In an age where the Young Adult genre has become wildly popular with teen readers as well as older readers, many strong female characters have emerged as influential figures who break through gender stereotypes and provide young girls with inspirational women to look up to.
One classic example of this is the well-known Hermione Granger from the “Harry Potter” series. Granger has all the typical traits of a female lead: she is intelligent, determined, willing to speak her mind, and usually the only girl amongst her friends.
What makes Granger so empowering is her more assertive personality. Granger is described as bossy in the books, displaying a “know-it-all” attitude that goes against the idea that girls are not strong leaders or able to speak up for themselves.
While this attitude does make it difficult for Granger to find friends at first, her take-charge attitude eventually comes in handy, which shows girls that they should be able to speak their minds without the fear of being disliked.
Another familiar female character from a book-turned-film franchise is Katniss Everdeen from the “Hunger Games” trilogy. Everdeen is the main character in her science fiction series, and a strong lead in many ways.
In terms of physical strength, Everdeen shows she is more than capable with a bow and arrow, which she illegally uses for years in order to feed her family.
On top of this, Everdeen displays other important characteristics as the events of the story unfold. When Everdeen’s sister is chosen for the Hunger Games, a deadly contest where teens fight for survival until only one remains standing, Everdeen selflessly volunteers in her sister’s place. This proves Everdeen to be the kind of person who would do anything to protect the people she cares about.
A far more subtle show of strength can be seen in Esperanza Cordero from “The House on Mango Street.” While Cordero does not display any physical ability, her refusal to accept things as they are proves her to be a worthy member of this list.
“The House on Mango Street” follows 12-year-old Cordero as she matures and begins to see the world for what it is. Cordero slowly becomes aware of the plight of the women around her, primarily due to marriage and cultural gender roles.
In response to this, Cordero decides that she will never be forced into marriage and join these women in their suffering. This radical choice, when Cordero comes from a culture with a heavy emphasis on the importance of marriage for women, proves to girls that they are the only ones who can choose their futures.
Sophomore Anjali Nimmala says, “I remember reading ‘The House on Mango Street’ in Language Arts last year, and it was very clear that the author wanted to have female empowerment as a prominent theme. The main character constantly questioned why marriage seemed so important to the women around her, and it made me question this as well.”
One notable female in YA literature is Feyre Archeron from the “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series. A Beauty and the Beast retelling, the novel follows Archeron as she hunts in the woods and ends up killing a faerie. In return for this, Archeron must go live in the faerie realms, a place from which very few humans have ever returned.
Similar to Everdeen, Archeron portrays her strength with her ability to hunt with a bow and arrow, but Archeron also has multiple other defining traits to her personality. This becomes particularly evident later in the novel when an unexpected turn of events leaves the main character facing challenges to fight for her life and the lives of everyone she loves.
One defining moment for Archeron’s character is when she leaves an abusive relationship and accepts the fact that she is suffering and needs to seek help. This event changes the life of the main character for the better, and that character development is a very important representation of what a woman is capable of by taking charge of her life.
Another female character written by the same author is Celaena Sardothien from the “Throne of Glass” series. Sardothien is an obvious portrayal of female strength, having been raised as an assassin since she was eight years old.
But Sardothien’s greater strength comes from her self-confidence. Unlike many other female characters in YA, Sardothien has no issues with her appearance and uses her conventional beauty to her advantage. This is the perfect example for young girls to look up to that shows what a woman with a strong sense of self-esteem can do.
An example of a strong female character in historical fiction is Liesel Meminger from “The Book Thief.”
This novel follows Meminger as she grows up in Nazi Germany and begins to learn how to read. She slowly finds solace in stealing books to deal with the war-torn world around her, and soon she finds ways to use stories to help others cope as well.
Meminger’s character is not perfect overall. She often steals apples from the farms with the other neighborhood children and struggles with channeling her anger to what she is truly angry about. These flaws only add to Meminger’s complex personality.
Meminger’s resilience and silent battle against the unfairness of war shows the strength that a young girl can obtain in times of hardship.
Sophomore Rhea Handa says, “Leisel has been one of my favorite characters for a long time, ever since I first read ‘The Book Thief.’ She constantly stands up for herself; more importantly, she stands up for others, especially those who face injustice.”
Just as Meminger is the image of a strong female in a historical setting, the leading characters in “The Lunar Chronicles” series show incredibly talented women in the future.
Cinder, the first of these characters, has a history similar to that of Cinderella, since the first novel is a futuristic retelling of the fairy tale. Despite this less-than-ideal childhood, Cinder is a mechanic who has grown up to be independent and quite able to take care of herself.
Another character of the same series is Cress, whose own story is based on the story of Rapunzel. Cress appears to be the typical damsel in distress; she has been trapped on a satellite in space for most of her life, and she dreams of nothing more than being rescued by a knight in shining armor.
Despite this, Cress has more layers to her character. Cress is an intelligent hacker who has been working for the Queen of Luna for most of her short life.
Cress shows young girls that it is perfectly alright to be both intelligent and optimistic by being someone who believes in fairy tale endings, but is still extremely talented and capable.
All of these incredible, strong, intelligent, and talented young women in YA literature are complex characters with layered personalities, and they are great role models for young girls to look up to.
Who are some of your favorite female characters and why?