Different Types of Strong: Female Characters in YA Lit

Women’s History Month is celebrated during March, and there’s a lot of information about strong, motivated, amazing women in history being shared right now. We have strong, motivated, amazing female characters in YA literature, too, and even though they aren’t real, they do influence readers. Here’s a list of five female characters I admire in Young Adult Literature. You may agree with some, you may heartily disagree with others, so feel free to add to the discussion in the comments! (Also, there are spoilers ahead, so be warned!)

twilight-cover 5. Bella Swan in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. I know a lot of people cannot stand Bella and believe she is a whiny, annoying, weak example of womanhood, but I honestly do not think anyone gives Bella enough credit. To begin with, she is the level headed parent figure in both of her relationships with her actual parents. When thrust into a supernatural world where death seems to come after her at every turn, she is more concerned with saving and protecting her family and friends than she is with protecting herself- and her friends include vampires and werewolves who can take care of themselves very well. Bella makes some boneheaded decisions, but she’s always true to herself, and while she’s not the most kick-butt female on this list in a physical sense, I think she has both an inner strength and a loving heart that are admirable. (Twilight is a 2006 Teens’ Top Ten winner.)


4. Samantha in My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. Not every strong woman has to shoot a bow and arrow or run with vampires. Some of them just have to survive the summer before Senior mylifenextdoor__spanyear. Sam deals with some issues that not every teen will have to deal with (for example, a mother running for Congress) and some issues that many teens will deal with (like a friend who has been caught cheating or a DUI that leaves someone dear to her hospitalized). I think that the way she deals with the situations that turn her world on its ear show that she is growing into a strong woman. Part of the reason for this is Sam is surrounded by strong women of different backgrounds as she is coming into her own, and they influence how she handles the decisions she finds herself needing to make. I think Sam shows her strength with her choices, which put her at odds against nefarious characters and even her mother, and in the end she is able to deal with the consequences of her actions and continues to grow into her own person. (a 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection)

fever 17933. Mattie Cook in Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award winner. Mattie has to grow up quickly when her hometown of Philadelphia is struck with a yellow fever epidemic and she is sent away with her grandfather, only to find that the fever has spread and there is no place that is really safe anymore. Thinking that it will be better to just go back to her mother she makes her way home, only to find it boarded up like most of the rest of the city. It takes a strong person to not only survive the horrors of a city abandoned to illness, but to thrive and help others who are worse off, and Mattie learns this the hard way. She pulls through, though, and I believe she comes out at the end wiser and more responsible than she was before the events that shut the city down.

2. Alex Patrick in The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney. A little bit “private school” genremockingbirds and a little bit “controversial subject” genre, in this book Alex has to deal with one of the things many parents fear: date rape. Now, at Themis Academy there are the rules the administration dictates, and then there are the rules that  are dictated by The Mockingbirds, the student body’s secret society inspired by Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. After being date raped Alex deals with uncertainty and shame, as many who experience date rape do, but with the help of the Mockingbirds, she finds strength and love in spite of the fact that so much has been taken from her.  I think that through dealing with her own doubts and confronting the young man who date rapes her Alex shows true strength of mind and at the same time shows how fragile we all can be without the right kind of support.

alanna song of the lioness 1. Alanna of Trebond in The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, the 2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award winner. When I discovered the Alanna books I finally realized why so many of my friends liked fantasy novels. Alanna not only has inner strength, but she’s got the moves to back it up. From the very first Alanna proves herself to be strong willed and motivated. She isn’t afraid to go after what she wants even when it goes against the system, but she is so likeable and good at what she loves that she sways people to her way of thinking. And my favorite thing about Alanna? She has a softer side, too, that she isn’t afraid of, in spite of the fact that most men would consider it a weakness. She stands by her friends and family, falls in and out of love, and somehow manages to balance becoming a woman and a wife and eventually a mother– all while becoming a knight, wielding a sword and killing the bad guys.

Now it’s your turn. What female characters would you add?

-Carla Land, currently reading Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy


6 thoughts on “Different Types of Strong: Female Characters in YA Lit”

  1. How about Hermione Granger from Harry Potter?? She had the courage to stand on her own and rise above the classicism stereotype of being a Muggle Born and became the best in her year. She was strong enough to hold to her morals and make school a priority even though her best friends were major slackers in that field. She also had a big enough heart that, when anyone she cared about was in trouble, she dropped what she was doing and helped them. And, when all was said and done and the world was saved, Hermione went back to school to finish her education because she valued that, even though she was not required to do so.
    Oh, and let’s not forget the incredible bravery involved with breaking every new rule set down by Umbridge. That horrid woman did what she could to destroy Hogwarts, and Hermione basically started an academic war behind the woman’s back. Talk about bad-ass.

    1. Very true! Hermione is incredibly strong. The reason I didn’t include her in my own top five is that in my library all of the Harry Potter books are cataloged as Juvenile Fiction, so even though the last couple books of the series can definitely be considered Young Adult material I don’t lump them in with YA in my head. Perhaps I need to think outside the catalog from now on!

  2. Some of Philip Pullman’s female characters should make the list, though I know they aren’t too recent. Lyra from His Dark Materials is my definition of a strong character! And I loved Sally Lockhart as well.

    1. Sally Lockhart is a good one- It’s been so long since I’ve read those that I shamefully admit that I had completely forgotten about her!

  3. Thank you so much for your mention of Bella! I get tired of the same arguments about her and the story, cause I see in her exactly what you put down here. I don’t think everyone has to like the same books I do, but I feel like people see her so superficially.

  4. Thanks for this post! Any of the female characters from Kristen Cashore’s books. The best thing I like about them, is that when they identify their flaws, they go about improving them, or accepting them if improvement is impossible. Each of the female characters from her 3 books are very different, and will leave a lasting impression. Fans of Tamora Pierce (and Alanna in particular), will very much enjoy these books.

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