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.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

The Prettiest

By Brigit Young,

Book cover of The Prettiest

Why did I love 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.

By Brigit Young,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Prettiest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A list appears online, ranking the top fifty prettiest girls in the eighth grade.

Eve Hoffman is disgusted by the grating, anonymous text messages she's been receiving ever since she was ranked number one.

Sophie Kane is sick of the bullying she's endured after being knocked down a peg by the list.

And Nessa Flores-Brady is tired of the outside world trying to define who she is.

Reeling from the rampant sexism and objectification in their school, the three girls attempt to track down the list's creator. But are they prepared for what they might find?

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

Why did I love 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.

By Diane Guerrero, Erica Moroz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Family Divided as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Before landing a spot on the megahit Netflix show Orange is the New Black; before wow-ing audiences as Lina on Jane the Virgin; and before her incredible activism and work on immigration reform, Diane Guerrero was a young girl living in Boston. One day, while Guerrero was at school, her undocumented immigrant parents were taken from their home, detained, and deported. Guerrero's life, which had been full of the support of a loving family, was turned upside down.

Reflective of the experiences of millions of undocumented immigrant families in the United States, Guerrero's story in My Family Divided, written with…

Akata Witch

By Nnedi Okorafor,

Book cover of Akata Witch

Why did I love 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 Nnedi Okorafor,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Akata Witch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Affectionately dubbed "the Nigerian Harry Potter," Akata Witch weaves together a heart-pounding tale of magic, mystery, and finding one's place in the world.

Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she's albino. She's a terrific athlete, but can't go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing-she is a "free agent" with latent magical power. Soon she's part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be…


By Kate Messner,

Book cover of Chirp

Why did I love 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 Kate Messner,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Chirp as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"[A] deftly layered mystery about family, friendship, and the struggle to speak up." - Laurie Halse Anderson, bestselling author of Speak and Shout

From acclaimed author Kate Messner comes the powerful story of a young girl with the courage to make her voice heard, set against the backdrop of a summertime mystery.

When Mia moves to Vermont the summer after seventh grade, she's recovering from the broken arm she got falling off a balance beam. And packed away in the moving boxes under her clothes and gymnastics trophies is a secret she'd rather forget.

Mia's change in scenery brings day…


By Daniel José Older,

Book cover of Shadowshaper

Why did I love 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.

By Daniel José Older,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Come to the crossroads, to the crossroads come

Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of making art and hanging with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears . . . Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.

Where the powers converge and become one

With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Nigeria, self esteem, and New York State?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Nigeria, self esteem, and New York State.

Nigeria Explore 52 books about Nigeria
Self Esteem Explore 86 books about self esteem
New York State Explore 609 books about New York State

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like True Grit, Strange Birds, and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind if you like this list.