10 new young adult fiction books with bold female characters you have to read

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Because interesting, well-rounded characters of any gender make a book better

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Heroines, both real and fictional, abound in children’s and teen books these days. The girls and women in these books are bold, adventurous and daring. They stand out, and their stories offer much needed inspiration to young people navigating difficult and sometimes confusing times. Plus, these books are simply great reading - for boys and girls alike.

Here’s a look at some new books for teens starring intrepid women:

1. American Street by Ibi Zoboi (HarperCollins)

This debut novel tells the gut-wrenching story of Fabiola Toussaint, a Haitian teen who travels with her mother to the United States for what she imagines will be “la belle vie,” the good life. Nothing goes as planned, however; Fabiola’s mother is detained by US immigration authorities, and although Fabiola is taken in by aunt and cousins, Fabiola must make her own way in the rough-and-tumble new world of west side Detroit.

2. Because I Was a Girl: True Stories for Girls of All Ages edited by Melissa de la Cruz (Macmillan) 

Organised chronologically, from the 1920s to current day, this collection edited by best-selling teen novelist de la Cruz features nearly 40 first-person essays by women who have helped drive gender change in many different areas, from the Episcopalian priesthood to the world of publishing. 

3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (HarperCollins)

This debut novel takes on the timely topic of police brutality through the eyes of a gutsy young woman named Starr Carter. Already straddling two worlds as a black student at a mainly white school, Starr witnesses the killing of a childhood friend, a killing that sparks major unrest in her neighbourhood and eventually galvanizes her to speak out in a way she never thought she could.

4. How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta (HarperCollins) 

This remarkable memoir tells the story of a young woman who saw her mother and younger sister gunned down in front of her at an African refugee camp when she was just 10 years old. Uwiringiyimana somehow survived, and she and other family members were eventually resettled in the United States where she has had to fight her way through what she calls “a different kind of war zone” - American racism. 

5. The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe, translated into English by Lilit Thwaites (Macmillan) 

First published in Spain, this page-turner is a fictionalized account of the experiences of Holocaust survivor Dita Kraus, who was a teen when she and her family were sent to Auschwitz. While there, Kraus became the secret camp “librarian,” guarding eight books that were smuggled in by Jewish prisoners and whose existence became a hidden source of solace for inmates.

6. #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale (Annick) 

This stunning book features stories, poems, essays and artwork depicting what it is like to be an American Indian woman today. Provocative, thoughtful and sometimes humorous, this book showcases tenacious and talented indigenous women ready to take on the world.

7. Spinning by Tillie Walden (First Second) 

In this stark, gripping graphic novel memoir, Walden details her years as a competitive figure skater from primary school through much of secondary school. But the real subject is Walden’s early realisation that she was gay and how that set her apart from her friends and even family, an isolation that comes through loud and clear in the spare, two-toned illustrations.

8. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (Dutton) 

Green delivers a tour-de-force portrait of a teen girl named Aza whose obsessive compulsive disorder spirals out of control as she tries to cope with a new romance. The quirky friendship between Aza and her fearless best friend Daisy also makes compelling reading, with the two navigating some difficult times while trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a local magnate, who also is the father of Aza’s new love interest.

9. Victoria: Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef (Clarion) 

Crowned Queen of England when she was just 18 years old, Victoria led a long and eventful life, outlasting several prime ministers and leaving an indelible mark on her nation. Reef, an award-winning nonfiction writer, provides plenty of historical context but she’s most interested in offering a nuanced portrait of Victoria as a person who lost her beloved husband at a young age, endured the deaths of several of her children, and yet ruled her kingdom with an iron grip.

10. You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (Farrar, Straus, Giroux) 

An irresistible saga of three generations of an Indian American family, this novel begins in 1973, when sisters Starry and Sunny start a new life in the United States with their parents.