Some of my favorite female role models are fictional (though I’m not discounting the real ones!). These ladies are strong, independent, and inspirational. Oh, and they’re basically all badasses. Whether they’re physically, mentally, or emotionally strong (or all three), they’re characters that make me want to be the best that I can be. They’re interesting, complex, and make me proud to be a woman. I hope they’ll do the same for you!
20 YA Books Featuring Strong Female Characters
1. Nina – Slayer by Kiersten White
Into every generation a Slayer is born…
Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic. Until the day Nina’s life changes forever. Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.
2. Maren – Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells
Raised among the ruins of a conquered mountain nation, Maren dreams only of sharing a quiet life with her girlfriend Kaia—until the day Kaia is abducted by the Aurati, prophetic agents of the emperor, and forced to join their ranks. Desperate to save her, Maren hatches a plan to steal one of the emperor’s coveted dragons and storm the Aurati stronghold. If Maren is to have any hope of succeeding, she must become an apprentice to the Aromatory—the emperor’s mysterious dragon trainer. But Maren is unprepared for the dangerous secrets she will uncover.
3. Nimue – Cursed by Thomas Wheeler and Frank Miller
Whosoever wields the Sword of Power shall be the one true King.
But what if the Sword has chosen a Queen?
Cursed by Thomas Wheeler and Frank Miller is a clever re-imagining of the story of the Lady of the Lake. What if the Lady of the Lake didn’t give Excalibur to Arthur and instead was destined to unite England? Nimue (pronounced NIM-way) is the fierce, unapologetically strong protagonist that you’ll fall in love with on page 1.
4. The Girls of Innovations Academy – Girls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young
The carefully controlled existence of a group of girls at an elite boarding school may not be quite as it appears to be. As Mena and her friends uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening – and who they really are – the students of Innovations Academy will learn to fight back. The Handmaid’s Tale meets Westworld in this new book from The Program author, Suzanne Young.
5. Alouette and Chatine – Sky without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell
When the Last Days came, the planet of Laterre promised hope. But five hundred years later, it’s now a place where an extravagant elite class reigns supreme and the poor starve in the streets and whispers of revolution have begun—a revolution that hinges on three unlikely heroes… Chatine, a street-savvy thief who will do anything to escape the brutal Regime. Marcellus, an officer—and the son of a renowned traitor. Alouette, an underground refuge. All three have a role to play in a dangerous game of revolution—and together they will shape the future of a planet.
6. Gutsy – Broken Lands by Jonathan Maberry
Ever since her mother’s death, Gabriella “Gutsy” Gomez has spent her days flying under the radar. But when her mother’s undead body is returned to her doorstep from the grave and Gutsy witnesses a pack of ravagers digging up Los Muertos—her mother’s name for the undead—she realizes that life finds you no matter how hard you try to hide from it.
7. Poppy – Night World by L.J. Smith
Poppy starts off the book in a very delicate state-she’s dying. But even as her body is weak, her mind is not. When she and her soulmate, James, go on a whirlwind of adventure in the secret universe of the Night World, she quickly becomes a very strong leading lady. She’s quick, sharp, and confident.
8. Anne – Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman
Blackhearts reimagines the origin story of one of the world’s most infamous pirate–Blackbeard. However, Edward “Teach” Drummond isn’t the star of this book, rather Anne Barrett, his newly penniless maid, is. Anne is incredibly smart and impassioned, destined for a life much more grandiose than cleaning up after a rich merchant, and she definitely knows how to hold her own against Teach. If you love pirates and women who know how to knock their love interest down a peg when they’re acting (just a teensy bit) entitled…Blackhearts is for you.
9. Clary- City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
The Shadowhunters world is a large one, full of multiple series by Cassandra Clare that will keep you reading for a long time. Clary Fray is the character that started it all, and her journey is a long and difficult one. Though she begins her Shadowhunter journey at a disadvantage because she’s new and untrained, you get to journey with her throughout the series as she learns how to become a Shadowhunter, what it means to be brave, and how to fight for the people she loves.
10. Eden– The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
Eden experiences something more traumatic than most of us will hopefully ever go through. She is completely wrecked, and yet somehow she still finds the strength to keep going and, eventually, to ask for the help she desperately needs.
11. Nemesis – The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid
Often when we talk about strong female characters we’re referring to emotional strength, but in this case, Nemesis is literally stronger than anyone else. She’s a Diabolic, created for one purpose only—to protect her person, Sidonia. But when Nemesis takes Sidonia’s place as a hostage to the empire, Nemesis meets new people and learns what it means to care, to sacrifice, and to fall in love. Her physical strength is joined by an emotional strength that makes her a truly powerful and memorable character.
12. Isobel – An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk-immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. Though she’s up against some scary creatures, Isobel never allows herself to be put down. She knows her worth, and knows enough to remain alert and competent regardless of the situation she finds herself in. She somehow manages to come out on top, even when someone manages to trip her up.
13. Citra – Scythe by Neal Shusterman
When Citra is tapped to an a Scythe’s appretntice, she isn’t particularly happy about it. After all, not many people would choose to be a professional killer. Still, it’s a duty that must be performed in her perfect world with no disease and no war, and so when she accepts, she’s determined to do it with as much dignity and respect as possible. She dedicates herself to training and studying, and even outsmarting her competitor, Rowan. Citra is clever, respectable, and all around incredible. She’s definitely not someone to mess with.
14. Sophia – Maid of Wonder by Jennifer McGowan
Sophia is generally considered the most mysterious of the Maids of Honor, a secret society of young women make up Elizabeth I’s most trusted royal guard. She’s smart, resourceful, strong, and *possible spoiler* she miiiight be gifted with psychic abilities.
15. Emma – Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
Emma Carstairs is an amazing Shadowhunter. When she was just a child, she fought in the Great War and came out on top. Since then, she’s dedicated herself to training and becoming the greatest Shadowhunter she can be. She has amazing combat skills, great instincts, and a solid head on her shoulders. She also has a big heart.
16. Tessa – Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clar
Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother and quickly discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters. Tessa may not arrive a s a Shadowhunter, but she quickly shows her prowess. Tessa is intelligent, brave, and strong-willed.
17. Citra – Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman
In the second book of Shusterman’s Arc of the Scythe series, Citra sees the corruption of the Scythedom and wants to change it from the inside , but runs into problems at every turn. Citra is willing to do the unthinkable in order to take down the system, and that makes her pretty incredible in our book!
18. Veronyka – Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto
Veronyka is determined to be a Phoenix Rider, so much so that she disguises herself as a boy to join their ranks. While Veronyka is hiding secrets of her own, she discovers the mysteries of her past that just might be the key to saving the Empire.
19. Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera
Set in the near future, Dealing in Dreams is about sixteen-year-old Nalah who leads the fiercest all-girl crew in Mega City. Her dream is to give up her questionable lifestyle and move the the exclusive Mega Towers. Now Nalah must prove her loyalty to the city’s benevolent founder for a chance to live in the Mega Towers. She must cross the border in a search of the mysterious gang the Ashé Riders. But the closer she gets to her goal the more she loses sight of everything—and everyone—she cares about.
20. The Cold Is in Her Bones by Peternelle van Arsdale
When a bright-eyed girl named Iris comes to stay, Milla hopes her loneliness might finally be coming to an end. But Iris has a secret and Milla must help to save her as she becomes possessed by a demon. Yet, as Milla ventures on the journey, she realizes she’s changing, into the something everyone fears.
19. Kaye – The Modern Faerie Tales by Holly Black
Kaye is a modern nomad. Fierce and independent, she drifts from place to place with her mother’s rock band until an ominous attack forces Kaye back to her childhood home. There, amid the blue-collar New Jersey backdrop, Kaye finds herself an unwilling pawn in an ancient and violent power struggle between two rival faerie kingdoms—a struggle that could very well mean her death.