Books like "The Hunger Games" and the "Divergent" series really gave girls and young women something inspiring to read. Often times, especially in movies, there's an over-abundance of men out there saving the world. Sometimes, if we're lucky, women will be allotted one token character on the conditions that she be thin, white, and most important, have large boobs. She'll probably flip around in the air and be super cool for like two minutes before her time to shine is overwith and we have to get back to big-muscled Main Character Man. But these books have given girls a power they haven't really had before. You follow two amazing heroines as they fight, struggle and claw their ways through turmoil, grief and the most challenging circumstances they've ever had to face. And while yes, there is still a romantic aspect to the storyline, it is not the most important thing. Katniss never volunteered for Peeta. She volunteered for Prim. For her sister. Her family. Boys were of no concern to her. And Tris, too, felt it was her duty to her family, to her people, to strive against the status quo. Four was a steady companion for her, as well as a lover. But I firmly believe that even if he'd never existed Tris still would've incited the change she did.
But those books are getting old. All the movies are out. The hype is dying down. So now what? Well, as a proud bibliophile, I have complied my own list of recommended readings that feature some amazing kick-butt female leads! But be warned—if you have a problem with self-assured, confident, realistic portrayals of women, these will not be the books for you.
1. The "Graceling" series
Written by Kristin Cashore, this series takes place in the fantastical world of "Graceling." Certain people, called Gracelings, are born with heterochromia (a condition of the eyes that gives them two different colors) and are graced with certain abilities. Some can breathe under water. Some can read the minds of others. Some can simply run fast or take a punch well. But Katsa, the main character, is graced with killing. Under employment of the King, she's forced to do his dirty work and inflict his punishments upon the people. But don't worry—things get interesting for Katsa right away! There's no need to wait for this book to suck you in. Between the charming and intriguing characters, the uniqueness of the story concept itself and the amazing follow-up books ("Fire" being the sister book, and set before the stories of "Graceling" and "Bitterblue," the sequel and continuation) you'll never be in want of excitement.
2. The "Throne of Glass" series
Think "Games of Thrones" meets "Hunger Games" inSarah J. Maas's "Throne of Glass," the first book of its series. Celaena Sardothien, a wicked and brutal assassin, has been spending time in one of the most notorious prisoner camps in the kingdom. That is, until the day a prince came to ask her to be his champion. Follow Celaena as she fights her way against the worst of her kind—from thieves to fellow assassins—in order to receive the honor of serving as the king's right hand and for freedom after four years of service. But nothing is ever as it seems; not within the castle of glass, nor within the hearts of her enemies or friends, or even with Celaena herself. This is an epic series where no one's head is safe. It's an emotional roller-coaster of heart-wrenching defeats and loss, as well as brilliant moments of victory and happiness. Four of the seven total books are out now, with the fifth being released this September. Do yourself a favor and pick up "Throne of Glass" today.
3. The "Girl of Fire and Thorns" Series
Rae Carson tells a wonderful coming-of-age story with Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza, a princess with all the confidence of a pebble. Set to marry a man she does not know and move to country she's never visited, Elisa knows her life is about to undergo a drastic change. On top of all of that, she has been blessed with a Godstone, a gem buried in her naval, a sign that she is to complete a great act in service to God, as foretold by prophecy. But whatever this act might be, Elisa must first find the will to survive, and thrive, in her new home. As the story unfolds, we watch her finally come into herself and undergo a beautiful transformation. This series has beautiful character development, as well as clever and surprising twists and turns to keep readers thoroughly entertained.
4. "Eon" and "Eona"
Eon is a crippled boy, disliked and bullied, studying the ancient art of Dragon Magic in hopes of becoming a Dragoneye, a human link to one of the twelve Dragons of Fortune (one for each of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac). He is gifted with the rare ability to see all the Dragons of Fortune through his mind's eye, a talent unheard of for years. But Eon has a terrible secret; in reality, he is Eona, a teenage girl. Women are forbidden from become Dragoneyes, and upon discovery, she will face death. "Eon" and "Eona" both shed light on the issues of gender and gender identity, as well as focusing heavily on themes of sexism and the true strength of women and believing in one's self. It's an epic journey (that really could've used a third book, in my opinion) with complicated characters, beautiful imagery and wonderful themes.
Much like Alison Goodman's books, Rachel Hartman's "Seraphina" and "Shadow Scale" also hit on themes of gender and gender identity, as well as sexuality. And they're done in ways that feel natural and right—not as if they were put in there just to make a statement. These elements fit flawlessly into Seraphina's journey of self-identity. Half dragon and half human—a combination forbidden by all—Seraphina must hide her true nature every day. Despite the end of the war between humans and dragons four decades ago, tensions still run high as the two species try to get along. But not all want to maintain this tenuous peace, and forces are actively trying to turn both nations back to the front lines. And, of course, Seraphina finds herself in the middle of all of it, her dragon half giving her an edge in understanding the creatures, as well as strange cognitive abilities that no one seems to understand just yet. As she's thrown into the middle of things, Seraphina will have to find a way to not only better understand herself, but those around her, and finally come to terms with who she really is.
6. The "Parasol Protectorate" series
Witty, charming and never in need of a cup of tea, Gail Carriger's series follows Alexia in her London life full of gentlemanly vampires, flighty ghosts and gruff (but not always so tough) werewolves in a world where the supernatural is simply a part of every day life. The only secret that remains is that of the preternatural, a quite perplexing creature with the ability to cancel out a supernatural creature's abilities with only a bit of physical contact. And Alexia is the first female preternatural in, well, forever. Snarky, confident and never one to take anything from anybody, Alexia's story is one full of mystery, romance and so much self-confidence you can't help but feel good about yourself after reading this book. It's a charming series that never wants for intrigue and keeps a reader entertained for days.
7. The "Young Elites" series
Many stories feature protagonists with goals centered around justice, peace and happiness. And we all have a good sense of what those words mean. But for Adelina, these words mean something else entirely. Marked by a plague that left her a malfetto, a societal outcast, Adelina discovers in an attempt to escape her abusive father that she is more than just another malfetto—she in an Elite, a survivor of the blood fever that gained an incredible power. There are others like her who are willing to train her. But as she learns more and more about her ability, as she grows stronger, so to does the darkness inside her. This is not a tale about a hero fighting for what's right for the world. No, Adelina is much more interested in her own form of justice. In righting the wrongs that were done to her. No longer will she be the one cowering in fear. Now others will bend to her will or die. A dark, gritty novel of betrayal, hope and the darkness in each of us, Marie Lu's "Young Elites" series is a beast of it's own kind.
8. "Shadow and Bone" (the Grisha trilogy)
Another series full of darkness, "Shadow and Bone" begins the tale of Alina Starkov, an orphan in the land of Ravka. Here there are two types of people: normal, every day folk like Alina and her friend, Mal, and the Grisha, the people of the small science who are able to do incredible things like summon wind and water, or even create amazing contraptions. Some Grisha can even stop a heart from beating with just a look. And Alina, too, is one of them. Unbeknownst to her until the day she summons light, Alina's power may be what saves her whole country from the Unsea, a terrible sin of a the past that is threatening to tear the country in two, quite literally. But learning to control her new power, as well as learning who to trust, may be more than Alina can handle. This is a wildly addictive series that steals your breath when you least expect it. And now, in addition to this series, Leigh Bardugo has started another, beginning with the "Six of Crows," which follows a separate cast of characters but takes place in the same world some years later. If you like this series it definitely a book to pick up.
9. The "Mystic" trilogy
This is Denzel's first book in his "Mystic" trilogy, but if the next two are anything like this, I cannot wait! Pomella is a nobody—a normal girl from a small village with only a full and flourishing garden to her name, she is rather like everyone else. But of course, she dreams for more. Pomella would give anything to be a Mystic, a user of magic that protects the country. But that position is saved for only one person, and the seat is highly contested not only by the dukes and duchesses, but by royalty itself. So on the day the Green Man, the messenger for the High Mystic, comes along, everyone is sure the duke's daughter will have the honor. But it is Pomella who will have the honor this time. Risking everything she has, Pomella accepts the challenge before her. We watch as she struggles to become more than herself, to see herself as someone worthy and make others see her in that light as well. The plot is smart, and the characters feel real. And with an ending like this one, I'm waiting impatiently for the second installment.