Feminist Books for Young Adults
What Makes a Book Feminist?
There is no set definition of a feminist book for young adults. I can show you many books that aren’t feminist, but opinions will vary on what feminism looks like in YA book form. Feminist reads are relative and ever changing. In the 1980s and 1990s, we had Judy Blume giving us books about our bodies and teaching us not be afraid. J.K. Rowling introduced us to a brave, intelligent, loyal role model in Hermione. Katniss Everdeen must murder her opponents in The Hunger Games arena in order to protect her sister. In general, a good feminist read will allow the female character to have autonomy, to make choices, and be who she is. That seems so simple, but it can be surprisingly hard to find in popular media (read about the Bechdel test for more information about just how hard it can be!).
Feminism can look as different in individual novels as it does in people. Feminist reads consist of all types of experiences for women from every race, culture, gender presentation, sexual orientation, country of origin, religion, era, social class, size, shape, and personality. Some feminist books are even about boys and men who don’t follow prescribed gender norms.
Why Young Adults?
It’s no secret that most readers of young adult fiction are female and that adolescence is a time of identity formation. Adolescence is also a time when teens start to think about bigger world issues outside of themselves. Young adults are at an impressionable age where the differences between genders become apparent, and they naturally start to question the status quo. This combination results in a reading interest level that is prime for complex literature and positive role models.
The second wave feminism of the 1970s brought about a lot of positive changes for women, but inequalities still exist in the world. Third wave feminism, which influences most of these modern feminist reads, is the feminism of this generation. And these young people want to see that reflected in their media. It’s why Twilight got so much criticism, and why dystopian novels with “strong female protagonists” (I hate that term as it’s usually applied, but that’s a different story) are flying off shelves.
Feminist Books for Young Adults
There are many great options for feminist reads out there, so this article can only hit some major highlights. These reads cover a variety of women and decisions the women may have to make. It’s not about ass-kicking, but each of these ladies defeats some sort of villain in the quest to make her life better in some way.
I said not every book would involve kicking asses and taking names, but I do have to talk about Grave Mercy by Robin LeFevers. Because, assassin nuns. That’s right, I said ASSASSIN NUNS. Ismae is a daughter of St. Mortain in 1600s Brittany, and she must kill the targets marked by her god as traitors to the land. Ismae gets to go on an undercover mission and basically take down some bad guys. With poison.
Of course, one doesn’t always dismantle the patriarchy with poison. Sometimes a high school girl can challenge gender norms in her own school. Frankie engineers a secret takeover of her elite private school’s all-male secret society for school pranks in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. The much darker novel Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney also features a secret society, but this group forms makeshift trials to decide on conflicts between students not handled by school administration – in this case, a date rape.
Finally, some girls are in terrible situations of abuse and their stories highlight bravery to question authority. While many of these novels are historical and/or take place outside of our own country, The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams takes place on US soil. Kyra was raised in a polygamist compound and finds out she will be married to her sixty-year-old uncle. Kyra reads forbidden books and makes dangerous choices with serious consequences, showing her ability to take back her autonomy and make her life her own.
These four novels are just a tiny sample of what’s out there today. Other great feminist reads worth checking out include:
- Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
- Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
- Ash by Malinda Lo
- Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
- If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
What are some of your favorite feminist reads? Share your thoughts on feminist books for young adults in the comments below!