret; he is actually a girl and everyone knows that Dragons do not choose girls. So, when she is chosen by the Mirror Dragon, who has been lost for 500 years, she knows her life is about to change – but who will emerge – Eon or Eona?
- Graceling by Kristin Cashore
- Cinder by Marissa Meyer
- City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster
- The Girl with Borrowed Wings by Rinsai Rossetti
- Sabriel by Garth Nix
- Tamora Pierce
Realistic fiction has always been popular with young adults and within these books readers can find many strong female protagonists. Here are only a smattering:
- Fault in our Stars by John Green
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
- The Girl in the Green Sweater by Krystyna Chiger with Daniel Paisner
Cross, Kady. The Girl in the Steel Corset. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin Teen, 2011. (978-0-373-21070-1) – includes bonus novella The Strange Case of Finley Jayne
The Steampunk Chronicles
- The Strange Case of Finley Jayne
- The Girl in the Steel Corset
- The Girl in the Clockwork Collar
- The Girl with the Iron Touch
Set in 1897 Victorian England, the novel opens with sixteen-year-old Finley being attacked by her employer’s son. But Finley is no ordinary girl to be taken advantage of by the nobility. She has an alter ego that has supernatural strength and a desire for violence. Even though she was just protecting herself, she knows as a maid in the noble’s house there will be consequences and so she runs – straight in front of the velocycle of Griffin King, the Duke of Greythorne.
While Finley recuperates at Greythorne House, Griffin quickly realizes that there is something dark and dangerous about Finley but he has secrets of his own and he is sure he can help the troubled girl merge the two sides of her personality. Besides, he already has an unusual collection of friends including the brilliant scientist Emily, the part-mechanical Sam, and the American cowboy Jasper who is faster than any normal human. It is difficult to trust an outsider with their secrets and Finley’s arrival adds an added strain to an already complex set of relationships.
Throw into the mix the mad Machinist who plans to take over England and destroy Griffin. Things have gotten tricky
While running away after being attacked by her employer’s son, sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne is hit by Griffin King. Now, Griffin says he wants to protect her but Finley has a secret. There’s something dark inside her and it is getting stronger. If she stays, who is going to protect Griffin?
Cross’ decision to employ an omniscient third person point of view is appropriate. In The Girl in the Steel Corset she introduces the reader to the many characters that will star in the succeeding novels. By moving between her characters, she allows the reader to get a feeling for the internal motivations of Finley, Emily, Sam, Griffin, and to a smaller degree Jasper, although the primary focus of the story remains with Finley. In the following novels, Cross tells her tale focusing on one of the other characters while still developing the relationships and plotlines developed in the first novel.
The author also took the time to provide appropriate backstories for her quintet of stars. By doing do, the reader can empathize with Sam’s mixed feelings about his robotic side; the illusions to Frankenstein are light but resonate. The similarities to the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also add additional depth to the tale.
Cross aptly describes the Steampunk Chronicles as “Teen X-Men meets League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, minus the extreme violence.” (Steampunk Scholar blog, March 9, 2013). The only thing missing from this summary is the romance that she wove through the narrative.
Worth adding to a high school library collection. Fun, light, and sigh-worthy.
Information about the Author:
Kady Cross and Kate Cross are both pseudonyms of author, Kathryn Smith. As Kathryn Smith, she has written a number of adult historical romances. Please see her sites for more information:
Kady Cross: http://www.kadycross.com/about/
Kate Cross: http://www.katecross.com/
Reading Level/Interest Age:
- Young Adult
- Sexual content (mild)