Once again, this post is late because I was on a plane. And sick. But who cares about that? It’s INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY! To celebrate, here are just ten of my favorite kickass YA heroines—the girls and women who know how to be tough and who choose to be loving.
- Hermione Granger, the Harry Potter series (JK Rowling). Can a list of kickass YA heroines start with anyone other than the remarkable Hermione Granger? Not only is she a standout for her magical prowess—”They haven’t invented a spell our Hermione can’ do,” Hagrid boasts—she’s also remarkable for her bravery, loyalty, and determination to see justice done.
- Tallulah Casey, Withering Tights (Louise Rennison). Tallulah is certifiably insane and more than a little clueless, but she’s gutsy enough to pursue her dreams even when they terrify her. Plus, she’s 1000% about supporting other girls and is always thrilled when her friends succeed, even if she didn’t do so well herself.
- Éowyn, The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien). There aren’t many named women in Tolkien’s epics, which is a shame—but the few that exist kick serious ass. Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, Lady of Emyn Arnen, Lady of Ithilien, Shieldmaiden of Rohan, et. al is born into a tough world that’s on the brink of extermination, and she wants to do something about it. So she goes to war and slays the frickin’ Witch-King. And then she looks around at the devastation and says, “You know what? Screw war. I’m going to help repair the world instead of ‘[taking] only joy in the songs of slaying.'”
- Cinder, The Lunar Chronicles (Marissa Meyer). A Cinderella retelling starring a PoC cyborg mechanic? Yes, please. Cinder balances toughness with compassion as she slogs her way through a challenging existence and slowly realizes that she’s destined for a lot more than fixing robots. When it comes to rising to challenges, Cinder positively rockets to the top.
- Sophriona Temminnick, Etiquette and Espionage (Gail Carriger). I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction books whose premise is, “She’s special because she actively shuns feminine-coded work!” Come on. We’re better than that. But just because Sophriona’s studying to be a spy doesn’t mean that she can scrimp on the etiquette lessons, proving that you can balance femininity with murder.
- Pretty much every heroine from Rick Riordan’s books. I was going to choose just one, but how is that even possible? From OG Annabeth Chase to wise, thoughtful Zia Rashid to trope-burying Samirah “Sam” al-Abbas to prickly Alex Fierro, every female character in these modern mythological romps kicks ass, literally and figuratively.
- The Lumberjanes, Lumberjanes (Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen, and Shannon Waters). This comic-book collaboration about five friends spending the summer at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types is a hilarious, charming, and heart-warming tale about the power of friendship, brainpower, and girl power in all its diverse forms.
- Rose Hathaway, Vampire Academy (Richelle Mead). Rose is out for blood—not as literally as her bestie Lissa is—as a half-vampire bodyguard for the VIP of the vampire world. She’s a powerful fighter with some epic one-liners (“And I thought the whole point of my education was that violence IS the answer.”), and she’ll do absolutely anything to protect Lissa, even risk death. If anyone knows how to be a supportive friend during tough times, it’s Rose.
- Jess Jordan, Girl, 15, Charming but Insane (Sue Limb). How can I not include Jess Jordan? She’s my girl. Her life is a mess, her self-esteem is in the gutter most of the time, and histrionics are her specialty. And yet, she pulls through every time. Her friends and family help her, but more often than not, Jess emerges triumphant thanks to her own wit and gumption. It’s a subtle message of independence that doesn’t disregard the importance of your support network.
- Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë). “Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? …Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! …And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom…it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal, — as we are!” Lay down that truth, Jane. Back in the day, when it was assumed that poor people couldn’t afford feelings, Jane was setting the record straight. Her life totally sucked, but it gave her the grit necessary to put everyone who wronged her in their place.
Obviously, this list is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a bazillion kickass YA heroines out there, and the world is better for it. Strong fictional girls and women inspire us to be strong in real life, and I know for a face that I turn to the aforementioned heroines in times of trouble.
So who’re your picks for the best kickass YA heroines? And why? (This is a thinly-veiled plea for some book recommendations. Please, help me out here. I need a new book, stat.)