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A (rough) guide to good YA literature with solid female characters

So, this is my first time posting on GT with my brand new privileges, and I've had this post rolling around my head for a while. I am 24 years old and an avid YA fan, particularly in the urban fantasy genre. Mostly, my experience with YA has been in the post-Harry Potter phase, so I am not as familiar with the classics, like Judy Blume, Madeleine L'Engle, Ursula K. LeGuin, etc. Seeing as there's been a recent trend to make movies out of YA books, I thought it would be cool to discuss my absolute favorite books of the genre which contain a solid female protagonist. Feel free to add to this list or to question my choices!

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Angelfall by Susan Ee (Penryn & the End of Days series)

A post-apocalyptic novel set in Northern California, this book features Penryn, a 17-year-old street-smart, fierce girl. When her sister gets kidnapped by monstrous warrior angels, Penryn must travel to San Francisco to rescue her. This books is scary, action-packed, and deeply emotional all at once, and the best part is it doesn't feature the often-repeated formula of girl-falls-instantly-in-love-with-tall-dark-male-protagonist. It is also remarkable that the author chose to self-publish, when it would clearly have been successful had it followed the traditional publishing route.


The series is ongoing. The book's sequel World After is set to be published on November 19.

2. Rampant by Diana Peterfreund (Killer Unicorns series)

This one really baffled me at first. I had no idea killer unicorns could possibly be pulled off, but this series managed to convince me. This book tells the story of Astrid Llewellyn, a young girl from a long line of unicorn hunters. After her boyfriend is attacked by a unicorn, Astrid comes into her abilities and travels to Rome to train with a rag-tag pack of hunters. The book reads like Buffy at times, and although it is one of my favorites, there are two things I didn't care for much in the series: 1) the hunters' abilities are tied to their virginity and 2) the contract on the series ran out, and the last book left off in a semi-cliffhanger.

The series is complete(ish?), with 2 sequels following the first novel: Ascendant and Errant, the latter being more of a short prequel.

3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (same name series)

Of all the books in this list, this one definitely has the most beautiful and well-crafted writing of the lot. It's almost poetic, it's so good. The book takes place in Prague, and the protagonist is kind of a quirky/mysterious character by the name of Karou. It's actually pretty hard to describe this one, but here's an excerpt from the official book description:

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.


The series is still ongoing, with a sequel already released by the name of Days of Blood and Starlight, with another to follow (not yet published) titled Dreams of Gods and Monsters.

4. Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan (The Lynburn Legacy series)

This is Sarah Rees Brennan's modern take on a gothic novel. For those who are not familiar, Brennan is Irish, and this book is set in the English countryside, in a town called Sorry in the Vale. The protagonist, Kami Glass, is an aspiring journalist with an "imaginary" friend she speaks to in her head. The story begins when the remaining members of the ancient Lynburn family return to their ancestral home in Sorry in the Vale after nearly 20 years away. The book is very well-written, with a fantastically diverse cast of characters and a killer cliff-hanger at the end.


The series is ongoing, with the sequel, Untold, set to be published on September 24th.

5. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

This books is probably the most "childish" of the list, but I needed to recommend it nonetheless. It is also the only realistic fiction on the list, which is a matter of personal preference. The story, set in an east coast boarding school, features Frankie Landau-Banks, a sophomore student who discovers a secret boys' club. The writing is very witty, which can come off as trying too hard at times, but the story is fantastic for people looking for a strong female protagonist who doesn't have supernatural strength or fighting abilities. Frankie is very smart, independent, and strong-willed. I can't reveal much more about the plot without spoiling it, though.


6. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (Gemma Doyle series)

And finally, we have the Gemma Doyle series! I've briefly spoken with other Jezzies about this book in the comments. The book tells the story of Gemma Doyle, a young English girl raised in India during the Victorian period. After her mother's death, Gemma gets shipped to an English boarding school, Spence Academy, where she doesn't really fit in at first. She is led by a spirit to an old diary, in which she discovers secrets of a magical Order and means to transport herself and her friends to an other-world. The books plays around a lot with the idea of power, particularly in contrasting the girls' real power as future Victorian wives to their power in the otherworldly Realms. It was one of my first forays into YA, and I really enjoyed the series.


The series is complete, having published two sequels: Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing

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