Katniss Everdeen, where would we be without you? When The Hunger Games was published in 2008, the saga of Katniss Everdeen fascinated readers who loved this new strong, female protagonist. She set the standard for fierce female leads in the public eye, played with a deft performance equal parts fierce and vulnerable by Jennifer Lawrence. Still, to this day, many picture Katniss as the template for all YA heroines. We owe her a lot.
But there are some new ladies in the world who are tearing up young adult fiction, kicking ass and taking names. Not just in fantasy or science fiction novels, these heroines are in contemporary settings, too, reflecting the courage it takes to be a young woman in today’s world. Here are just a few of my favorite fierce female leads.
I loved Brittany Cavallaro’s thrilling and unputdownable debut novel, A Study in Charlotte (2016), the kick off to her contemporary mystery series. In Cavallaro’s interpretation, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson’s descendants team up across time. Now, in present day, Jamie Watson’s world turns upside down when he meets the bewitching and beguiling Charlotte Holmes at their prep school. Murder happens just a few pages in, and Charlotte and Jamie fall under a cloud of suspicion. Jamie tries to sort out his feelings for Charlotte, who is still traumatized from sexual assault, not helped by her self-destructive urges as an addict. I loved how messy and unclear their friendship/relationship was, just like in real life. Charlotte would do anything to learn more information and solve a case, even though she struggles to sort out her own life, her attraction to Jamie, and the echoes of her ex-boyfriend, Moriarty, whom we meet in the follow up, The Last of August.
Sarah J. Maas is known for her kick ass, take-no-prisoners lady assassin, Celaena, the heroine of the Throne of Glass series. It’s no surprise when her novel, A Court of Thorns and Roses, featured another strong female lead in Feyre, who kills a wood in a forest and single-handedly shatters her normal life. Feyre is taken to a magical world of enchantment and finds a smoldering chemistry with Tamlin, the leader of an enemy people. Can Feyre keep track of her allegiance to her homeland while taming her attraction to Tamlin? As war moves in, Feyre will learn that there are no easy choices but to follow your heart.The series consists of three books so far, with the first two already out. Set aside a weekend and binge read them today for a study in fierce female leads.
Who says strong female protagonists have to be fantasy and sci-fi heroines? Starr, the teenage protagonist of Angie Thomas’ debut, standalone novel, The Hate U Give, witnesses her unarmed childhood friend get killed by a white cop and finds herself struggling to define her allegiances. Starr already lives between two worlds: the predominantly African American part of her city that is her home and the rich, white neighborhood of her friends from the private school her parents ship her an her brother off to for a better shot at their future. Her friend’s murder puts her between two identities. Starr’s courage to find her voice while being pulled between her dual lives tests her family and herself. This is the kind of bravery that defines a YA strong female protagonist not just on a spaceship but also in a contemporary, realistic setting. Starr makes sacrifices worthy of Katniss. Perhaps the next great YA fierce female leads will be found not in a dystopian world, but in our own.
I’ve gushed over Sabaa Tahir’s fantasy/dystopian debut, An Ember in the Ashes before. This series has it all: forbidden romance, betrayal, plot twists, and a world so vivid you can fall into it. Laia, the heroine, is just as unstoppable as you’d expect. Acting as both a spy for the resistance and a lady’s maid and confidant to the leader of the state’s military academy, Laia herself sometimes has difficulty sorting out where her loyalties lie, especially when she meets Elias, a somewhat rogue soldier who captures her eye and her heart. Tahir does such a great job in making Laia a dynamic heroine. Laia is conflicted as her heart and mind tug her in different directions. This series consists of two published novels. Charge up your Kindle because you’re going to read your battery dry with this suspenseful and emotional series.