One of the best things about having nieces is the chance to buy books for them, be it something like Anne of Green Gables or the collected works of E. Lockhart, who writes with a distinctly feminist viewpoint in the young adult genre. There’s something thrilling about reading books when you’re young and looking for how to be in the world; here are 15 feminist-leaning books that could inspire girls — and grown women — to take over the world.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Frankie Landau-Banks, a sophomore at a fancy-pants prep school, takes on the patriarchy and her boyfriend’s male-only secret society in this brilliant book, filled with feminism, pranks, and jokes. Give it to every young woman in your life.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
WWII, codebreaking, flying: this book has all the ingredients of an adventure story, but above all, it’s the story of the friendship between Verity and Maddie and how it survives during war.
Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
Vivian wrestles with what it means to be a “good girl” and a “slut” when it comes to the strict social hierarchies of high school. The main character, Natalie, starts with a very Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains attitude — “I’m perfect! But nobody in this shithole gets me, because I don’t put out!” — but that will be challenged…
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
The redheaded outcast daughter of the king cuts her hair, goes undercover, and starts slaying dragons in this Newbury Award winner.
Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery by M. Evelina Galang
In this coming-of-age story about a girl whose father is dead and whose mother “abandoned” her for a better life in Chicago, Angel dives into political activism and consciousness-raising work.
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Beauty pageant contestants are stranded on a desert island, in a story that includes observations like this: “Why do girls always feel like they have to apologize for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world? Have you ever noticed that?”
Starstruck by Rachel Shukert
In this first installment of a series, hilarious author Shukert (remember her Smash recaps?) imagines what it’s like to be a teenage aspiring actress in glamorous 1930s Hollywood: smart, bitchy, and deliriously funny.
Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
The first in the delightful Jessica Darling series, this is basically some Catcher in the Rye stuff, the very true adventures of a realistically addled and funny teenage girl.
Rookie Yearbook One edited by Tavi Gevenson
Rookie is a crucial website for teenage girls (and their young-at-heart adult counterparts), and their yearbooks — Three is coming soon — serve as a catch-all overview of what Rookie does best, featuring writing and journalism by and for teenage girls (and their young-at-heart adult counterparts). They’re a snapshot of what it’s like to be young, smart, and confused — and a conversation with all the other wonderful young, smart, confused, funny people who are in the same boat — at this very moment.
The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
Sure, we all know The Golden Compass, but have you read Pullman’s excellent “Sally Lockhart Quartet”? The first in a series, The Ruby in the Smoke sets it all up with Sally Lockhart, orphaned and alone, traveling deep into a mystery that involves the opium trade.
Just One Day by Gayle Foreman
It sounds like Before Sunrise for teens: a guy and girl meet and have a fabulous 24 hours in Paris, but where this book gets interesting and feminist is in Foreman’s portrayal of the aftermath of romance, like an answer to YA characters (cough, Bella Swan) who are just nothing without a man.
The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King
Go on a swashbuckling adventure with the first book by acclaimed author A. S. King, where a wild 1700s girl pirate, the scourge of the seas, is sentenced to a life of multiple reincarnations. Truly weird and powerful.
Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce
Pierce specializes in wild fantasy with feminist themes, and in this first book in a series, a 13-year-old girl who can talk to the animals and breaks horses has to fight in a war.
The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson
Twitter provocateur (remember “Coverflip“?) Maureen Johnson’s most-banned book, The Bermudez Triangle is about three best girl friends whose dynamic is suddenly askew when two of them become… girlfriends. It’s sweet and funny and features wonderful female characters.
Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr
Zarr’s smart debut is about a teen girl who got caught having sex when she was younger; branded as the school slut, she tries to build a life beyond her bad reputation.