The best feminist young adult sci-fi and fantasy books

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up loving sci-fi and fantasy, but especially today, I recognize how a lot of older sci-fi is patriarchal or even misogynistic. When I started to write my own books, like A Dragonbird in the Fern, I vowed to create my fantastical settings as I’d like our world to be someday—with all genders considered equal. Whether it’s a queen wielding all of the power or a witch who can save the world, women and girls in my stories get things done, and no one bats an eye. 

I wrote...

A Dragonbird in the Fern

By Laura Rueckert,

Book cover of A Dragonbird in the Fern

What is my book about?

A Dragonbird in the Fern is a young adult fantasy about a dyslexic princess named Jiara whose older sister Scilla is assassinated. Despite not speaking the language, Jiara takes her sister’s place as the bride to the young king of a faraway country, hoping she can catch Scilla’s murderer before her vengeful ghost kills their family. But that makes Jiara the assassin’s next target.

Be ready for women and girls who rule countries, wield knives and javelins as bodyguards, and are political strategists—and also men who care about what women think and don’t stand in their way.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Iron Widow

Laura Rueckert Why did I love this book?

I was shocked when I read Iron Widow - seriously, what a sci-fi powerhouse! It’s a retelling of the rise of Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history. But since it’s sci-fi, it has a ruthless patriarchal military system and giant mecha robots. Boy pilots are celebrated like heroes, but girl pilots are treated like concubines, like Zetian’s sister, who was killed. I loved the raw power of Zetian as she swears to get even with men responsible for her sister’s death.

By Xiran Jay Zhao,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked Iron Widow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

An instant #1 New York Times bestseller!

Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers.

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn't matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it's to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister's death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through…

Book cover of Cast in Firelight

Laura Rueckert Why did I love this book?

Cast in Firelight is such an awesome combination of romance, adventure, and feminism! It’s about two teens arranged to be married who always try to outdo each other. After years of not seeing each other, they meet up, but each thinks the other is someone else. They end up teaming up to save their countries and start to fall for each other. I adored the mix of rom-com and superhero fantasy action, and especially how powerful a girl can be when she puts her mind to it and trusts herself.

By Dana Swift,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cast in Firelight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first book in an epic, heart-pounding fantasy duology about two royal heirs betrothed to be married, but whose loyalties are torn, and a ruthless enemy who threatens their world, perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Susan Dennard, and Mary E. Pearson.

Adraa is the royal heir of Belwar, a talented witch on the cusp of taking her royal ceremony test, and a girl who just wants to prove her worth to her people.

Jatin is the royal heir to Naupure, a competitive wizard who's mastered all nine colors of magic, and a boy anxious to return home for the…

Book cover of City of Shattered Light

Laura Rueckert Why did I love this book?

The two girls in City of Shattered Light could not be fiercer! Asa’s a runaway rich girl who flees home to save her sister, a victim of scientific tests. Riven’s a tough smuggler gunning for a big bounty to guarantee her a place in one of the city’s matriarchal (!) crime syndicates. There’s kidnapping, a wild neon sci-fi world, and a healthy portion of romantic longing. I loved this misfit team!

By Claire Winn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked City of Shattered Light as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As darkness closes in on the city of shattered light, an heiress and an outlaw must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other. As heiress to a powerful tech empire, seventeen-year-old Asa Almeida strives to prove she's more than her manipulative father's shadow. But when he uploads her rebellious sister’s mind to an experimental brain, Asa will do anything to save her sister from reprogramming—including fleeing her predetermined future with her sister’s digitized mind in tow. With a bounty on her head and a rogue AI hunting her, Asa’s getaway ship crash-lands in the worst possible…

Book cover of A Curse of Roses

Laura Rueckert Why did I love this book?

Set in the patriarchal 1200s, this book fascinated me with a look at the lengths people are willing to go for their beliefs. Yzabel tries to turn a curse into a blessing but is hindered by men who think they know better and believe they need to keep the women in line. I was absolutely taken with the intelligence, cunning, and magic Yzabel and a few other women use to try to save the people of Portugal!

By Diana Pinguicha,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Curse of Roses as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

17-year-old Yzabel of Aragon is engaged to the young King of Portugal, and under her touch, food turns into flowers.

With the populace starving, and barely surviving herself, Yzabel doesn't only need to end her curse - she must reverse it somehow. Turn flowers into food. Desperate, she sets to find Fatyan, an immortal rumored to live nearby, but she is imprisoned by an old enchantment. So they must strike a bargain: Fatyan will teach Yzabel how to master her magic, and Yzabel making a deal with Fatyan will release the magical bonds holding her captive.

As she learns to…

Book cover of Rise of the Red Hand

Laura Rueckert Why did I love this book?

Oh wow, the world in this book was as amazing as it was scary and realistic. The country is ruined by climate change and ruled by a ruthless, technocratic government that sacrifices the poor to finance a utopia for the rich. So two poor, revolutionary girls from the streets work with a politician’s son (and secret hacker) to change that. I really enjoyed reading about these kick-ass heroines!

By Olivia Chadha,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rise of the Red Hand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A rare, searing portrayal of the future of climate change in South Asia. A streetrat turned revolutionary and the disillusioned hacker son of a politician try to take down a ruthlessly technocratic government that sacrifices its poorest citizens to build its utopia.

The South Asian Province is split in two. Uplanders lead luxurious lives inside a climate-controlled biodome, dependent on technology and gene therapy to keep them healthy and youthful forever. Outside, the poor and forgotten scrape by with discarded black-market robotics, a society of poverty-stricken cyborgs struggling to survive in slums threatened by rising sea levels, unbreathable air, and…

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By David Joiner,

Book cover of Kanazawa

David Joiner Author Of Kanazawa

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My book recommendations reflect an abiding passion for Japanese literature, which has unquestionably influenced my own writing. My latest literary interest involves Japanese poetry—I’ve recently started a project that combines haiku and prose narration to describe my experiences as a part-time resident in a 1300-year-old Japanese hot spring town that Bashō helped make famous in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as a writer, my main focus remains novels. In late 2023 the second in a planned series of novels set in Ishikawa prefecture will be published. I currently live in Kanazawa, but have also been lucky to call Sapporo, Akita, Tokyo, and Fukui home at different times.

David's book list on Japanese settings not named Tokyo or Kyoto

What is my book about?

Emmitt’s plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of purchasing their dream home. Disappointed, he’s surprised to discover her subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo.

In his search for a meaningful life in Japan, and after quitting his job, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa’s most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English. He becomes drawn into the mysterious death of a friend of Mirai’s parents, leading him and his father-in-law to climb the mountain where the man died. There, he learns the somber truth and discovers what the future holds for him and his wife.

Packed with subtle literary allusion and closely observed nuance, Kanazawa reflects the mood of Japanese fiction in a fresh, modern incarnation.


By David Joiner,

What is this book about?

In Kanazawa, the first literary novel in English to be set in this storied Japanese city, Emmitt's future plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of negotiations to purchase their dream home. Disappointed, he's surprised to discover Mirai's subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo, a city he dislikes.

Harmony is further disrupted when Emmitt's search for a more meaningful life in Japan leads him to quit an unsatisfying job at a local university. In the fallout, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa's most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English.

While continually resisting Mirai's…

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