During my teenage years, I was raised by a single mother.  Not only was she a “strong female lead” in the story of her life, she taught me to be one, as well.  And although I am quite a traditional woman, and I believe my job is to support my husband in every way I can (and I love that role), I equally love the modern idea that women are not judged for being career-driven and independent.  I have played many roles besides wife and mother – teacher, beekeeper, construction superintendent, entrepreneur – and I tackled each chapter of my life with a sense of adventure and delight.  Many of the books I recommend in this article helped shape me into the woman I am today, and I loved sharing them with my daughters, both of whom have grown up to be bold, headstrong, self-reliant, and certain of what they know is right.  Here are my top young adult books with strong female leads.

 

 

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

For ages: 10-12

Themes of: Independence and friendship.

After a falling out with her best friend, 12-year-old Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes from someone who seems to know all about her – even things that haven’t happened yet.  When the notes tell her someone is about to die, she has to figure out how to save them.  This is a great story for younger audiences, full of mystery and intrigue, but it also covers the importance of friendship and the complexities of growing up.  If you love books that are mostly about real life but have a touch of magic, you will not be disappointed.

 

 

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

For ages: 10-12

Themes of hard work, self-reliance, friendship and family

12-year-old Caddie Woodlawn is not a typical pioneer girl.  Rather than cook and sew, she’d rather hunt, plow, and play with her Indian friends.  None of the women in her life understand her, but she doesn’t care.  She’s brave and adventurous and full of spirit.  A delightful historical fiction novel set in the 1860’s on the American frontier.

 

 

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by e.l. konigsburg

For ages: 10-13

Themes of family, friendship, independence, achieving one’s dreams.

12-year-old Claudia Kincaid decides to teach her parents a lesson in Claudia appreciation by running away from home.  While on a school field trip, she and her younger brother Jamie disappear and take residence in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  After the adventure of living in an art museum wears off, Claudia learns that she doesn’t feel any different as a result of running away.  She also discovers a statue so beautiful that she must know its creator – but the only information about it is its owner, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

 

 

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

For ages: 12-14

Themes of self-reliance, perseverance and survival.

Island of the Blue Dolphins takes place in the mid-1800’s and is loosely based on a true story.  A Native American girl named Karana is separated from her people and lives alone on an island for 18 years.  She must learn skills traditionally reserved for men – hunting, fishing, making spears and canoes.  This is a story of resilience and survival that you will never forget.

 

 

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

For ages: 12-14

Themes of responsibility, wisdom, and adjusting to change.

16-year-old Kit leaves her home in Barbados to live with her aunt, uncle and cousins in Connecticut.  The year is 1687, and Kit struggles to adjust to her new Puritan community, which frowns on her headstrong manner.  After getting in trouble for reenacting a scene from the Bible, Kit flees to the woods and meets Hannah Tupper, a kind, gentle woman who has been outcast because she is a Quaker and has been rumored a witch.  This is a coming-of-age tale like no other, as Kit grows up in the shadows of the “mob mentality” and must remain true to herself in spite of it.

 

 

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

For ages: 12-14

Themes of immortality, civilization vs. nature, coming of age.

It is the year 1880 and 10-year-old Winnie Foster wants nothing more than to get away from her overbearing family.  While exploring in the woods, she runs into a young man drinking from a small spring.  He says his name is Jesse Tuck and he is 107 years old, although he quickly changes that to 17.  When Winnie tries to drink from the same spring, Jesse stops her, and she learns that the spring creates immortality.  Winnie befriends the rest of the Tuck family, who wish they could grow old and die.  This book is a children’s classic and deals with the subject of immortality in unique and beautiful ways.

 

 

Anne with an E

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

For ages: 12-14

Themes of integrity, imagination, kindness, individuality, coming of age.

This is the story of 11-year-old Anne Shirley, an orphan who gets mistakenly sent to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert at their home on Prince Edward Island in the late 19th century.  While she is overjoyed to have a new family, Matthew and Marilla thought they were getting a boy to help Matthew around the farm.  Although they try to send her back, no one can resist the unique, imaginative, loquacious Anne Shirley.  Anne of Green Gables has sold more than 50 million copies since its publication and has been translated into 36 languages, and it is the first of many sequels which cover the life of Anne as she becomes a woman.  It is beautifully written, and it takes place during more innocent times when morals and integrity were the woof and warp of everyday life.  You’ll never look at life quite the same after reading it.

 

 

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

For ages: 13-16

Themes of family, friendship and survival.

When life in her Inuit village becomes dangerous to her, 13-year-old Julie escapes to the Arctic tundra and lives with a pack of wolves.  Readers of wilderness adventure books like My Side of the Mountain will love this book.  One caveat: there are some mature topics covered, as Julie is forcibly married at age 13 (the tribe’s tradition) and runs away when her husband assaults her.  It is not terribly graphic, but the subject matter has been considered controversial.

 

 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

For ages: 13-16

Themes of survival and integrity.

16-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take the place of her younger sister in the 74th Hunger Games, an annual pageant in which teens are selected by lottery to fight each other to the death, much like the gladiators of ancient Rome.  This is a dystopian novel full of conflict, hard choices, and impossible situations.  It contains action, clean romance, and is quite a page-turner.  I don’t think I have ever met a teenager who didn’t love this book.

 

 

A Little Princess by France Hodgson Burnett

For ages: 13-16

Themes of integrity, maintaining hope in times of adversity, and the power of imagination to get one through hard times.

Sara Crewe is a British girl living in India with her father, a wealthy widower who adores his daughter and showers her with gifts.  When her father goes overseas to fight, Sara is sent to a boarding school in England, where she draws the ire of the envious headmistress, Miss Minchin.  Soon her father is reported dead, his fortune is seized, and Sarah finds herself penniless and must become a servant to Miss Minchin.  Despite adversity, Sara remains true to herself as her imagination keeps her spirits up.  This is a beautiful story of integrity and courage.  Although the content is fine for younger audiences, it does have a fairly hefty vocabulary as it was written in 1905.

 

 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

For ages: 13-16

Themes of family, friendship, morality, love, coming of age.

Little Women is the story of four sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – and their journey from childhood to womanhood.  There are many layers to this book, and although Jo March is the most headstrong of her sisters, each of the women in this book have their own trials and tribulations as they learn to navigate life.  It is a beautiful tale of family, friendship, love, and growing up.

 

 

Stephanie Meyer's Twilight

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

For ages: 15-17

Themes of love, friendship, coming of age.

17-tear-old Bella Swan moves from her mother’s home in Phoenix, Arizona, to live with her father in Forks, Washington.  While adapting to a new school and trying to make friends, Bella meets the strange and alluring Cullen family.  She is particularly drawn to Edward Cullen, who has a perplexing aversion to her.  This is a unique love story between a vampire and a human, but it is rather mild as far as vampire stories go.  The romance aspect of the book is tastefully done, the author being a practicing Mormon, and promiscuity or premarital sex is nonexistent in this series.  Full of conflict, most teens will love this page-turner of a book.

 

 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

For ages: 16-18

Themes of love and hate, social classes vs. individuality, independence.

Jane Eyre, an orphan, endures loneliness and cruelty as she is raised in the heartless home of her aunt.  The experience shapes her character, making her tough and independent, which proves useful when she becomes a governess for the dark and mysterious Mr. Rochester.  As they develop feelings for each other, she discovers a dark secret from his past which forces her to make a decision – follow her convictions and leave him, or follow her heart and stay?  Although this is a love story, it is also a dark mystery, with twists and turns that I never saw coming.  Not only is this a fascinating story, it is also full of thought-provoking moral and philosophical questions perfect for older teens.

 

 

D.N. Moore is an author of Young Adult fiction. She particularly loves speculative fiction from fantasy to paranormal, but she will read or write in any genre. She is currently writing a dystopian novel for teens. Her previous works include Ballad of the Dead: A Modern Fairy Tale and The Blandford Fly and Other Tales, and they have received critical acclaim both online and in the Writers of the Future contest.

Her writing has been described as “lyrical,” “chilling,” and has been praised for its diverse themes, page-turner plots, and relatable characters. She has been compared to Neil Gaiman and Naomi Novik and her work is loved by teens and adults alike.

As a former teacher and a mother, she loves starting and nurturing the reading “bug” in children and young adults.  Her blog offers suggested reading to teens, teachers, and parents, with a focus on quality literature and age-appropriate themes.  Sign up for her newsletter here to be notified of new reading lists as they come out.