Best Feminist Young Adult Books

For me it was Aerin the unusually clumsy dragon-slayer.

Maybe for you it was Weetzie or Ayla or Sula or Anne Shirley or Annie On Your Mind or the Garcia Girls; maybe it was Hermione or Luna Lovegood or Katniss; maybe Arnold “Junior” Spirit or Dirk or Todd Hewitt; maybe even Bella.

There was a girl with pluck or a boy with feelings who made you realize gender norms weren't shackles, they were illusions waiting to be broken.

Tell me what got you through teenagerdom.
- Jessica
jstites [at] msmagazine.com
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flag this list (?)
1,044 books · 1,137 voters · list created July 27th, 2010 by Jessica (votes) .
145 likes · 
Lists are re-scored approximately every 5 minutes.


Jessica 791 books
246 friends
Rebecca 145 books
99 friends
Tobi 1225 books
94 friends
Lisa 1250 books
54 friends
Sammy 557 books
45 friends
Melissa 308 books
12 friends
Lindsay 116 books
1191 friends
Sarah Jeanne 322 books
85 friends

More voters…


Comments (showing 1-50 of 79) (79 new)


message 1: by Kasa (new)

Kasa Cotugno With the exception of Purple Hibiscus, I'm not sure my picks fall within this category, but Carson McCullers got me through my teenage hood.


message 2: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Be sure to vote for 'em, Kasa--Carson and Chimamanda need you! ;)


message 3: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar was a big one for me. Surprised to see that it's missing from this list.


message 4: by Sarah Jeanne (new)

Sarah Jeanne Lombardo Hm, no Girl, Interrupted?


message 5: by Sarah Jeanne (new)

Sarah Jeanne Lombardo Joryuu wrote: "Hm, no Girl, Interrupted?"
Nor Virgin Suicides! I think I was too morbidly precocious in my youth. Or my definition of feminism is wonk.


message 6: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Oh, I should have said, I just meant my initial picks as a starter list (and I admit I went with my more obscure faves, figuring the obvious ones would take care of themselves). So please add the Bell Jar and the Virgin Suicides and Girl, Interrupted, all great choices!!

There should be Add Book tab up top and an Add book/author button right above the comment window. Let me know if you don't see 'em and I'll check to see if I have some setting wrong.


message 7: by Sarah Jeanne (new)

Sarah Jeanne Lombardo Jessica wrote: "Oh, I should have said, I just meant my initial picks as a starter list (and I admit I went with my more obscure faves, figuring the obvious ones would take care of themselves). So please add the B..."
I added 'em :) The search thing was definitely misbehaving for a minute, but with enough pestering I got it to find my books.


message 8: by Dharmarose (new)

Dharmarose since when is twilight a feminist book? if anything, it's anti-feminist lit! it's also poorly written. it's crap and i'm not sorry to hate it!


message 9: by Katie (new)

Katie i capture the castle is on here twice.
great list, jessica! this is now a personal reading list for the fall and winter.


message 10: by Billy (new)

Billy Mischief Dharmarose wrote: "since when is twilight a feminist book? if anything, it's anti-feminist lit! it's also poorly written. it's crap and i'm not sorry to hate it!"

I agree with this comment- Twilight should not be on this list- feminism is about women going out, being independent and fighting their own battles- not sitting around being protected and fawned over by everybody. Bella not only DOES nothing- she also SACRIFICES nothing. She gets both her men, her life, her baby, her father, her friends, and in essence all of the things Meyer told us she would lose if she stayed with Edward. She is also right about it being poorly written- I've read fanfiction written by sixteen year olds better than Twilight. I will be seriously disappointed in Ms. Magazine if it ends up on this list.


message 11: by Kasa (new)

Kasa Cotugno It will be interesting to see where the votes fall from a generational point of view. Growing up in the 50s meant one thing, having a resurgence in the 70s, another. Reading in general was very important and conscious raising not an issue in my kid-hood.


message 12: by Tess (new)

Tess Lynch I forgot how much I love Jamaica Kincaid.


message 13: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Well, we at Ms. agree pretty strongly that Twilight isn't feminist -- see here:

http://www.momsrising.org/blog/what-a...
http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/...

But I talked to some young feminists recently who made an interesting contrarian case that Twilight IS feminist, so wanted to give feminist Twi-hards a chance to weigh in!


message 14: by Kellee (new)

Kellee Some of these books aren't YA..... Books for teens to read vs. actual YA books are different...


message 15: by Kellee (new)

Kellee I believe feminist YA books should have a female character which is either different and proud to be different or strong and not afraid to be strong.

For it to be truly classified a "feminist" book, I think the strong/different female character should be the main protagonist.

I, personally, felt that many of the best female main characters did not appear in children/middle-grade/YA literature until the last 20 years or so. Before, many female protagonists fit into a stereotype (which makes the classics with strong female leads even more special. i.e. Francie Nolan). Starting in the 90s, though, with Charlotte Doyle and Cassie Logan, the idea of the female protagonist began to change and we now have our Stargirls and Katniss Everdeens- all strong, female protagonists that change our way of generalizing women.


message 16: by Heather (new)

Heather Ohana Well said, Kellee. I wouldn't be completely exclusionary on having the strong/diferent female character being the main protagonist though. I added a lot of books to this list, but many of them I read as an adult. One of the ones I added that I read as a young adult is Bridge to Terabithia. The main character is a boy, but the effect the strong and different female next door neighbor has on him and the way she completely changes his worldview makes Terabithia a feminist book to me. She changes his mind about what girls can and can't do and how they're "supposed" to be. Showing that thought process occur in a male protagonist is a very feminist statement.


message 17: by Genevieve (new)

Genevieve The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is amazing- I can't say enough great things about it as a feminist book for teens. Good pick, Jessica. Also, The Hunger Games is fantastic- I'm anxiously awaiting the third book in that trilogy.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Who added the Da Vinci Code to this list?????


message 19: by Jan (new)

Jan Priddy Jessica, many of the books on this list are inappropriate for what is normally considered a Young Adult readership. YA includes readers as young as 12 and many of these novels shouldn't be read below the late teens. Mind you, I have taught THE BLUEST EYE to high school juniors for almost 20 years. It is NOT a YA book, and Morrison herself has expressed alarm that it's been read by girls as young as 13. In class, with a teacher's guidance, it's a gorgeous, painful read. It is a common mistake to assume that books with children are suitable for children to read. Just because a novel includes young adult characters does not mean it is intended to be read by that age group.


message 20: by Jan (new)

Jan Priddy DUNE? Feminist? Seriously? A good read, but Herbert didn't even like women.


message 21: by Knitting (new)

Knitting Clio Marilyn French's _The Women's Room_. Other girls in my high school just read the "naughty bits" -- I read the whole thing and learned about sexism and feminism in the 1960s.


message 22: by Kellee (new)

Kellee Jan wrote: "Jessica, many of the books on this list are inappropriate for what is normally considered a Young Adult readership. YA includes readers as young as 12 and many of these novels shouldn't be read bel..."

Well put Jan.


message 23: by Sokari (new)

Sokari Hi Jess - will definitely give my suggestions - will get back later today

cheers
sokari


message 24: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Hi Jan,

So glad you brought up the issue of what's YA--obviously this will be an extremely important concern for the article! Is there any official organization/source that decides what is/isn't YA? (And if there is, should we trust it?)

Jessica


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

Jessica wrote: "Hi Jan,

So glad you brought up the issue of what's YA--obviously this will be an extremely important concern for the article! Is there any official organization/source that decides what is/isn't Y..."


Somebody decides where things are filed in the library. Ask a Librarian! They always know the answer, right?


message 26: by Heather (last edited Jul 28, 2010 04:38PM) (new)

Heather Ohana Came across an interesting blog post on the topic of "who decides?"

It's here: http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.c...

Some highlights:

Blog author Nicola Morgan says: Generally, and properly, the author, in conjunction with the commissioning editor, at the time of commissioning and/or writing. Sometimes, a publisher is commissioning a series with a specific age category, so the author would be required to fit that model. But usually the author knows who he or she is writing for and has a very strong sense of that.

Michelle, apparently a librarian, commented thusly: I recently found out that where a book is shelved depends largely on who ordered it. We have a specialist in charge of ordering for children, and a different one for YA. Each has a separate budget, and the books they order will be cataloged and shelved relevant to which of them ordered the book.

Morgan responds to a comment later with: ... in my view there are no topics that are, per se, too dangerous or challenging for teenagers. It's how you write it and the story that carries it along. So your subject-matter doesn't tell me whether it's YA or adult - who are the characters, what is their POV, what is the voice etc? How harsh is the story-telling rather than how harsh is the topic.

Personally I think checking in with the author is a good bet if you have questions about whether a book is YA or not. At least if it's a modern author, you can google them and likely find a blog and/or some interviews where it'll come clear what they intended when writing. I have a harder time with older books, determining if they are YA or not. Also, I tend to trust YALSA (http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yal...).


message 27: by Sokari (new)

Sokari Hi Jess - I have suggested books I read as a teen as well as an adult. I dont know exactly the age group you are targeting but my only hesitation with including Toni Morrison is she may be too difficult for 13-16 yr olds but I certainly dont think the subject dealt with is beyond that age group.

Cheers


message 28: by Jenn (new)

Jenn Since when is The Diary Of Anne Frank feminist? Dont get me wrong, Im not knocking it or anything of the sort! Just wondering! Personally I dont see it. Maybe Im just missing something here, but it doesnt seem to me to fit in with the rest of this list...


message 29: by Sokari (new)

Sokari There are quite a few books here that are doubtful as "feminist" literature and some which I are so far from literature I am not sure why they are here. Dont see why The Diary of Anne Frank should be excluded.


message 30: by Diane (new)

Diane Shipley I think there's a difference between books with YA protagonists and books aimed primarily at a YA audience, and many of these books seem to fall into the first category and not the second. I am a big fan of I Capture The Castle and Are You There God, though.


message 31: by sky (last edited Aug 08, 2010 04:47AM) (new)

sky Flora Segunda

I love this book! A range of interesting gender roles, some interesting family structures, plus adventure and delightful writing.


message 32: by Tamara (new)

Tamara In defense of my vote for The Book Thief:

The title character, the book thief, is just a girl. But she's also everything there is about life. She loves, she hates, she's shy but she makes an impression. She follows the rules and then she breaks the rules. Sometimes she's heartless and other times she can break your heart. In WWII, when the world is falling apart, Liesel helps redefine what it means to be human.


message 33: by Merenwen (new)

Merenwen Twilight should not be on this list. Bella Swan is a spineless idiot who relies on her 'man' too much. She is a horrible example for young women.


message 34: by Susan (new)

Susan When I saw the front cover of Ms. magazine, the first book I thought of was Graceling by Kristin Cashore, and I was very disappointed that neither it nor Fire was mentioned in the article. I'm glad to see that at least Graceling is on this list.


message 35: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Lobelia,

I went out and read Graceling because it came up so high on this list, and it's fabulous!! But halfway into making my list I realized my picks were 70 percent fantasy, and I had to make some hard choices ... so went for Tamora Pierce instead. What do you think--Graceling vs. Alanna--did I make the right choice? Or are they both just musts?

Jessica

Lobelia wrote: "When I saw the front cover of Ms. magazine, the first book I thought of was Graceling by Kristin Cashore, and I was very disappointed that neither it nor Fire was mentioned in the article. I'm glad..."


message 36: by Mindy (new)

Mindy Weber Forget Nancy Drew. Where is Trixie Belden? She is the teenage sleuth that got me through adolescence.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads You could add her. Up top next to "all votes."


message 38: by Erica (new)

Erica It's so interesting seeing books on here that I used to read from about ages 8 and up! I guess I didn't actually realize that they were considered feminist literature back then, but it's definitely influenced what I read and my perspectives now as a feminist at age 17. I'm still reading books on this list. :)


message 39: by M/Ðɑηηɑ (new)

M/Ðɑηηɑ Such a great idea to make this list up, so that we have power even in this specific site (though I guess that wasn't your real propose, right?)- I think the books you putted in here are great, read a few. I think you should add Ayan Hirsi Ali's book, and Marina Nemat's, and Lisa See (which really contains feminist sayings).


message 40: by Sun (new)

Sun (the one that glows in the dark, of course) I read some of the comments on this list, bashing Bella for being such a weak, spineless girl who needed to be protected instead of taking care of herself.
SO, when I read about Bella sacrificing nothing, I was forcibly reminded of a book, Hollowland by Amanda Hocking.
The girl in the book, I've forgotten her name, but she was such a bad ass. She fought zombies off on her own without much help except for the occasional accidental slip up moments that left her helpless.
But I really liked how the girl was so independent.


message 41: by Scott (new)

Scott Thank you for creating this list. As a middle school teacher, it's a great resource for choosing more books to add to my classroom library.


message 42: by Alana (new)

Alana Rodrigues Scott wrote: "Thank you for creating this list. As a middle school teacher, it's a great resource for choosing more books to add to my classroom library."

It makes me very happy that somewhere out in this crazy world a man named Scott was looking for feminist young adult books to add to his classroom library.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship There are an awful lot of books on this list that are not feminist, or not YA, or both. The Handmaid's Tale, The Mists of Avalon, and the works of Jane Austen and Alice Walker, for starters, were all written for adults. The fact that many people read them as teens does not make them YA.

And really, His Dark Materials, feminist? Harry Potter? The Diary of Anne Frank? The Lovely Bones, for chrissakes?


message 44: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Burke Emma, I agree with you. Just because a young person reads a book does NOT make it YA. Lists cease being helpful if the most basic criteria are ignored. You can believe that a teenager should read Jane Austen and want her to see its feminist themes (or ironies, in this case), and still understand it does not belong in a list of Feminist YA books.

As for The Lovely Bones being feminist. Yikes. Why????? I wouldn't call it the "best" anything, for that matter. It's fun to argue over what gets included in a list, but again, only if the basic categories are adhered to.


message 45: by Keely (new)

Keely What about The Knife of Never Letting Go, or, more importantly, its sequel? The Ask and the Answer was ALL about feminism.


message 46: by Jessica (new)

Jessica I was crossing my fingers hoping that Tamora Pierce would be on this list and I was not disappointed. Her books are the first books I ever read where the female lead was constantly looking for someone to save her.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads An excellent question.


message 48: by Tomris (new)

Tomris how could you not include Marge Piercy's 'Braided Lives' in this list? It's a crime!


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads You could add it; it's easy to add books to a list. At the top, at the tab next to "all votes."


message 50: by Molly (new)

Molly Katherine wrote: "How is Twilight feminist?"

I was thinking that SAME thing....


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