The best YA fantasy novels starring fierce girls who never give up

Who am I?

When I was growing up, I cared far too much about what other people thought of me. I was afraid to reveal my unabashedly dorky self – the one who loved reading fantasy and dreamed of being an author herself someday – for fear of being laughed at. As a result, my favorite protagonists were always the obstinate girls. The passionate girls. The girls who kept trying, no matter how hard things got; who fought to protect themselves and the people they loved. I wanted to be more like them. I still do. But if that isn’t possible, at least I can write them.

I wrote...

Dawn Rising

By A.F.E. Smith,

Book cover of Dawn Rising

What is my book about?

Ever since she can remember, Alyssia has experienced unsettling visions: flashes of four other people’s dark and difficult lives in a world that’s not her own. She’s always believed them to be her brain’s way of filling the void left by the accident that killed her parents and took her memories. That’s why she tries very hard not to think of these imaginary people as friends.

Yet when she wakes up inside one of her own visions, it becomes clear that she was seeing the truth all along. Now, she’s no longer just an observer. Now, she has the chance to change things.

The books I picked & why

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The Golden Compass

By Philip Pullman,

Book cover of The Golden Compass

Why this book?

I had to start this list with Lyra Belacqua: the definition of a fierce girl who never gives up, even in the face of murder, betrayal, and heartbreak. The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights, to those of us of a British persuasion) is the first book I can remember reading where I really fell in love with the protagonist. Partly because she’s so good at lying – I’m a terrible liar, I blush every time – and partly because she’s so loyal to the people she loves. Also, I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit trying to decide what form my daemon would take. (Answer: a robin.)

Fire and Hemlock

By Diana Wynne Jones,

Book cover of Fire and Hemlock

Why this book?

I’ve been a fan of Diana Wynne Jones since I was seven. Once I’d discovered her, I tore through her entire back catalogue, but Fire and Hemlock is the book that stuck. It didn’t make complete sense to me at the time, but its atmosphere lingered at the back of my mind for days. Since then I’ve revisited it on a regular basis, and I find something new in each reread. Without giving too much away, it earns its place on this list by virtue of being a semi-retelling of the old Scottish ballad Tam Lin, the entire point of which is a young woman who refuses to quit.

The Cruel Prince

By Holly Black,

Book cover of The Cruel Prince

Why this book?

Confession: by the time this book came out, I was no longer a young adult by even the most elastic definition of the term. So I wasn’t the intended audience, but I fell in love with it anyway. What’s not to love? It depicts the world of Faerie perfectly: not gentle or kind but glamorous, cruel, and full of tricks. To survive in such a world, a human girl would need to be fierce indeed. Enter Jude Duarte, a sword-wielding spy who succeeds largely through her own stubbornness and refusal to give in to fear. Even when her plans fail, she doesn’t let that stop her.


By ND Stevenson,

Book cover of Nimona

Why this book?

Graphic novels are a source of wonder to me, mainly because I long to be good enough at drawing to create my own. Indeed, my greatest ambition is for an artist to love one of my books enough to adapt it. So I can’t write a list of fierce-girl books without mentioning Nimona: a shapeshifter who thrives on mayhem and will literally set the board on fire if you beat her at fantasy-world Monopoly. Nimona proves how much emotion and humor it’s possible to pack into a relatively slight number of pages, and also that girls don’t have to be good to be lovable.

The Hunger Games

By Suzanne Collins,

Book cover of The Hunger Games

Why this book?

I couldn’t end my list without mentioning Katniss Everdeen, one of the best-known protagonists in YA fiction. Though I never cared much about the love triangle in the Hunger Games books (please don’t hate-mail me, ship fans) I’m in full admiration of Katniss’s persistence and the lengths to which she’s willing to go to protect her family. This is another book I reread every so often, and even though I know what’s coming, the bit where Prim’s name is called and Katniss volunteers as tribute to protect her sister leaves a lump in my throat every time.

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