The best young adult novels about ambitious girls

Who am I?

I was an ambitious teen, and as I entered adulthood, my relationship with ambition has continually evolved. Those of us with marginalized genders sometimes have our ambition treated with suspicion or scorn—by peers, family, or would-be mentors. I wanted to share books that don’t necessarily come to the same conclusion about ambition’s role in our lives, but that all grapple with what it means to be ambitious in a culture where that is often seen as threatening or unladylike—or where any sign of ambition gets one automatically labeled as “unlikeable.” I love these books’ narrators, and I hope you will find something to love in them too. 


I wrote...

It Goes Like This

By Miel Moreland,

Book cover of It Goes Like This

What is my book about?

Eva, Celeste, Gina, and Steph used to think their friendship was unbreakable. After all, they've been through a lot together, including the astronomical rise of Moonlight Overthrow, the world-famous queer pop band they formed in middle school. After a sudden falling out leads to the dissolution of the teens' band, their friendship, and Eva and Celeste's starry-eyed romance, nothing is the same. 

Gina and Celeste step further into the spotlight, Steph disappears completely, and Eva, heartbroken, takes refuge as a songwriter and secret online fangirl...of her own band. That is, until a storm devastates their hometown, bringing the four ex-best-friends back together. As they prepare for one last show, they'll discover whether growing up always means growing apart.

The books I picked & why

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The Other Side of Perfect

By Mariko Turk,

Book cover of The Other Side of Perfect

Why this book?

Alina was well on her way to becoming a professional ballerina—until a devastating leg injury leaves her unable to dance en pointe. She returns to regular high school full-time, becomes involved with the school musical, and suddenly has to navigate changing relationships with her classmates and her still-dancing sister. This book is wonderfully complex and absolutely beautiful. It’s unapologetic about Alina’s ambition in a way that is rare for Young Adult novels. Reading it was like letting out a breath I knew I had been holding, but wasn’t sure I would ever be allowed to release.  


Drawn That Way

By Elissa Sussman, Arielle Jovellanos (illustrator),

Book cover of Drawn That Way

Why this book?

Hayley is thrilled to be accepted to a prestigious summer program for aspiring teen animators. But then only boys are chosen to direct the participants’ short films, and that might only scratch the surface of the boys’ club culture within the program. The multiple forms of sexism Hayley experiences throughout are so real, they were painful to read (in the best, truest way), as I reflected on my own experiences with misogynistic gatekeeping—but the community and solidarity that develop throughout this fantastic novel are very satisfying. 


As If on Cue

By Marisa Kanter,

Book cover of As If on Cue

Why this book?

This book is an absolutely to-die-for rivals-to-lovers tale, sparked when Natalie is forced to team up with her long-time enemy on a musical in order to secure funding for the arts at their high school. Natalie’s evolving relationships with her family and friends are complex and brilliant, and I felt all the feelings about the interplay between art and ambition while reading. 


Not Here to Be Liked

By Michelle Quach,

Book cover of Not Here to Be Liked

Why this book?

Eliza is passed over for editor-in-chief of her school paper in favor of a less experienced boy... then her private manifesto against the injustice is leaked, and the resulting school conflict becomes about more positions than just hers. It’s a layered, thoroughly feminist look into the complexities of ambition, against the broader backdrop of Asian diaspora communities. 


Kisses and Croissants

By Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau,

Book cover of Kisses and Croissants

Why this book?

Dance is such a competitive activity, it obviously warranted two books on this list! This is a charming novel that follows an ambitious young ballet dancer during a competitive summer program in Paris. I especially enjoyed the unusual rivals to friends storyline, as well as the inclusion of a beautiful and unexpected family mystery. And of course, because it’s Paris, there’s a lovely romance too. I studied and worked in France in my early 20s, but the pandemic has delayed a return trip, so it was especially nice to revisit Paris through this book.  


5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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