The best girl power books I wish I’d read as a teenager

Iris St. Clair Author Of Louder Than Words
By Iris St. Clair

Who am I?

I wrote my book and selected the five other books listed because I am passionate about women’s agency and how women may be empowered to achieve such. I started my career in a male-dominated profession and have many memories of differential treatment from my male peers. There are a few #metoo tales in there as well. I also grew up shy and studious, too timid to seek out empowerment or speak truth to power. If I could go back in time armed with these wonderful stories of girls and young women overcoming adversity, prejudice, assault, and other gender-based barriers, I think I would take that trip. 

I wrote...

Louder Than Words

By Iris St. Clair,

Book cover of Louder Than Words

What is my book about?

Disappointment has been on speed dial in Ellen Grayson’s life lately. Her dad died, her mom numbs the grief with drugs and alcohol, her secret crush is dating her frenemy, and old friends she used to rely on have been ghosting her. Trusting a popular teacher with her troubles should have been safe and should not have led to a #metoo incident. 

With her ability to trust gravely wounded, Ellen must find the courage to speak up and risk sordid whispers and retribution, to tell her secret crush how she really feels and risk rejection, or hold all her secrets inside. After all, it’s the safest place she knows.

The books I picked & why

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By Laurie Halse Anderson,

Book cover of Speak

Why this book?

Even before #MeToo this book resonated with me. A girl seemingly stripped of her power by sexual assault has to fight to find the courage to speak truth to power, to be believed, and to regain her voice. I purchased and read this book after certain conservative groups labeled it pornography, an accusation both shockingly wrong but tragically telling. If there is a book equivalent to Edvard Munch’s The Scream, Ms. Anderson’s is it. Her storytelling methods are as powerful as they are memorable.

The Scorpio Races

By Maggie Stiefvater,

Book cover of The Scorpio Races

Why this book?

Puck is the first female to enter her island’s annual “horse” race, a deadly event featuring ferocious and man-eating sea horses. If you can ride the beasts that come ashore to the island every November without being eaten or carried off to be drowned at sea (and then eaten) the monetary prize can make a huge difference in an economically poor area. 75% of Puck’s fight in this book is overcoming objections to entering the race with the last 25% being the race itself. 

Ms. Stiefvater’s writing is incredibly beautiful and as an added bonus I discovered we share our birthdate, in November, of course.

The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)

By Kody Keplinger,

Book cover of The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)

Why this book?

My grandmother was notorious for labeling girls as “the pretty one,” “the musical one,” or “the smart one,” etc. It felt like she was saying if you weren’t first in line for beauty at least there were consolation prizes to be had. In The Duff, when the protagonist discovers she’s been dubbed such by a popular boy in school, she’s not going to take it. But her power recovery methods don’t involve remaking herself from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. Instead, she slowly brings her antagonist around to a different opinion of her. She also exacts her revenge in a way that’s both satisfying and heartbreaking. 

The Sea of Tranquility

By Katja Millay,

Book cover of The Sea of Tranquility

Why this book?

Semi-spoiler alert: this book has the best ending line ever so don’t flip to the end or you’ll rob yourself of something very precious. I adore a nice ending twist and although not so much an O’Henry plot twist (love his stories) as an “aha” shift in perspective, it has stuck with me more than any other element of the story.

The book’s blurb very aptly describes The Sea of Tranquility as “... a rich, intense, and brilliantly imagined story about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances.” I’m a sucker for second chance stories, especially following an injustice. The beauty of this story lies not in the how the protagonist, Nastya, recovers her power by confronting and righting the injustice but in how she subtly and simultaneously learns to look forward instead of backward.


By Scott Westerfeld, Keith Thompson (illustrator),

Book cover of Leviathan

Why this book?

Sometimes the only way a girl can get her way, assert her power, and find her voice or freedom is to be a boy. There are a lot of terrific girl disguised as a boy stories out there (Mulan and Twelfth Night, for example) but none are so smartly done as Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk trilogy kicked off by Leviathan. This steampunk World War 1 tale re-imagines a war fought by ‘Clankers,’ those who fashion steam-driven machines (Austria/Hungary/Germany) against ‘Darwinists’ (Britain) who deploy genetic fabrications. The heroine, a Darwinist, disguises herself as a boy seeking adventure in the military. She ends up making an excellent soldier. Her story is told in alternating chapters with an equally sympathetic male Clanker’s story. Of course, the two stories eventually converge but it does not immediately devolve into a romance, not until after many heroic adventures with our heroine’s secret very well kept.

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