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Read Like a Girl: 10 YA Books to Celebrate Powerful Women

March 8th is International Women’s Day, Captain Marvel just came out, and there were more films starring women last year than ever before (although we still have work to do!). We’re really feeling the girl power here at Swoon HQ! To celebrate, here is a list of ten YA books about powerful women of all shapes, sizes, and experiences to inspire you.


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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Girlhood comes in an infinite variety of ways, and a true celebration of women does not exclude those who experience their gender in different ways, or take a little longer to figure themselves out. Amanda, the trans girl at the center of this achingly beautiful and ultimately hopeful novel, just wants to make new friends and maybe even get a boyfriend, but worries that her secret could change everything. A must read for all teens (and adults!).

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The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

There is power in both anger and poetry, as this spectacular novel in verse reminds you from the very first page. Xiomara is a complicated and wholly relatable character who can be both fierce and soft, determined to find her own path and sensitive to the desires of her mother and brother. This book will break your heart into a million pieces and then put it back together again.

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Puddin' by Julie Murphy

The only thing stronger than girl power is Texas-sized girl power. Millie is the girl who’s gone to fat camp every year of her life, while Callie is “the pretty girl” with a cute boyfriend and a spot on the dance team, but they might have more in common than they think. With heart, humor, and a definite southern twang, Julie Murphy draws attention to the power inherent in female friendships—even the most unlikely ones.

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Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Eelyn is one of the fiercest, most compelling YA characters I’ve read in a long time. She’s not afraid of walking head on into battle—in fact, it’s what she’s been training for her entire life. Driven by an intense desire to avenger her brother, Eelyn’s story is about the power inherent in violence and war, but also in the courage it takes to trust someone.

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The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me by Olivia Hinebaugh

Speaking out to power is one of the bravest, hardest things you can do, as Lacy Burke, a teen girl who has never been kissed but somehow finds herself acting as a sex expert to combat her school’s abstinence only education, discovers. This sweet, inclusive book is perfect for anyone looking for the courage to speak up to injustice.

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Heroism and badassery does not have to be epic. There are many different ways for women to be powerful, and some of those ways are much quieter than others. That’s what I love most about Cath, the protagonist of Fangirl—she’s brave because she keeps on going, she’s brave because she cares about her sister and her father, she’s brave because she puts her heart on the line. Cath doesn’t carry a sword, but she’s every bit as brave as someone who does.

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The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

Rukhsana Ali has a girlfriend, but it’s a secret. Unable to come out to her conservative Muslim parents, Rukhsana is on the brink of freedom (her freshman year at Caltech) when her secret comes out and her parents send her to Bangladesh, to a culture of arranged marriages and religious tradition. Love & Lies is a wonderful portrait of generational trauma and how family ties can be mended even when it seems impossible.

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Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Jane McKeen kills zombies. She’s handy with a sickle, and can take the undead out with a shot from fifty feet away. In fact, it’s her job to protect rich women in this alternate history novel about an America where the dead began to walk after the Civil War. Dread Nation forces the reader to think deeply about this imagined America and see unsettling parallels to our own world.

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American Panda by Gloria Chau

As Dumbledore taught us in the very first Harry Potter book, sometimes bravery means standing up to those you love. Germaphobic Mei REALLY does not want to be a doctor, but she also doesn’t want to upset her traditional Taiwanese parents, who would never accept that blood makes her sick and she’d rather dance than dissect. A touching exploration of what it means to try and embrace your culture while forging your own way forward.

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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity is a heart-wrenching, page-turning depiction of two girls, a pilot and a spy, whose deep friendship helps to end a war. In this dual perspective historical fiction novel, you often aren’t quite sure who is telling the whole truth, but Maddie and Julie’s love for each other shines at the heart of the story. You will cry and you will laugh and you will never forget this book.

Your turn, Swooners! Share some of your favorite YA books starring strong female characters in the comments below.

Author spotlight

Rachel D.

Growing up in rural Oregon, books were my way out. Now, books are my way of reconnecting with my home. ...

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