Female Role Models in Young Adult Fiction

Raising a teenager is hard, but if you think back to actually being a teenager, it was even harder. There are so many influences in your life it can be hard to know who to trust, what to do, and how you are supposed to be feeling. As you might have guessed, I spent many of those years reading books about other teenagers and adults in order to discover if I was ‘normal’ and if the feelings and doubts I had made me weird. Finding books that can reassure girls and young women that they are powerful, they can be strong, and that there is nothing wrong with diverging from what society expects can be hard. Convincing those same girls that it is better than just alright to follow their hearts and trust in themselves is terribly difficult, but sometimes a book with a heroine that does just that can be a good start. Here are some books for the thirteen and older crowd that feature strong, positive, female role models.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
On her way to marry a prince she’s never met, Princess Anidori is betrayed by her guards and her lady-in-waiting and must become a goose girl to survive until she can reveal her true identity and reclaim the crown that is rightfully hers. The Books of Bayern series continues with the sequel, Enna Burning and Hale’s Princess Academy series is also worth a read.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
A young witch-to-be named Tiffany teams up with the Wee Free Men, a clan of six-inch-high blue men, to rescue her baby brother and ward off a sinister invasion from Fairyland. The Tiffany Aching series continues with A Hat Full of SkyWintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Meg Murry and her friends become involved with unearthly strangers and a search for Meg’s father, who has disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government.
Meg’s adventures continue in the sequel, A Wind in the Door  and for a graphic novel version of this classic novel, check out A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel.

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
During World War II, a light-skinned African American girl “passes” for white in order to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Lame and suddenly orphaned, Kira is mysteriously removed from her squalid village to live in the palatial Council Edifice, where she is expected to use her gifts as a weaver to do the bidding of the all-powerful Guardians.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Living with a foster family in Germany during World War II, a young girl struggles to survive her day-to-day trials through stealing anything she can get her hands on, but when she discovers the beauty of literature, she realizes that she has been blessed with a gift that must be shared with others, including the Jewish man hiding in the basement.

Lyddie by Katherine Paterson
Impoverished Vermont farm girl Lyddie Worthen is determined to gain her independence by becoming a factory worker in Lowell, Massachusetts, in the 1840s.

If you have a tween that is not quite ready to hit the young adult section or a teen willing to cross over into the juvenile fiction area, then some of these books might hit the spot; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, The Game of Silence by  Louise Erdrich, The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente ; with illustrations by Ana Juan, Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, or The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages.

And as always, I am sure to have missed some fabulous books that offer female role models for teens and tweens. I know I let a few of my favorite authors out in the interest of space and a varied list.  If I missed your favorite, or one you would like to recommend to others, please let us know in the comments so fellow readers can add it to their lists.

Sharon Reads: Splintered by A.G. Howard

Splintered by A.G. Howard is a young adult novel that blends a girl’s search for herself, redemption for her mother, and the Alice in Wonderland story. Alyssa Gardner is said to share a curse of madness with her mother. This is because they are descendants of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The curse has put her mother in a psychiatric facility with declining health, and Alyssa now shares some of the symptoms.  Alyssa comes to believe that Wonderland is real, and that she must fix her ancestor’s mistakes in order to free herself and her mother from the curse. Alyssa will face betrayal, tests of affection and memory, and her own belief in herself as she works to save her mother. Will she find love as she searches for the truth, or will she get lost in the dark and twisted world she only knows from childhood dreams.

Splintered is much more than a retelling of Lewis Carroll’s stories about Wonderland. It is an emotionally deep look at a girl lost in her efforts to turn away from a part of herself she wants to ignore. Alyssa has channeled all that she wants to ignore about herself into her art and skating, to things that her best friend, Jeb, and her father understand and support. She worries for her mother, and that she will end up just like her. Even teens with parents that seem perfectly normal to outsiders often have these fears. The family curse, and Alyssa’s discovery of its root origin, and he efforts to free her family are tightly woven with a mentor from Alyssa’s childhood dreams. Jeb’s accidental journey to join Alyssa could be a blessing or a curse, cementing their friendship to something more or destroying them both. Morpheus could be her greatest ally, a treacherous foe, out for only himself, or possibly all of the above. The journey through a Wonderland we might recognize from Carroll’s tales, is twisted and darker than expected, as are the characters we met. The character development and the story itself are fast paced, often take unexpected turns, and were perfectly explored.

I highly recommend Splintered to readers that want something that shakes up the preconceived notions we have about classic stories, and the worlds they involve. Readers that enjoy deep looks at the emotional state and development of characters facing huge problems on top of the normal stresses of school, social life, and family will also find great value in this book. The world of Wonderland is not rehashed, rather it goes beyond anything that readers might expect, as do the characters that enter its borders. the sequel, Unhinged, is scheduled for release in January of 2014. I gave this book a full 5 stars on Goodreads.

This review was previously published on Sharon the Librarian.