Young Adult fiction has come a long way since Judy Blume, and somehow, an even longer way since the most Mary Sue character ever fell in love with a sparkly vampire. The market for novels about young women being warriors or changing the world has absolutely exploded, and it’s a wonderful time to be a bookworm. While there are still the standard damsel in distress books if that’s your thing, this list is made up of books about girls who are doing their own thing, saving their kingdom, figuring out their lives, saying what’s on their minds, breaking or bending the rules when necessary, and often kicking butt or sacrificing for those they love. If you’re a woman, young or old, or someone who appreciates women, here’s a list of 25 YA novels about girls who aren’t in love with vampires.
Feature Image: https://pixabay.com/en/reading-book-girl-woman-people-925589/
The Paper Magician
This is a charming story by Charlie M Holmburg that has a unique take on magic – paper magic! – In Victorian England. It follows Ceony, who’s recently graduated and is now apprenticing magic as a Folder under the eccentric Magician Thane. When his ex-wife shows up to literally steal his heart, Ceony must overcome her fears and use every ounce of cleverness she possesses to save him.
Dorothy Must Die
Dorothy Must Die is a novel about what happened after Dorothy found her way back to Oz, seized power, and everything went downhill. Amy has been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked to set things right, but first she must steal a certain heart, some courage, and a brain. Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige is a great book for lovers of Dark Fairy Tales or those who want to know what happens after Happily Ever After.
The Kiss of Deception
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E Pearson is the first novel in The Remnant Chronicles. Lia, the princess of her kingdom, is supposed to have a gift to know the future, but she doesn’t. Even worse, she’s engaged to a prince she’s never met, who assumes she has this gift. The marriage is a political one to tie the two kingdoms together against the “barbarians.” The story starts out a little melodramatic, but by the end, this makes more sense.
This novel by Shanna Swendson is an alternative history / steampunk novel and the first in a series. 16-year-old Verity Newton moves to New York to be a governess for a wealthy family that is part of the ruling class since they control the magical sources of power. However, an underground group of engineers is working on a steam engine to free the masses from relying on magical power sources.
The Dead House
The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich has been described as “brilliant and wonderfully weird.” Two Decades ago a fire at the high school killed three students. No one knows what happened, except that one student disappeared, until someone finds a diary in the ruins that gives a very different version of events than the one everyone was told. The book’s format is not a straightforward chapter presentation, but rather told through entries in said mysterious journal and news clippings. Warning: this book delves into witchcraft and possession and has kept several readers awake at night.
Lists Going Viral Right Now
The Jewel is a dystopian novel about a world divided into strict classes, reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale (with a dash of Hunger Games), albeit tailored to a younger audience. The top of the food chain are those that live in Jewel, the inner city. The high born royal women are, however, unable to bear children of their own. At the bottom of society are those who live in the Marshes, and their girls are tested for their ability to bear children. Ones who are able to are auctioned off, and our protagonist, Violet, is one such girl, who realizes that her freedom is worth far more than pretty dresses and balls.
The Raven Boys
The Raven Boys is the first in a series of four novels about a girl named Blue, who isn’t a psychic, while everyone in her family is. Her adventure begins when she meets four boys from Aglionby, a local high school, who come to her family for help finding magic. The beauty of this novel is not the quest or even the plot – though those are fine – but the character exploration and the dynamics of power in the group. For those who like the appeal of dark southern novels (me me meeeeee!) this series is a must read.
Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley is a book about a sick girl who must choose between saving the world and the people she loves, and being healthy, having magic powers, and living in the sky. Not only must she choose who she wants to be, but which world she wants to survive. Adult fans of Neil Gaiman and John Green, this book is for you.
The Queen of the Tearling
The Queen of the Tearling starts off with a princess in exile, off to recapture her mother’s throne. Not a poor girl who isn’t special, nope, already a princes, already of age, off to have an adventure. A good, strong start. Set in future earth (the 24th century) during a second dark age, it’s a good, if modest fantasy fiction novel, the first of a series. Good for those who are looking for a light read or aren’t ready for heavy hitting mind bending high fantasy.
Made for You
Made For You by Melissa Marr is a dark romance / psychopath-is-hunting-me kind of novel. It’s a little scary, and very (wonderfully) weird. After an accident, Eva discovers she can see how people will die, which is understandably upsetting. Doubly so when a villain is stalking you and killing your friends. Also, there’s a romance, but it doesn’t overpower the rest of the story.
Shadow and Bone
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo is the first in a series called the Grisha Trilogy. A powerful nation has been attacked – cut in two – by darkness that releases monsters who enjoy human flesh. A girl named Alina who before now has never done anything extraordinary has been chosen to be a trained member of the Grisha, the kingdom’s magician-soldiers. Bardugo has a sense of lavish world-building that make her novels worth checking out.
Throne of Glass
Throne Of Glass is the first in a series by Sarah J Maas. After serving hard labor in the salt mines for her crimes, an 18 year old assassin is taken before the prince for her crimes. In exchange for her freedom, she must serve as his Champion at an upcoming competition to find a new Royal Assassin. If she wins, she serves the kingdom for a set number of years, and then she’s free. But things aren’t ever that simple, are they?
The Wrath and the Dawn
The Wrath and the Dawn is a retelling of a thousand and one nights, the story where a prince takes a new bride each night and then has her killed in the morning. That is until one woman volunteers to marry him in hopes to find out why her dearest friend was killed. She didn’t anticipate falling in love with him.
Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
A bloody and haunting retelling of Romeo and Juliette, Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge adds in magic and an already ruined world, while still keeping the murdered cousin and themes of revenge and plans gone wrong. It keeps going after the original play ends though, sending our cast off to find the secrets of why the world is a mess. If you’re into Shakespeare or retellings, it’s definitely worth picking up.
Graceling, the first in the Graceling Realm series by Kristen Cashore, centers around Lady Kasta – the niece of the king – who has an incredible skill or power called a “Grace.” She’s tough, serious, smart, and not overly concerned with her appearance, to the point that she cuts off her hair when she feels it’s getting in her way. There is a bit of a love story, but it’s definitely not handled in the conventional fashion. Very little of this book is what you’re likely to be expecting, in the best possible way.
The Glittering Court
The Glittering Court is the first in a series of Novels by Rochelle Mead, who brought us Vampire Academy (which would be on this list, except that this is vampire main character free list of novels). It tells the story of Adelaide, a young countess whose parents have died and whose family has fallen on difficult financial times. In order to keep living the lifestyle they’re accustomed to, Adelaide’s grandmother decides she must wed a distant cousin who has money but a lesser title. Instead, she chooses to pose as a servant and enter a new life in the new world.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
This novel by Leslye Walton covers four generations of Lavender women, following them from Europe and across the US ending in Seattle, and chronicling their curses: seeing ghosts, lost love, and…wings. Our narrator, Ava, was born with two unexpected things – a twin brother who’s clearly autistic (but merely labeled odd, due to their birth being in the 1940’s) and a full size pair of wings.
If weird bits of magic, quirky characters, and women coming to terms with the hand life and their own choices have dealt them interests you, you will probably enjoy this book. This story contains mature themes, and is not recommended for readers under the age or general maturity of a reasonably well adjusted 16-year-old.
Six Feet Over It
Six Feet Over It was Jennifer Longo’s debut novel, and it’s surprisingly refreshing and funny for a novel about a girl who’s father buys a graveyard and moves his family across the country. A novel that mostly centers around a cemetery without having a vampire, zombie, ghost or any other sort of magical death related being, it’s very much about the day to day business of funerals and the day to day business of being a young woman coming of age, learning how to sell headstones to people.
Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, is the first in her series titled the Lunar Chronicles, which are retellings of classic fairy tales such as Cinderella, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood with sci-fi twists (such as them all living on the moon). Cinder (Cinderella) is a 16-year-old half robot girl living in New Bejing. Being half robot makes her a great mechanic but also makes her kind of hated. Then she meets the Prince, and things…don’t magically end up happy or easy. The Lunar Chronicles are tied together by the need to stop Queen Levana, who is based on the Evil Queen from Snow White.
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard is Aveyard’s debut novel, but you wouldn’t know it by the critical acclaim she received for this book. Set in a fantasy world where your caste is decided by if your blood is red or silver, the story centers around Mare, who’s blood is one color but her abilities are another. Mare is more than just a vapid stand-in Mary Sue type character, and one of the main things that make this novel worth reading, though far from the only thing.
An Ember in the Ashes
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir tells the story of a slave girl trying to save her brother, and a boy who longs to escape his destiny. This book has received extremely high praise from the YA community for it’s rich world building reminiscent of Rome, strong plot, and Tahir’s storytelling ability.
Snow Like Ashes
Snow Like Ashes is a story about a Kingdom that has already been conquered and enslaved, some sixteen years ago. Their magic stolen, their ruler slain, the only hope for the fallen kingdom of Winter is a girl who was just a babe when she was orphaned during the defeat of Winter and has lived her life as a refugee. It is the first book in the Snow Like Ashes Trilogy by Sara Raasch.
Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot
Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot is a book about clever girls, magic, nefarious plots, and social debuts in England in the early 1800’s. Don’t drink things offered to you by known Witches, kids. The first in a series called Cecelia and Kate, by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer.
Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery is a classic story about an a chatty orphan girl who is imaginative and, for a story written nearly 110 years ago, refreshingly progressive. The series follows Anne well into adulthood and despite it’s age, or maybe because of it, is well worth the read.
The Mermaid's Sister
The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble is a story about the love between siblings, how far we’d be willing to go to save those we love, and learning to say what you want and accepting who you truly are. It also contains an adorable Wyvern and legit mermaids. It’s a quick read that doesn’t rely too heavily on magic, though it is present. A very unique and beautifully written story, it doesn’t have any mature themes or scenes, though perhaps more mature minds may appreciate it’s pacing more than others.
Looking for more books to read? Check out 25 Life-Changing Books For You To Add To Your Library.