Perhaps more than any other book genre, young adult literature is known for producing strong, smart heroines. Katniss from The Hunger Games, Tris from Divergent, and Hermione from Harry Potter often come to mind, yet there are so many other wonderful female teen role models out there just waiting to be discovered.
We’ve compiled a list of 19 YA books with inspiring heroines, and included publishers’ descriptions for the first in the series below. Each of these ladies kicks butt in her own unique way!
1. Celaena Sardothien from The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.
Her opponents are men — thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.
Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.
Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.
2. Cassie Sullivan from The 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: Trust no one.
Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother — or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: Between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.
3. Cinder from the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl…
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
4. Ellie Linton from the Tomorrow, When the War Began series by John Marsden
When Ellie and six of her friends return home from a camping trip deep in the bush, they find things hideously wrong — their families gone, houses empty and abandoned, pets and stock dead. Gradually they begin to comprehend that their country has been invaded and everyone in the town has been taken prisoner. As the horrible reality of the situation becomes evident they have to make a life-and-death decision: To run back into the bush and hide, to give themselves up to be with their families, or to stay and try to fight. This riveting, tautly-drawn novel seems at times to be only a step away from today’s headlines.
5. Callie from the Forget Tomorrow series by Pintip Dunn
Imagine a world where your destiny has already been decided… by your future self.
It’s Callie’s 17th birthday and, like everyone else, she’s eagerly awaiting her vision — a memory sent back in time to sculpt each citizen into the person they’re meant to be. A world-class swimmer. A renowned scientist.
Or in Callie’s case, a criminal.
In her vision, she sees herself murdering her gifted younger sister. Before she can process what it means, Callie is arrested and placed in prison. The only person who can help is her childhood crush, Logan, a boy she hasn’t spoken to in five years.
Logan breaks her free, but can she trust him? He’s almost the same boy she remembers, but now he’s a whole lot hotter. And he’s got his own past to deal with. Callie’s falling for him, fast, but she soon learns he has secrets of his own. Secrets that mean they can never be together.
Now, Callie’s on the run not only from the government, but also from her fate. If she wants any hope of a future with Logan, she must find a way to protect her sister from the biggest threat of all — herself.
6. Mare Barrow from the Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard
Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood — those with common, Red blood serve the Silver-blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.
To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard — a growing Red rebellion — even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.
7. Phee Van Zant from the Tracked series by Jenny Martin
The Fast and the Furious gets a futuristic twist in this action-packed debut!
On corporately controlled Castra, rally racing is a high-stakes game that 17-year-old Phoebe Van Zant knows all too well. Phee’s legendary racer father disappeared mysteriously, but that hasn’t stopped her from speeding headlong into trouble. When she and her best friend, Bear, attract the attention of Charles Benroyal, they are blackmailed into racing for Benroyal Corp, a company that represents everything Phee detests. Worse, Phee risks losing Bear as she falls for Cash, her charming new teammate. But when she discovers that Benroyal is controlling more than a corporation, Phee realizes she has a much bigger role in Castra’s future than she could ever have imagined. It’s up to Phee to take Benroyal down. But even with the help of her team, can a street-rat destroy an empire?
8. Alina Starkov from the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life — a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha… and the secrets of her heart.
9. Wick Tate from the Find Me series by Romily Bernard
Fans of Millennium series will just love this creepy and alluring teen thriller. Complete with action, techie intrigue, a horrifying mystery, and a blossoming romance full of sparks, Find Me is an exhilarating debut.
When teen hacker and foster child Wick Tate finds a dead classmate’s diary on her front step, with a note reading “Find me,” she sets off on a perverse game of hide-and-seek to catch the killer. But things get even more personal as Wick’s deadbeat dad returns and the killer points to Wick’s sister Lily as the next target.
With the help of oh-so-cute hacker-boy-next-door Griff, can Wick find her tormenter and save her sister?
10. Davy from the Uninvited series by Sophie Jordan
Davy had everything — a terrific boyfriend, the homecoming crown, a bright future at Juilliard — but when her genetic tests come back positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome, she loses it all. Uninvited from her prestigious school, avoided by her friends and family, she is placed in a special class with other “carriers” who are treated like the murderers they someday might become.
Only Sean, a fellow HTS carrier, can relate to her new life and tells her that she alone controls her actions — not the code embedded into her DNA. But even if she can learn to trust him, can Davy trust herself?
11. Aria from the Under The Never Sky series by Veronica Rossi
Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland — known as The Death Shop — are slim. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild — a savage — and her only hope of staying alive. A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile — everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption.
In alternating chapters told in Aria’s and Perry’s voices, Under the Never Sky subtly and powerfully captures the evolving relationship between these characters and sweeps readers away to a harsh but often beautiful world.
12. Patsy from Hit by Delilah S. Dawson
No one reads the fine print.
The good news is that the USA is finally out of debt. The bad news is that we were bought out by Valor National Bank, and debtors are the new big game, thanks to a tricky little clause hidden deep in the fine print of a credit card application. Now, after a swift and silent takeover that leaves 9-1-1 calls going through to Valor voicemail, they’re unleashing a wave of anarchy across the country.
Patsy didn’t have much of a choice. When the suits showed up at her house threatening to kill her mother then and there for outstanding debt unless Patsy agreed to be an indentured assassin, what was she supposed to do? Let her own mother die?
Patsy is forced to take on a five-day mission to complete a hit list of 10 names. Each name on Patsy’s list has only three choices: Pay the debt on the spot, agree to work as a bounty hunter, or die. And Patsy has to kill them personally, or else her mom takes a bullet of her own. Since yarn bombing is the only anarchy in Patsy’s past, she’s horrified and overwhelmed, especially as she realizes that most of the ten people on her list aren’t strangers. Things get even more complicated when a moment of mercy lands her with a sidekick: A hot rich kid named Wyatt whose brother is the last name on Patsy’s list. The two share an intense chemistry even as every tick of the clock draws them closer to an impossible choice.
13. Skylar from The Earth & Sky trilogy by Megan Crewe
Seventeen-year-old Skylar has been haunted for as long as she can remember by fleeting yet powerful sensations that something is horribly wrong. But despite the visions of disaster that torment her, nothing ever happens, and Sky’s beginning to think she’s crazy. Then she meets a mysterious, otherworldly boy named Win and discovers the shocking truth her premonitions have tapped into: that our world no longer belongs to us. For thousands of years, life on Earth has been at the mercy of alien scientists who care nothing for humans and are using us as the unwitting subjects of their time-manipulating experiments. Win belongs to a rebel faction seeking to put a stop to it, and he needs Skylar’s help to save the world and keep the very fabric of reality together. Megan Crewe’s latest tale takes readers on a mind-bending journey through time with a cast of unforgettable characters.
14. Alina from the Breathe series by Sarah Crossan
Ever since the Switch, when the oxygen levels plummeted and most of humanity died, the survivors have been protected in glass domes full of manufactured air. Protected… or trapped? Or controlled? Alina’s a revolutionary who believes we can save the environment. Quinn’s a Premium who’s never had to worry about having enough air. His best friend, Bea, is an Auxiliary who’s never worried about anything but having enough air. When the three cross paths, they will change everything. Sarah Crossan’s thrilling and provocative novel is about passion, about yearning for something better, and about breaking free for the very first time.
15. Natasha Romanoff from Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl
Natasha Romanoff is one of the world’s most lethal assassins. Trained from a young age in the arts of death and deception, Natasha was given the title of Black Widow by Ivan Somodorov, her brutal teacher at the Red Room, Moscow’s infamous academy for operatives.
Ava Orlova is just trying to fit in as an average Brooklyn teenager, but her life has been anything but average.The daughter of a missing Russian quantum physicist, Ava was once subjected to a series of ruthless military experiments — until she was rescued by Black Widow and placed under S.H.I.E.L.D. protection. Ava has always longed to reconnect with her mysterious savior, but Black Widow isn’t really the big sister type.
When children all over Eastern Europe begin to go missing, and rumors of smuggled Red Room tech light up the dark net, Natasha suspects her old teacher has returned — and that Ava Orlova might be the only one who can stop him. To defeat the madman who threatens their future, Natasha and Ava must unravel their pasts. Only then will they discover the truth about the dark-eyed boy with an hourglass tattoo who haunts Ava’s dreams…
16. Saba from the Dustlands series by Moira Young
Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That’s fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when four cloaked horsemen capture Lugh, Saba’s world is shattered, and she embarks on a quest to get him back.
Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the outside world, Saba discovers she is a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba’s unrelenting search for Lugh stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.
17. Penryn from the Penryn and the End of Days series by Susan Ee
It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her 17-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back. Anything, including making a deal with Raffe, an injured enemy angel. Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco, where Penryn will risk everything to rescue her sister and Raffe will put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.
18. Tella Holloway from the Fire and Flood series by Victoria Scott
Time is slipping away…
Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can’t determine what’s wrong, her parents decide to move to the middle of nowhere for the fresh air. She’s lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying — and she’s helpless to change anything.
Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It’s an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother’s illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there’s no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.
The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can’t trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?
19. Mila from the Mila 2.0 series by Debra Driza
No one suspects what she’s made of…
Mila was living with her mother in a small Minnesota town when she discovered she was also
living a lie.
She was never meant to learn the truth about her identity. She was never supposed to remember the past.
Now she has no choice but to run — from the dangerous operatives who want her terminated because she knows too much, and from a mysterious group that wants to capture her alive and unlock her advanced technology.
Evading her enemies won’t help Mila escape the cruel reality of what she is and cope with everything she has had to leave behind. However, what she’s becoming is beyond anyone’s imagination, including her own, and that just might save her life.
Which of these books are you excited to read? Tell us in the comments!