The best YA novels with girl MCs who are owning life

Shelly X. Leonn Author Of The Ghost and the Wolf
By Shelly X. Leonn

Who am I?

My novel choices were part of the Afterschool Literacy & Building Modules for an organization called LitShop. It encourages growth in literacy, making, building, and leadership in girls ages 10-15 in St. Louis, Missouri. I’m honored to lead the writing classes. All of the LitShop books feature strong girls who believe they can make and build their way to a better world, and I aim to include similar characters in my stories. Stories can provide us with motivation, inspiration, and companionship, and all of these books have done just that… for the girls of LitShop as well as myself.

I wrote...

The Ghost and the Wolf

By Shelly X. Leonn,

Book cover of The Ghost and the Wolf

What is my book about?

Penelope, a student reporter, struggles to find her identity after a childhood of tragedy. Desperate to prove herself to her peers, she chases a story tip on a secret organization of teen urban explorers called “The Broken.” The group demands she complete a test before they let her write the story. While following the clues of their twisted scavenger hunt, she encounters Lex, a young paranormal investigator with a knack for computer hacking, and together they work to uncover the organization’s darkest secrets. As they tag along, they become entangled in the group’s inner fighting and their leader’s plans that turn out to be much more nefarious…and deadly…than they’d believed. Realizing her mistakes too late, Penelope will have to fight for her own life and the lives of her friends.

The books I picked & why

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The Prettiest

By Brigit Young,

Book cover of The Prettiest

Why this book?

I remember struggling with body image when I was the age of these characters. (Actually, if we’re being totally honest, I still do.) The main characters in this novel, however, triumph over the physical expectations placed upon young women by finding kinship and support from one another. The characters themselves are diverse, realistic, and smart. It’s difficult not to see yourself or the young people in your life in them.

My Family Divided: One Girl's Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope

By Diane Guerrero, Erica Moroz,

Book cover of My Family Divided: One Girl's Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope

Why this book?

To be honest, I first picked up this book because I loved this author’s character in Orange Is the New Black. But I quickly realized that Ms. Guerrero has her own story to tell, and it is equally, if not more, powerful than fiction. This memoir manages to find that sweet spot of sincerity and honesty coupled with quirky sarcasm and humor. The author’s account of struggling with mental health was particularly relevant and memorable to me.

Akata Witch

By Nnedi Okorafor,

Book cover of Akata Witch

Why this book?

A misfit loner is chosen to save the world. I know, it’s been done before. But this story is special. Firstly, it is set against the backdrop of Nigerian culture and lore. And secondly, Sunny. The main character is memorable for more than just her “differences.” She is determined and fierce, making her a hero you want to see bring home a “w” over and over again.


By Kate Messner,

Book cover of Chirp

Why this book?

This pick has the distinguished honor of convincing me to try cricket flour. It also manages to present a layered storyline, one that combines an almost classic mystery plot with a traumatized character’s journey of self-healing. This book serves as a powerful reminder that we are more than the incidents that victimized us. And yes, even an insect hater like me enjoyed learning so much about the many uses of crickets! 


By Daniel José Older,

Book cover of Shadowshaper

Why this book?

Before reading this book, I had no idea city-based fantasy novels could draw me in as powerfully as stories with more “traditional” fantasy settings. But Mr. Older’s depiction of Brooklyn as a living, breathing landscape made me a new believer in urban magic. And the main character Sierra’s shadowshaping feels like its own form of beautiful, youthful rebellion. Art can save us, if only we breathe our power into it. I stop and stare at most graffiti murals now, waiting for them to move a little.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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