The best YA fantasy books with “unlikeable” heroines

Erin Grammar Author Of Magic Mutant Nightmare Girl
By Erin Grammar

Who am I?

I firmly believe that everyone, especially teenage girls, should own their right to pick and choose. Life guarantees you’ll run across the opportunity to make “bad” decisions, but these are so much more fun to read about than a path that’s straight and narrow. Cultivating radical empathy for my fellow humans, even those I don’t agree with, is a passion that makes me a kinder person and a more nuanced writer. Plus, I like shouting at books as much as the next reader. It makes my cats come running, which makes them tired, which makes them sit and cuddle. Diabolical, indeed.  


I wrote...

Magic Mutant Nightmare Girl

By Erin Grammar,

Book cover of Magic Mutant Nightmare Girl

What is my book about?

When 18-year-old bi, anxious Harajuku fashionista Holly Roads is infected with super-strength, she strikes a deal with a CIA prodigy: Capture the mutant his scientists unleashed upon San Francisco in exchange for the cure for her powers.

The books I picked & why

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A Dark and Hollow Star: Volume 1

By Ashley Shuttleworth,

Book cover of A Dark and Hollow Star: Volume 1

Why this book?

This Final Fantasy and DnD-inspired contemporary fantasy has 5 POVs, but we’re really here for prickly leather queen Nausicaä. Nos is a sarcastic ex-Fury with a short temper, a sword, and a serious grudge against the Deities who exiled her to the mortal realm. She’s old, she’s cranky, and she’s totally soft for Arlo, an adorable half-fae girl on a mission to uncover the mystery behind unsolved magic murders in Toronto. I seriously can’t resist a grump and sunshine team-up. 


Not Even Bones

By Rebecca Schaeffer,

Book cover of Not Even Bones

Why this book?

An absolute must-read for everyone who looks at villains and goes “I want their story.” Nita dices up monsters and sells their magical parts on the black market with her narcissist mother. And that’s just the beginning. The real conflict starts when mommy dearest brings her a body that’s still alive. This is a book with propulsive, edge-of-your-seat energy. Raw, gory, morally ambiguous, and every other unsettling box YA fantasy should check more often. It’s even got a Webtoon adaptation for visually-inclined readers.


A Curse of Roses

By Diana Pinguicha,

Book cover of A Curse of Roses

Why this book?

In this atmospheric Portuguese historical fantasy, Princess Yzabel’s got a serious problem: Her country is plagued by famine and she can’t stop wasting food. Why? Every bite turns to flowers in her mouth. She’s crumbling under a mountain of royal pressures. What sets her apart from the “unlikeable” natures of the others on this list is that her niceness, not her dark side, is what landed her here. Decision paralysis and Pinguicha’s exploration of being “good” to a fault make Yzabel a girl worth getting to know.


Little Thieves

By Margaret Owen,

Book cover of Little Thieves

Why this book?

This wickedly funny reimagining of Goose Girl, a lesser-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, is dripping with gritty German charm. It’s got everything; wonderful queer representation, witty banter, and a “horrible” (seriously, the blurb even says so!) girl named Vanja with questionable morality. After all, she’s living a double-life as a princess and jewel thief, robbing the rich while she tries to outrun a curse literally turning her to stone. This character truly makes fling-your-book-across-the-room-worthy choices. I want to shake her and then give her a hug.


This Poison Heart

By Kalynn Bayron,

Book cover of This Poison Heart

Why this book?

The award-winning author of Cinderella is Dead does it again in this contemporary fantasy with the intoxicating, deadly aura of a haunted mansion wrapped in creeping vines. Friendless, tough-as-nails Brooklynite Briseis has a secret: Her touch controls plants. When she inherits her aunt's estate in the New York countryside, she's immediately entwined with the poisonous garden and sinister mysteries that come with it. Watching the full force of her powers bloom is the best pay-off. Pair this one with a gloomy thunderstorm and a (non-toxic) cup of tea.


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