The best YA books with compelling female protagonists

Who am I?

I have always been drawn to YA novels – big feelings conveyed across shorter word counts, intense experiences, other worlds, characters finding their way in the world. For a long time in these books and across a range of genres, women and girls could only hope to be on the sidelines of these big stories. They were the maiden in the tower, the prospective bride or love interest of the hero. We’re incredibly lucky to live in a time where a wide range of female experiences can be found in our YA books, and these are always stories I seek to read and to tell. 

I wrote...

Slipping the Noose

By Meg Caddy,

Book cover of Slipping the Noose

What is my book about?

The way out is through.

Anne Bonny is chained up in the hold of a prison ship, nursing nine-month-old Molly. The baby is all she has left of Calico Jack, the swaggering pirate captain who loved her and stole her away to sea—and who now hangs from a gibbet. When armed men rip the child from her grasp, Bonny can do nothing and Molly seems lost. But Anne Bonny was not cut out for despair. She will plan for escape and rescue, and the plan will become action. And the streets of London will belong to her and her daughter—and the ragtag remnants of Calico Jack’s crew.

The books I picked & why

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The Cruel Prince

By Holly Black,

Book cover of The Cruel Prince

Why this book?

It is so rare to find a novel that lets the female protagonist be power-hungry, vengeful, and unlikeable. I would follow Holly Black’s Jude to the ends of the earth. My heart hammered the entire book: I never knew which way it was going. The Cruel Prince has so many elements I would usually dislike in a book, but in Black’s deft hands it was intoxicating. Everything worked beautifully.

Six of Crows

By Leigh Bardugo,

Book cover of Six of Crows

Why this book?

Heists! Fantasy! Found family! Inej. This book had everything I look for in a fantasy adventure, including a number of badass female characters. Inej in particular has my heart: she is quiet, reserved, faithful, careful, and utterly not-to-be-fucked-with. I skipped right over Bardugo’s first trilogy set in the Grishaverse and went straight to Six of Crows, and though there was a lot of worldbuilding to adjust to, it was well worth the concentration. 


By A. J. Betts,

Book cover of Hive

Why this book?

This amazing Australian YA weaves such a delicate web. A quiet, introverted dystopia, and at its heart is the wonderful Hayley. Hayley is such an interesting female protagonist here not because she is deadly or combative, but because of her incredible perseverance and curiosity. Hive is the first in a truly compelling duology. 

The Wee Free Men

By Terry Pratchett,

Book cover of The Wee Free Men

Why this book?

Tiffany Aching is such a fun protagonist. She comes armed with lethal common sense, a frying pan, and a horde of small blue men who think they’re already dead. The Wee Free Men links in smoothly with the other Discworld books, initiating Tiffany into the witching world with Pratchett’s incisive humour and heart. 

Wildwood Dancing

By Juliet Marillier,

Book cover of Wildwood Dancing

Why this book?

It’s no secret to my followers that I am a Marillier super-fan: I have every single one of her books. Marillier is an expert when it comes to taking fairytales and traditional folk stories and reimagining them into historical fantasy novels. Wildwood Dancing is a beautiful example of this: a retelling of ‘The Twelve Dancing Sisters’, set in Transylvania and written for a YA audience. The main character Jena has such strength and courage, and this book makes for a truly enchanting read. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

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