Our Dream Reading List: Girls with Guts


In our second installment of Dream Reading Lists, it’s Ashley’s turn to ponder: What class does she wish she could take this fall? She stays true to her tastes with a list that highlights her favorite YA heroines, and underscores the significance of female role models in literature.

Our Dream Reading List: Girls with Guts

Playing ice hockey on otherwise all-boys’ teams growing up taught me a lot about gender and the ways we perceive it. Sometimes I felt like a super-awesome pioneer, embraced by all my teammates; other times I tried to hide my tears after being teased. Either way, I always wished I had more female role-models to look up to, especially in literature. It’s definitely a reason why I’m particularly drawn to YA. Now that the genre and the people who read it have grown up a bit, it deserves serious study. Here’s a small sampling of books with awesome female protagonists who grapple with gender and other tough topics in smart, sensitive ways.

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The Partials Sequence is a great reminder that women can do and be anything. Kira Walker and her many cohorts must save humanity and so much more after an apocalyptic war, and they need more than brains and brawn. Wells’ work ponders ethics in science and morality generally in a far more engaging way than any dedicated science or philosophy class.

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Magic Steps

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No list of girl-dominated YA literature would be complete without including fantasy favorite Tamora Pierce. Her Circle of Magic universe follows four young mages—Sandry, Tris, Daja, and Briar—as they struggle to control their powers, deal with political struggles, and form an everlasting friendship. When I was a young teenager, I loved Briar the most, because I was a fool.

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Someone Like You

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Back in the day, when the one and only Sarah Dessen movie, How to Deal, came out, my friend gave me this book (which the movie is partially based on), and I thought, “Why are you giving me this girly crap?” Then I actually read it, and felt all these feelings as the protagonists, Halley and Scarlett, deal with many tragic and wonderful things, including (but not limited to) death, pregnancy, car crashes, and fleeting loves. It’s ambitious in scope, and explores the myriad of problems teenage girls can face—and how their friendships help them persevere.

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Changers Book One: Drew

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The premise of the Changers series is one of the most intriguing I’ve come across: For every year of high school, any human who is a “Changer” becomes a different person. On the first day of his freshman year, Ethan Miller wakes up as a girl named Drew Bohner. One of my best friends is transgender, and I want more books to be empathetic towards such a transition.

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The Wee Free Men

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In his poignant review of this Terry Pratchett masterpiece on Goodreads, Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind) writes: “I wish I had a little girl, so I could give her this book. I wish I could give a copy of this book to every little girl in the world. I want them to meet Tiffany. And even if they don’t want to be like Tiffany, I want them to know that she exists. That she is possible.” Right now happens to be a great time to meet Tiffany, because her final adventure, The Shepherd’s Crown, was just published.

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The Hunger Games

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Of course I couldn’t make a list of YA books with spectacular women leads without adding The Hunger Games. This series is the one I would force on everyone if I could, including hipsters and pop culture holdouts. And it’s not just because of Katniss—it’s because of her sister Prim, and their mother, and Johanna, Rue, President Coin, Annie, Commander Paylor, Cressida, and so many others. It is a world where women are presidents, military leaders, rebels, and survivors.