Adult Fiction · Romance · YA

Where to Find Strong Female Characters in Books

This week, I’m posting lists of my favorite stories that have female protagonists or POVs. Today I’m featuring books, both fiction and nonfiction. Leave your recommendations in the comments, especially if they’re nothing like these, and check back Friday for open discussion on strong female characters!

Fiction

Antigoddess coverAntigoddess by Kendare Blake – I adore Percy Jackson, so I don’t want to set up too many comparisons here, but Antigoddess is sort of the YA female version of that (in all the best ways). A little more mature, and a heck of a lot more women. Even the goddesses aren’t stereotypes — They’re archetypal in some sense, but they have feelings and motivations and strengths and weaknesses and all those things aren’t necessarily governed by one thing (war, or love, or whatever). Blake makes the myths new again, not by retelling an old myth but by extrapolating that big dysfunctional family into the present day, and her skill in writing horror is put to good use.

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig – I think I talk about this book all the time and nobody cares but me. 😀 It’s a historical romance.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale – This book was a really great YA fairy tale retelling. Its first sequel, Enna Burning, is one of the most intense books I’ve ever read, because it follows Enna through a horrible journey to the dark side and back. It was really difficult to read but so worth it.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – I hated this book, honestly, but it’s also a must-read.

Jack Glass coverJack Glass: The Story of a Murderer by Adam Roberts – A space opera noir mystery. The main character is male, but the other main character is a teenage girl from an elite family. About two-thirds of the book is from her POV. She’s entitled, shallow, and she doesn’t give a fig for the welfare of the servants except as far as they amuse her. She’s insanely annoying… But then she’s not. I appreciate a book that can make me love the kind of character I’d usually hate.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman – It’s about a girl falling in love with a boy in one whirlwind day in Paris, but that’s not What It’s About. It’s about a girl falling in love with who she was that day and learning how to be that girl again. It’s lovely.

Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw – A favorite from my childhood, about a spy in ancient Egypt!

The Monster Garden by Vivien Alcock – Another childhood favorite about a girl who accidentally creates a monster using her scientist father’s samples.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler – A young woman creates a new religion in a dystopian society.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – My favorite of her books, because it’s the snappiest! Different versions of these women crop up in her other books, but I think P&P’s are the most fully-realized.

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy – It’s like Harry Potter, if Harry was an awesomesauce girl and Hagrid was Jack Skellington.

The Summer Prince coverThe Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson – I just reviewed this recently… In a futuristic sci-fi Brazil, an artist collides with a king doomed to die at the end of the year.

Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston – I always describe this as Dr. Seuss for middle graders. Or, you know, twenty-something history students… or anyone else… It’s one of my favorite books, y’all! A novel in verse about a little girl named Katrina Katrell, who goes looking for the missing Zorgles of Zorgamazoo.

Nonfiction

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff – Correspondence between an American reader and a british bookseller. It’s simply lovely.

Bonk by Mary Roach – Everything you ever wanted to know about the science of sex!

The Cloister Walk coverThe Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris – It’s about her religious experiences with monasteries. It was really difficult to read at first because would hate living in a monastery, but somewhere in there I had this lightbulb moment that I can care about someone else’s experience without sharing it. After that realization, I really appreciated what she had to say!

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh – The book of the blog. I’m sure you’ve seen the “ALL THE THINGS!” meme — that comes from Hyperbole and a Half.

Any collection of Sappho’s poetry.

Tomorrow: Comic book recommendations!

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25 thoughts on “Where to Find Strong Female Characters in Books

  1. I has brain!
    Which translates to: my brain woke up enough to think of some books!
    Looking at some of the books I recently purchased I was reminded of Anne Rinaldi. YA historical fiction, her MC’s tend to be young women who are somehow associated with historical events. I’ve loved pretty much every one of the books she’s written, and the characters feel very REAL to me — they are human. Strong woman working within the confines of their time. I particularly like her “Quilt Trilogy”.

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  2. The is the first time I’ve seen anyone on the blogosphere mention Kathleen Norris! I think she is an amazing writer, sort of in a niche of her own. I’m glad you mentioned her.

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  3. I can’t pass up a “strong female characters” topic without plugging Kristin Cashore’s Graceling books. YA light fantasy, with 3 very different female protagonists, all suitably complex.

    Thanks for all the great recommendations!

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  4. Have you ever read Tamora Pierce’s novels? She has several series that are dominated by female protagonists. She’s most well known for her Alanna series, but I prefer her Circle of Magic Quartet and the Circle Opens Quartet. (The series is finished by the Will of the Empress.) All nine of these books are led by four protagonists — three girls and a boy. They are absolutely fantastic, and wonderfully diverse. Two of these four protagonists are people of color too. You also learn that one of them is queer, and two of their teachers are queer as well. Diversity reins supreme in all her books, but I love the Circle of Magic series the best.

    Second best is Kel’s story, which is the Protector of the Small series. Kel is freaking awesome, and I find her story far more compelling than even the famous Alanna. Both are stories of a woman fighting in a male-dominated field, but the difference is that Kel doesn’t have magic to help her out while Alanna does. That isn’t to say magic is bad; it has its own complications, but just that Kel has to find other routes to make her way, and I found that more interesting to read.

    Another great series by her is Beka Cooper series, because a female cop/dectective that has a dog to help her solve crimes? I mean, that’s just awesome right there.

    So yeah, cannot recommend Tamora Pierce enough!

    I also recommend Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. It’s actually two books in one, where the first one is where our protagonist fights for the freedom of her people. The second book is when she must go to the capital in order to deal with the politics side of winning her freedom.

    A Ring of Endless Light and Troubling a Star by Madeline L’Engle were favorites growing up. They chronicle Vicky Austin’s coming into adulthood, and are beautifully written. Vicky has always been one of my favorite characters, because of her complexity and the poetic beauty that she displays in her writing. She’s headstrong and determined and full of curiosity. A Ring of Endless Light also does a great job of showing a breakdown from stress and how healing can occur, which is rare to see that done well in a novel.

    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I adore this book. Leslie is adorable and full of spunk during the worst time ever (A jew in the holocaust times), and Death as a narrator? Fantastically done.

    Annie on my Mind by Nancy Kress (of course!). It’s a cute romance between two girls.

    All of the above our young adult novels.

    For adult novels, there’s Charles DeLint. A lot of of his books have female characters that are interesting and strong. My favorites are The Little Country, Memory and Dream, Moonheart, Yarrow, Someplace to be Flying.

    I’m trying to think of good SF novels with female main characters, and sadly, there isn’t as many.

    Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space has two strong female characters in all three of the books in that series. They aren’t the only main characters – as there are two guys as well as main characters — but the series can’t function without them and they’re often point of view characters. Fascinating series actually.

    Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos has several female main characters. The first book is told like a SF version of the Canterbury Tales. The final two books are told from Raul’s perspective, but Aenea is the true main character of the last two books (Endymion and Rise of Endymion). She is the one that changes the future and alters reality in amazing ways. I also loved the worlds that he built in these books. Each of the planet’s they visit have a different culture, and it shows what happens when people get caught off from each other, how they survive on often hostile worlds. The world-building in this series is fantastic.

    Nancy Kress’s Probability Moon, Probability Sun, and Probability Space are all fantastic. The main characters are a mixture of men and women, but I loved the female characters. Especially the alien woman who had such a fascinating perspective. Also, I love how they explore quantum mechanics and neurobiology in the series.

    So the final three are a mixture of male and female main characters, but the women characters feature so heavily in the series (and are often POV characters) that I thought they might scrape by.

    If I think on it, I’m sure I’ll come up with more, but these are the ones that I love the most.

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    1. 😀

      I haven’t read any Tamora Pierce, although I’ve been meaning to since I was a kid.

      The lack of female characters in sci-fi always seems to be an issue to me, although I don’t read widely enough to say so for sure. Trying to read more since I’m supposed to be writing in the genre! (I also always feel bad because my MC isn’t a woman. He is bi though. And I have female characters, although somehow they always give me more trouble than the men.)

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  5. Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey and The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. Two of my favorite strong female characters and two of my favorite books. I’m also partial to Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. I tend to relate to her more than Elizabeth Bennett.

    Skulduggery Pleasant sounds like something I need to read…

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  6. Lois McMaster Bujold
    (well, Bujold is my default for everything because, well, BUJOLD!)

    Shards of Honor/Barrayar (aka “Cordelia’s Honor”)
    Captain Cordelia Naismith who looks at a society much like ours from the POV of her very different society… and changes things. Ish. She’s complicated. It’s said she’s invisible–just like air. And what she does when she goes “shopping”…? To sum her up?
    “You trust beyond reason!”
    “Yes. It’s how I get results beyond hope.”

    And Cordelia is surrounded by a cadre of female friends and associates: Droushnakovi, Princess Kareen (who really is a Princess, yes), Lady Alys…

    Paladin of Souls
    Ista was a saint. And insane. And cursed. And now she’s none of that. Now she’s free. Now she’s free to… well, she’s not sure:
    “Who am I, when I am not surrounded by the walls of my life?”

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        1. 😀 Yep, it was back in the Doctor Who Recommendations post. (Never let it be said that I don’t pay attention to comments and recommendations!) But people have been recommending them to me for ages… I actually own the first four(?) books and just haven’t read them yet. But I will.

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