Young Adult (YA) Books With Strong Female Lead Characters
In 2017, there was lots of excitement around the movie Wonder Woman because it was the first female-led superhero film in more than a decade. The movie went on to become one of the three most successful movies at the box office for the whole year. The other movies in the top 3 were Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Beauty and the Beast, which also had heroic female leads. While the movie industry shies away from stories with feminine action and superhero leads, there are plenty of books aimed at children, teens, and young adults (YA) with amazing kickass heroines. These are some of the best adventure, fantasy, and sci-fi titles that are worth looking into.
Science Fiction / Dystopian
Sky Without Stars, the first book in the System Divine trilogy, is Les Misérables set in space. There are three main characters, two female. One is Chatine, a street rat and a thief in a society where "the clouds hide the stars and the poor starve in the streets; where a rebel group, long thought dead, is resurfacing." The other is Alouette, who lives in an underground refuge and knows little about the outside world, other than that it is very dangerous. Alouette comes into contact with the military officer Marcellus when he's injured in a riot. Later, Chatine, disguised as a boy, is hired to spy on Marcellus. All three must come together to fight in Laterre's coming revolution.
The Scavengers by Michael Perry:
When the world started to fall apart, everyone was given the choices to either move into the Bubble Cities or take their chances outside. Maggie's family chose to live outside and scavenge to survive.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins:
Set in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, where a wealthy Capitol city is surrounded by twelve poor districts. The Capitol is wealthy and technologically advanced. Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 where people often die of starvation. As punishment for a past rebellion one boy and one girl from each districts is selected by lottery to compete in an annual event called the Hunger Games. The participants are forced to fight to the death in a dangerous public arena. The winner and their home district are rewarded with food, supplies, and riches. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu:
Born into an Elite family and scoring a perfect 1500 on a test called the Trial means June Iparis has a bright future ahead of her. She is destined for great things in the Republic's military where she is being groomed for a position of leadership. When her brother is murdered while on duty, June vows to find his suspected killer, a Robin Hood type outlaw known as Day. She succeeds, but during his arrest Day's mother is killed and his brothers are taken into custody. Day is quickly sentenced to death. When June discovers that Day is innocent, she risks everything to help him escape.
Cinder features a cyborg Cinderella who lives in the futuristic city of New Beijing. Because she is a cyborg, Linh Cinder is treated as a second class citizen and is despised by her stepmother. Working at her mechanics stall in a marketplace, Linh comes into contact with the son of the Emperor, Prince Kai. When her stepsister Peony dies from the plague, Linh's grieving stepmother blames her and volunteers her for deadly plague research. During testing, she meets Dr. Erland who discovers Linh's real identity. When the evil Lunar Queen Levana seeks an alliance with Prince Kai, she and Linh Cinder cross paths. Levana immediately recognizes Linh and demands her immediate arrest. When she crashes the annual ball, Linh is taken into custody. While she waits in prison to be transported to the moon with Queen Levana and her entourage, Dr. Erland visits Linh and reveals her shocking identity. Over four books, Linh struggles to find a way to defeat Levana and save Earth.
Renegades by Marissa Meyer:
After the murder of her parents, Nova Artino is taken under the wing of her supervillain uncle Ace Anarchy and raised by a group of villains called the Anarchists. Nova (alias Nightmare) seeks vengeance against a group of superhero protectors called the Renegades, who rule and enforce the law in the city of Gatlon. She infiltrates their headquarters by becoming a Renegade-in-training. It's there that she meets Adrian, the son of the leaders of the Renegades. Adrian is determined to track down Nightmare and bring her to justice. Nova is torn between her affections for Adrian and her allegiance to the Anarchists.
The three books in The Illuminae Files trilogy feature multiple heroines that we meet over the course of the three books.
- Illuminae: Kady Grant is living in an illegal mining colony on the faraway planet Kerenza. When the colony is attacked by BeiTech, she escapes on a space vessel that comes to the rescue. Her ship and two others that survived the assault are being pursued by an enemy ship prepared to destroy the escaping fleet before the can inform the authorities about the attack. It's then that Kady comes into contact with the murderous AI, AIDAN who was damaged in the battle of Kerenza.
- Gemina: Spoiled rich girl Hanna Donnelly, the daughter of the commander of the space station Heimdall, has no idea things are going to go horribly wrong as she prepares for a big party. The battered Hypatia carrying Kady Grant and hundreds of others is heading to Heimdall. An assault fleet sent by BeiTech to destroy them is also heading toward the wormhole at Heimdall from the opposite direction. When an assault team invades the space station to make way for the assault fleet, Hanna, Nik Malikov and another wonderful badass (and disabled) female character Ella Malikova have to team up to save the day. With some help from Kady and AIDAN, they have to prevent the assault fleet from entering the wormhole.
- Obsidio: All the characters come together but new characters are introduced including Kady's cousin Asha. The Hypatia wasn't able to get through the wormhole when Heimdall was destroyed. Trapped on the wrong side of it, far from civilization, the Hypatia has no choice but to return to Kerenza where the remaining survivors are living under a brutal BeiTech occupation. Soon, BeiTech will leave, and kill the remaining settlers before they do. In a race against time, the crew of the Hypatia and rebels on the ground must race against the clock to survive. Kady, Hanna, Nik, Ella, Ezra and AIDAN must come together with Asha and Rhys to develop a plan.
Like The Illuminae Files, the Starbound Trilogy introduces new characters in each book with the previous characters making an appearance.
- These Broken Stars: Lilac LaRoux, the daughter of the richest man in the universe and Tarver Merendsen, a soldier, don't like each other very much. When the luxury spaceliner Icarus is pulled out of hyperspace, Lilac and Tarver are the only survivors, crashing in a pod on a terraformed planet. At first, they expect rescuers to race to the crashed liner. When no one arrives, they realize they're alone on the planet. They must make a long arduous journey across the deserted planet to find somewhere they can send a signal for help. Along the way, there's a lot of bickering until strange things begin to happen.
- This Shattered World: Strange things are happening on the planet Avon. Rebel Flynn Cormac kidnaps military captain Jubilee Chase looking for answers. At first, she thinks he's hallucinating. But then, she too, begins to realize that something strange is going on. After Flynn helps her escape the rebel base, Jubilee starts looking for answers. She contacts her old captain Tarver Merendsen. When she describes what's going on, he immediately makes his way to Avon. Before long, both Flynn and Jubilee are on the run from both the military and the rebels.
- Their Fractured Light: Events take place on the planet Corinth and introduce us to Sofia Quinn, who fled Avon, and Gideon Marchant, a hacker who helps protect the privacy of celebrity couple Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen. When Gideon and Sofia attempt to infiltrate the LaRoux Industries headquarters at the same time, they have to work together to escape despite neither one trusting the other. As they work together to expose what's going on, they come into contact with Sofia's cousin Flynn, as well as Jubilee, Tarver, and Lilac. Lilac is shocked to discover the identity of the hacker she has come to rely on. When she becomes possessed, everyone must work together to save the universe from her extraordinary powers.
The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente:
This is a fantasy novel based on the literary Brontë family. Charlotte and Emily must enter a fantasy world they invented in order to rescue their siblings.
The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman:
Lyra is an orphan who lives in a parallel universe that looks like our own world. In Lyra's world poor, orphan children are disappearing at the hands of a group called the Gobblers. When Lyra discovers that the woman who's hosting Lyra at her house is running the Gobblers, she escapes. Lyra joins the Gyptians on a trip to the far North, the land of the armored polar bears, to search for the missing children.
The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons: Lucy at Sea by Barbara Mariconda:
After Lucy's parents drowned at sea, she was protected by special magic. The magic saved Lucy from her greedy uncle by turning her house into a ship. She travels the ocean with her family as her crew. They head for Australia to find Lucy's last living relative, Aunt Pru. But a family curse still haunts Lucy. If she doesn't unlock her family's secrets before her enemies do, they may drag her into the stormy sea.
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce:
In a time when girls are forbidden to be warriors, Alanna wants nothing more than to be a knight of the realm of Tortall. She switches places with her twin brother, Thom. Disguised as a boy, she begins her training as a page at the palace of King Roald. But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. Alanna must master weapons, combat, and magic, as well as polite behavior, her temper, and even her own heart.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine:
Cursed from birth to be obedient, she struggles to overcome enforced subservience, and in the process must be rebellious, self-assured, and willing to break all the rules to find her own way in life.
Liralexa Abbingdon, the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of the Nine Regions, lives a charmed but confined life. One fateful day she discovers a portal next to a well on palace grounds which takes her to the Step Region where she learns that the parents she adores are evil despots. When the boy she loves is taken away to be killed in a cruel event called the Strages, she's forced to make a terrible decision.
Action and Adventure
The Apothecary (The Apothecary Series) by Maile Meloy:
When Benjamin's father is kidnapped, Janie and Benjamin must uncover secrets from a sacred book in order to find him, while keeping it out of the hands of Russian spies who possess nuclear weapons.
The Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce:
Young Alanna of Trebond craved adventure and daring allowed only to boys. So, she switched places with her twin brother, Thom. He went to the convent to become a sorcerer, while Alanna headed to the castle to begin her journey to knighthood.
Faced with a forced marriage, Niles runs away to work on a ship with a cowardly captain, an incompetent crew, and a cruel, first officer intent on making her life a living hell.