Teen books with strong female characters
Wonder Woman's backstory is fairly well known but Bardugo breathes zippy new life into the story with a twisty plot, whip smart characters, and her trademark masterful writing. Diana is eager to prove her valor to the other Amazons on Themyscira, but her chosen act of heroism - rescuing teenage Alia from a shipwreck outside the boundary waters of the island - wreaks havoc on the island's delicate balance. That's not all, Alia is a "warbringer" and her mere existence will spark global war unless Diana can intervene. Seamlessly integrating classic Wonder Woman lore with her own updated take, Bardugo fleshes out Diana's backstory and the mythology of Themyscira, adds in sly commentary on feminism and equality, and leavens the package with wry comedy. Diana's dour obliviousness to contemporary culture will make readers guffaw. This will certainly please seasoned fans of Wonder Woman, but with a cinematic plot and a diverse cast of thoughtfully well-rounded characters, don't be surprised if it garners wider appeal, too. - Sarah Hunter (Reviewed 6/1/2017) (Booklist, vol 113, number 19, p101)
Marin knows exactly how her senior year is going to go. She'll crush it as editor of the school paper, impress her passionate young English teacher, and score an acceptance to Brown, her dream school. Everything seems to be going according to plan, too—that English teacher, Mr. Beckett, or Bex, is especially encouraging. He tells Marin her writing is mature, gives her rides, and offers to write her a recommendation to Brown. But when he completely crosses a physical line, a horrified Marin reports it, only to find herself with no support. The administration is reluctant to take action, her boyfriend is hostile, and her best friend thinks she's looking for attention. As Bex retaliates, Marin searches for allies and takes matters into her own hands. -- Maggie Reagan (Reviewed 4/15/2020) (Booklist, vol 116, number 16, p50)
In a world where some people are born with extreme and often-feared skills called Graces, Katsa struggles for redemption from her own horrifying Grace, and teams up with another young fighter to save their land from a corrupt king.
This timely, politically charged novel sees black first-time voters Marva Sheridan and Duke Crenshaw fulfilling their civic duty. Marva, passionate about politics, has been working to get out the vote. When Duke is unable to vote at their mutual polling place due to a registration mix-up, she makes it her mission to ensure he can cast his ballot. Still grieving the death of his political activist brother, biracial Duke knows exactly what’s at stake. As Election Day progresses toward its results, neither teen counts on the whirlwind journey that takes them from being strangers at the polls to confidantes on the road, discussing Marva’s white boyfriend’s refusal to vote, Duke’s fractured family’s grief, and Marva’s missing internet-famous cat. Colbert (The Only Black Girls in Town) aptly discusses matters of civil disobedience and social justice—including police brutality and voter suppression—without sacrificing the delicate, lighthearted relationship at the story’s center. Readers will find abundant food for thought in this vital fictional account of two teens intent on using their voices and engaging in a political system that makes it difficult for them to participate. --Staff (Reviewed 06/15/2020) (Publishers Weekly, vol 267, issue 24, p)
In a future North America, where the rulers of Panem maintain control through an annual televised survival competition pitting young people from each of the twelve districts against one another, sixteen-year-old Katniss's skills are put to the test when she voluntarily takes her younger sister's place.
Everything is changing. American-born Liliana and her twin brothers live in Boston with their El Salvadoran mother and Guatemalan father, who has been mysteriously absent for weeks. No one talks about where her dad is or when he is coming back, and Liliana doesn't have the heart to ask her mother, who is often crying and exhausted. The book opens just as Liliana has been accepted into METCO, a program to desegregate schools by putting good students from low-performing urban schools into high-achieving suburban schools. Liliana switches schools reluctantly, accustomed to her own community of people who look like her, sound like her, and have shared experiences. She cannot easily relate to her white classmates, from the way they talk to their reactions to her cultural norms. Feeling ostracized, Liliana meets Dustin, who gives her butterflies whenever they interact. De Leon uses frequent Spanish words and Latino pop culture references, with plentiful context clues, to portray Liliana's world and family. That, paired with slang-heavy dialogue, keeps the story moving along. It will be familiar territory for readers who straddle two cultures, for anyone who has had to be a newcomer, and, in this era, anyone who has ever worried about the impact of deportation on families. --Katie Llera (Reviewed 05/01/2020) (School Library Journal, vol 66, issue 5, p63)
After her mom’s death, Bree Matthews, a Black 16-year-old, flees her childhood home by enrolling in UNC-Chapel Hill’s Early College program. Bree witnesses a demon attack on campus, and a teenage mage (called a Merlin) tries unsuccessfully to erase her memory. Instead, he inadvertently uncovers a buried memory that reveals a Merlin’s presence at the hospital when Bree’s mother died, and that the mage erased that night’s events from Bree’s mind. To find answers, Bree infiltrates the Legendborn , a secret society (traditionally white and racist) descended from the Knights of the Round Table that hunts demons. When she learns that a war is brewing between the Legendborn and demonkind, she must decide how deep into the society she will plunge and if the Legendborn ’s war is hers to fight. Legendborn is a story about how old histories inform the present, new pathways forward are forged, and traumatic pasts, like those possessed by the descendants of slavery, are systematically buried, bringing overdue reckonings when unearthed. Deonn’s contemporary fantasy is a cultural gem that will connect readers with their roots in the most gut-punching, unapologetic of ways. -- Enishia Davenport (Reviewed 9/11/2020) (Booklist, vol 117, number 1)
Lucy Katz, Maddie Li, and Delia Meyer team up to compete in ValleyStart, a prestigious high school tech incubator competition for a dream internship in the male-dominated world of tech.
Fighting the undead is a breeze for Jane, but the fight for freedom? That's a different story. The Civil War is over, but mostly because the dead rose at Gettysburg—and then started rising everywhere else. Now the dangerous task of killing these shamblers rests on black people and Native Americans taken from their homes and forced into combat training schools at a young age. Jane McKeene, a black teen born to a white mother, is nearly finished with her training. She's fierce with a scythe but longs to find her way home to her mother. However, her plan is thwarted when she and her friends run afoul of a corrupt mayor and are sent to a Western outpost called Summerland. Sinister secrets lurk beneath the surface there, and the more Jane discovers, the more determined she is to escape, especially as the shamblers keep multiplying. All the classic elements of the zombie novel are present, but Ireland takes the genre up a notch with her deft exploration of racial oppression in this alternative Reconstruction-era America. It's no coincidence that the novel will prompt readers to make connections with today's racial climate. With a shrewd, scythe-wielding protagonist of color, Dread Nation is an exciting must-read. (Historical fiction/horror. 14-adult) (Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2018)
Frankie Landau-Banks has always been underestimated. After spending her childhood as a bright but sheltered ugly duckling, she begins sophomore year at her elite boarding school as a swan, catching the attention of senior Matthew Livingston. Frankie is ecstatic, particularly when she learns that he is the leader of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, an all-male secret society. She spends most of her time with Matthew and his friends but soon realizes that no matter how smart or funny she may be, she will never truly be a part of the group, simply because she is a girl. This frustrates her to no end. In a remarkable turn of events, Frankie takes control and begins to direct the Bassets, through email, in a series of elaborate school pranks, revitalizing the Order and the student body as well. An empowered female hero like Frankie is a rare and refreshing find. She is the ultimate feminist role model for teens: a girl with guts and imagination who's brave enough to take on the "old boy's club."—Emily Anne Valente, New York Public Library --Emily Anne Valente (Reviewed March 1, 2008) (School Library Journal, vol 54, issue 3, p204)
Vivian is the dutiful daughter of a former 1990s Riot Grrl. While her mom raged against the machine and published feminist zines in her youth, Viv prefers getting good grades and keeping a low profile. That is, until things at her small town's high school go too far. There are double standards for football players and everyone else, arbitrary dress code crackdowns that apply only to girls, and covered-up assaults happening right in the hallways. Vivian and her friends band together and decide they've had enough, but how can they push back without risking expulsion by a corrupt school administration? This is a fun, fresh, and inspiring read for anyone looking for a teenage take on modern feminism. Vivian gradually, and realistically, realizes how troubling sexism is, showing a great deal of introspection, which will likely appeal to readers who might not identify as feminists and those who already do. The author also takes care to include girls of color and boys in the novel's many conversations around the topic, emphasizing the importance of intersectional feminism.--Emily Grace Le May (Reviewed 07/01/2017) (School Library Journal, vol 63, issue 7, p91)
Kiera Johnson is a 17-year-old African American girl attending a predominately white high school. She tries to fit in by keeping her head down and her grades up. However, her classmates often see her as a reluctant spokesperson for an entire race of people. Her sister and boyfriend want her to be more combative, and her mother wants her to be more docile. Kiera's best friend, Harper, often unwittingly adds fuel to the fire by asking pointed race-based questions of her own. The mental gymnastics involved in constantly having to code switch to fit in with everyone else's idea of black womanhood is exhausting for Kiera. In an effort to keep her sanity, she secretly creates an exclusive online role-playing game called Slay . Characters duel using elaborately designed cards that highlight the diversity of the black experience. Kiera and her moderator, Cicada, manage to hide their identities while providing a much-needed respite for the black gaming community. Kiera's carefully constructed facade is threatened when one of the players of Slay is murdered. Now Kiera has to decide how far she's willing to go to protect the oasis she created for her community. --Desiree Thomas (Reviewed 07/01/2019) (School Library Journal, vol 65, issue 6, p50)
In a time when girls are forbidden to be warriors, Alanna of Trebond wants nothing more than to be a knight of the realm of Tortall. So she finds a way to switch places with her twin brother, Thom. Disguised as a boy, Alanna begins her training as a page at the palace of King Roald. But the road to knighthood, as she discovers, is not an easy one. Alanna must master weapons, combat, and magic, as well as polite behavior, her temper, and even her own heart.
According to RAINN, the largest anti-sexual-violence organization in the U.S., 80% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, and 68% go unreported. These statistics underpin Smith’s debut, which opens with 14-year-old Eden being raped by her brother’s best friend while her family sleeps down the hall. Kevin tells good-girl, band-geek Eden that no one will believe her, and she’s sure that he is right: Kevin is her brother’s teammate and roommate, and her family revolves around her brother. While Eden changes virtually overnight, no one knows what happened—largely, it seems, because no one wants to. Smith tracks Eden through her four years in high school, spotlighting her shifting relationship with her friend Mara, the caring boyfriend she lies to, and her increasing acting out with booze and sex. It’s painful to watch Eden disintegrate but also true to the double burden she carries—the violation of the rape and the weight of carrying the secret. The long-term view Smith takes of Eden’s story makes it all the more satisfying when she does find her voice. Ages 14–up. --Staff (Reviewed December 14, 2015) (Publishers Weekly, vol 262, issue 51, p)
Billie McCaffrey likes making epitaphs for herself. Though she's not always sure what her gravestone will say, she's certain that it will be in Otters Holt, KY, and she's proud of that. Another thing she's proud of? Her group of friends. Lovingly dubbed the Hexagon, they are all joined at the hip. After a prank gone wrong, Billie has to examine her identity as her friends begin to look closer at the oddities that they had previously dismissed. Navigating gender expression and sexuality, this is a book about love—the kind you find in friendships and romantic relationships—and how confusing it can be to understand the difference between the two. The book has a large cast, and two of the six friends unfortunately fall to the wayside, not getting quite the depth that Billie, Woods, Davey, and Janie Lee receive. However, these less developed characters never become tropes, and the narrator's fondness for them is evident. Billie provides a refreshing look at the ways faith and the church as an organization can clash. This story also celebrates experimentation with identity: Billie tries out quite a few throughout. As she finds herself, readers will be rooting for her until the very end. --Kathryn Kania (Reviewed 06/01/2017) (School Library Journal, vol 63, issue 6, p113)
On the Come Up tells the story of talented Bri, daughter of a deceased underground rapper, who’s pursuing her own rap career. Bri is more than her dreams of making it out of the hood and reaching rap stardom; she is a girl who loves her family and friends fiercely. Bri’s chance at fame comes after a rap battle in which the song she pens garners massive attention. When Bri’s mother loses her job, Bri’s rap ambitions become more crucial than ever. They could be her and her family’s ticket to a better life unthreatened by poverty. Bri is a refreshingly realistic character with trials and triumphs, strengths and flaws. She’s also a teen with a traumatic past who is still going through things in the present. She still, however, manages to find the beauty and joy in life despite her tribulations. In this splendid novel, showing many facets of the Black identity and the Black experience, including both the highs and the lows of middle-class and poor Black families, Thomas gives readers another dynamic protagonist to root for. -- Enishia Davenport (Reviewed 2/1/2019) (Booklist, vol 115, number 11, p72)
A toxic coach finds himself outplayed by the high school girls on his team in this deeply suspenseful novel, which unspools over twenty-four hours through six diverse perspectives.