Women Protagonists in YA: A List and Resources


This is a work in progress, any feedback from the audience/readers will be incorporated into the list.  I am especially interested in finding any good works about female friendship.  Here is a wonderful tumblr devoted to diversity in YA.  Here is a wonderfully comprehensive list of protagonists of color in YA and another specifically looking at SF and fantasy.

Akata Witch – Nnedi Okorafor

I cannot recommend this book enough.  It deals with being an outsider on multiple levels — because of looks, because of talents, because of being a girl in a patriarchal society, and because of culture.  It’s about an albino girl in Nigeria, who was born in America and spent years there before being brought back to Nigeria with her family.  She discovers that she has magic powers.  Imagine Harry Potter, but based entirely on Nigerian culture.  I’ve not read Nnedi Okorafor’s other work, but I am going to as soon as I can.  The beautiful art above is from the cover of this novel.

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

While this book does have a love triangle in it, it is otherwise a fantastic dystopian novel with a female lead.  Katniss is smart and driven by her desire to help her family and herself.  She can be quite selfish and uninterested in the feelings of others.  These flaws make her far more interesting than many women in YA novels and far from a passive participant in the events.  She is also written with olive skin and dark hair, which many interpret as being a person of color but, at the very least, is resistant to the blonde haired, blue eyed tradition.

His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman

These books are really fascinating from an atheist perspective, but also just a really good fantasy story.  The lead character is a pre-pubescent girl who is an expert liar.  Her journey is fascinating.  The book is also notable for the importance and fundamental goodness of the Gyptian people (based on Gypsies) to the storyline.

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

This is an incredible book about a girl who is outcast from her high school because she called the cops when she was at a party.  She called the cops because she had been raped, but she is unable to talk about it.  In fact, she doesn’t speak much at all.  The book is about her coping with what happened to her and learning to be herself again.  It was made into a completely watchable movie starring Kristen Stewart pre-Twilight.

Princess Academy – Shannon Hale

I am a sucker for books about princesses, especially if they’re princesses who buck the trend and do something totally unusual like have opinions and fight battles and refuse to get married.  The lead character of this book is a young woman who feels like an outcast and, in the end, does not want the prince and doesn’t get him.  The book is really about the importance of education for women and the role of one’s home and family.

Tiffany Aching Series – Terry Pratchett

My reviews of Tiffany Aching books are here and here.  I love Terry Pratchett, I hope some day to write something I enjoy as much as Terry Pratchett books.  Tiffany Aching is a marvelous lead.  Her first book is the most compelling, but I really wish that someone would turn Tiffany Aching into a TV series.  It’s like a pre-teen Buffy.

Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett

My review from a couple years ago: Third in the Discworld series and by far my favorite of them all.  This introduces Granny Weatherwax, who is my favorite Pratchett character, followed closely by Death.  Pratchett’s greatest skill as a writer, in my opinion, is that none of his characters are particularly attractive and they all have terrible flaws, but you like them and they never get over their flaws.  People don’t become pretty, or overcome their inherent selfishness or cowardice, they’re just regular people.

Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh

This is one of my favorite books. She also seems to be on the spectrum as well — she’s very into routine and order and not good at empathizing with others.  I tried to watch the movie version again recently and was unable to get through it, so stick to the book I think.  Many people read Harriet and her friends as queer as well.  I personally see far more traits of autism than indications of any kind of sexuality.

Enchanted Forest Chronicles – Patricia C. Wrede

This is a brilliant series about a princess who doesn’t want to be a princess and has no interest in boring princes trying to rescue her.  She runs away to live with a dragon because that’s much more interesting.  And the dragons are much more into gender equality than humans, teaching some interesting lessons about the roles of men and women.

Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine

Despite the terrible movie, the book is actually a really good examination of societal expectations of women.  I really like Gail Carson Levine’s writing style, but her books are fairly short on people of color.

Coraline – Neil Gaiman

I love Neil Gaiman, and the character of Coraline is great.  The story is not my favorite, I thought The Graveyard Book, which was similar in tone, was a much better read.  If you like YA horror, however, you can’t get a much better character than Coraline.


On My To-Read

Divergent – Veronica Roth

Fault in Our Stars – John Green

Books by Tamora Pierce, not sure which

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black

Ash – Malinda Lo

Liar – Justine Larbalestier

Chaos – Nalo Hopkinson

Half-World – Hiromi Goto

Eon – Alison Goodman

Book of 1000 Days – Shannon Hale

Women Protagonists in YA: A List and Resources

44 thoughts on “Women Protagonists in YA: A List and Resources

  1. 1

    I would like to throw every tiny bit of influence I may have to Tamora Pierce books. Start with Song of the Lionness series, then Immortals quartet, then Protector of the Small series. Those are her key books & have hugely influenced who I am as a person.

  2. 4

    Can’t wait to see what you think of The Fault in Our Stars. I’ve become a fan of John Green lately, although I haven’t yet read his books. Why am I a fan, then? CrashCourse and Vlogbrothers.


  3. 6

    I’m the opposite with Neil Gaiman’s YA novels; I like Coraline much better than The Graveyard Book, which kind of left me cold.

    A lesser-known series that I highly recommend is the Obernewtyn Chronicles (Obernewtyn is also the title of the first book) by Australian author Isobelle Carmody. The only drawback is that it’s not finished yet. The author started the series when she was really young, and the books increase noticeably in complexity as the series goes on, much like the Harry Potter series. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world where certain young people have developed psychic powers, and the protagonist, Elspeth, can communicate with animals among other things.

    I read Divergent (and its followup, Insurgent) a few months ago and liked it, but the author starts her afterword by thanking Jesus, so I have a bad feeling it’s going to turn into a big Christian allegory. The society in these novels reminded me somewhat of that in Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

  4. 7

    Youll get to have the best accommodation at an affordable price is foremost in the past years allowed vacationers to have the best attractions in
    Dubai. Martin, Grand Cayman, Aruba, and Curacao.

  5. 10

    Haven’t had a chance to watch this yet, as I’ve been away from my computer, but came into the comments to say pretty much what Sarahmoglia said in the very first comment. I found the Song of the Lioness quartet when I was about ten or 11 and I think it was the first book I’d ever read where the females didn’t sit around passively waiting to be rescued by the male characters – instead they went out and changed the world to fit them. My favourite is the Protector of the Small quartet, but you do get more out of it by reading them in order – with the exception of the Beka Cooper books, each successive set starts just after the previous character has grown up beyond the point where they make a realistic lead for a YA book, so you get to see snippets of their later life picked up in the next story.

  6. 11

    Thank you so much for this list! I passed it on to my sister – her daughter’s reading level is way higher than her age, and anything that’s appropriate at an emotional level is such a quick read that we can’t keep up with the demand.

    Something we noticed as we were looking for book ideas is a little creepy – is it my imagination, or are books aimed at girls obsessed with the loss of a parent figure?

    1. 11.1

      Not just girls – an absent parent or parents is a pretty standard way of author’s freeing up their characters to have adventures. It goes back through an awful lot of classic children’s books. Either parents have left or died, or the child has been sent to live or stay with someone else who is less interested in monitoring their wellbeing. It’s one of the big advantages writers around the mid-twentieth century had – they could send the father’s off to war, or evacuate the children to the country, and then get a big happy reunion scene at the end.

      I recently set up a classic childrens’ book reading group online, and not one of the first 6 books we’ve read has the children living with their parents for most of the book – the parents only feature at the beginning of one book, where they’re sending the kids off to stay with distant relatives in the country to recuperate from illness for most of the story. Of the others, there were 3 orphans living with an uncle, a grandfather and some totally unrelated people, a bunch of evacuees, and the late-teenaged son of a man who marched away to fight several years earlier and never came home. We’ve also got the next 4 books lined up for the next 2 months, and none of those characters lives with both parents – next month we’ve got an evacuee with an abusive mother and a bunch of kids camping on an island in a lake with no adult supervision, then after that we’ve got a large family of children living with their father and his sister because their mother died, and an orphan sleeping in the kennels of a medieval castle!

      You might find that giving your niece classics to read could help – they tend to assume a higher reading level for less mature subjects.

      1. Actually, you’re right – my sister and I went through all the “girl” books we could think of, and noticed all the dead parents, but I was going from my own memory of childhood faves (and I was all about the strong female protagonist). Confirmation bias at its least harmful. My son is reading Rick Riordan’s stuff (which is poking some of my “why is this so heteronormative?” buttons, but he loves it) and it’s chock full of dead/absent/severely mentally ill/uncaring parents.

        We thought about the classics, for exactly the reason you suggest, but that’s when we noticed the dead parent thing. She might be more ready now – the poor kid was reading at about a grade five level in grade one, and there’s just not a whole lot available. It makes me want to write her a book myself.

        Speaking of heteronormativity, I suppose it would be pie-in-the-sky to ask if there’s anything for 10 year old that’s a little less gender role defined? Yeah, I know about all the “tomboys” (because they were my heroes) but that’s not really satisfying as a sole outlet. What about boys who are gentle and emotional? What about kids that don’t develop crushes on the opposite sex when the writer wants to demonstrate that they’re coming of age? Anything I can think of is aimed at high school kids. Not only that, but if anyone steps outside of their expected role, then that’s the whole point of the character (sometimes to wonderful effect – everyone should read “Fruit” by Brian Francis). Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I just wish my son could grow up in a world where queerness is a bit more of a non-issue, fact of life kind of thing.

        OK, I’ll stop rambling.

        1. Not exactly groundbreaking, but you could try her on Noel Streatfield – at least most of her absent parents return at the end of the war.

          As for the less heteronormative side, I’m sure there’ll be other people who can offer more appropriate suggestions, but I can think of a couple of things that are kind of related. I’m re-reading my way through the Anne of Green Gables series at the moment, and just finished Rainbow Valley yesterday – Anne’s son Walter is gentle and emotional, so that could be one option. In the Song of the Lioness Quartet mentioned above, Alanna spends 8 years disguised as a boy to train as a knight, which goes slightly beyond tomboy-ness. I’d read them yourself first though – I’ve given the books to 13 year olds before, but they might be a little old for your average 10 year old – it depends on your specific 10 year old whether you think they’re suitable. In the same author’s Circle of Magic series, the children don’t start developing crushes on each other as they get older, the group of friends is explicitly racially diverse, and it’s certainly implied that two of their female teachers are a couple, even if it may not come out and say it in so many words – I’ve only read those books once so can’t be certain how much it’s spelt out. It’s aimed at a slightly younger audience than the Tortall books, so could be a good introduction, I just love the Tortall books more.

          Again, one to read yourself first perhaps, but I started roaming the adult fantasy section of my local library when I was about 12, and discovered Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books, which were the first thing I remember reading that presented homosexuality as just one more facet of a character, and not their whole point in the book. I haven’t read all of the books in the series’ even now, and I know some of them need you to have read a lot of the other books in that universe. The ones which work best as stand-alones are the Gryphon trilogy (Black Gryphon, White Gryphon and Silver Gryphon, although I couldn’t swear they’re in the right order, and I can’t remember enough about the details to know if I’d feel comfortable handing them to a ten year old) and the Last Herald Mage (Magic’s Pawn, Promise and Price). The final book in that trilogy has some pretty harrowing scenes in it though, and they are shelved in adult fiction – I probably wouldn’t generally pass them on to a child until they got to about 14 although I stumbled across them younger, but if they can bear to read just two books in the trilogy, or even two and a half, the earlier books are more gentle and have a sympathetic lead character who’s gay. To be honest though, I was always more concerned with finding female characters who stepped outside the standard role, and I’m sure there must be loads of books where the males do the same, but I just don’t know what they are.

          1. There’s a fair number of sex scenes in those ones, of varying degreed of graphicness depending apparently on how well Lackey’s own love life was going at the time. IIRC, Arrows of the Queen fades them out for the most part, and even has a YA female protagonist, now as I think of it, she’s 16 when the series starts. There’s a little bit more in Last Herald-Mage, and quite a bit in the Gryphon series (all IIRC, it;s probably been 15 years since I read any of them). Her Tarma and Kethry books are also good Ya female centered stuff, and the semi-companion volume By The Sword as well.

          2. Replying really to Dalillama, but we seem to have reached the number of maximum nested replies! I couldn’t remember how graphic the Gryphon series was, so thanks for the addition. Although I think I might have read them slightly too young, they did help to form my attitudes towards issues I hadn’t yet encountered in real life. Book 1 of The Last Herald-Mage starts when he’s only 15 or 16, so like with Arrows, you get a teenage protagonist trying to find his place in life. I really suggested them because I couldn’t think of other books I’d give to a teenager where the lead sympathetic character(s) treated homosexuality and bi-sexuality as so completely normal, but I probably would wait until they were a teenager.

            I’m sure that’s a bigger gap in my reading than in the overall market – I’ve not kept so up to date with newer YA books, unless I happen to get a particular recommendation for something, and when I was reading my way around everything in the YA section of the library, in the late 80s/early 90s, most of these issues were seen as less of a priority for authors/publishers/curators – at the time, they thought diversity just meant getting a bit of racial diversity in the characters. Most of the stuff being published then that tried to deal with serious issues was still agonising over the Cold War and talking about the aftereffects of atom bombs and biological warfare.

  7. 12

    While I’m here (lurker drawn out of the woodwork by any discussion about books, so hi) – Ashley, you may want to add Robin McKinley to your reading list, for the part where you were requesting books about female friendship – I particularly like Spindle’s End, which is her retelling of the story of Sleeping Beauty. Without wanting to give too much away, the relationship between the princess and her best friend is really well drawn, and key to the whole resolution of the plot.

  8. 13

    YES for Harriet. I got a Harriet The Spy tattoo about 12 years ago because of how much she influenced me as a kid and growing up to be super independent and encouraged me to view my surroundings in a different way.

    Glad to see Divergent on the “To-Read” list. Tris (main character) starts out a little shaky but she starts to hold her own as the series progresses. I’m very excited to get the final book this fall. Even as an adult the whole world in Divergent has made me question my personality and how I present myself.

  9. 18

    “Howl’s Moving Castle” … the BOOK, not the movie.

    In the book, the heroine is far stronger and the hero isn’t that domineering anime dude and the anti-war side-story is not there. I read the book, and when I saw the movie was totally annoyed … a perfectly good story wrecked by the scriptwriters.

  10. 19

    I also recommend Tamora Pierce, but I’d actually advise starting with the Circle of Magic books and reading the Emelan universe before the Tortall universe. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that the Song of the Lioness series has some pacing issues and I’ve seen people get thoroughly put off by the handling of the romance subplots in the second book, as well as the romance in the Immortals quartet – there are some issues with age differences, power imbalances, and somewhat stalkery “romance” tropes. These issues aren’t really present in the Circle books or in later Tortall universe books. In addition, the Circle universe avoids the standard medieval European fantasy setting, the worldbuilding seems a bit more consistent and better thought-out, and there are more protagonists of colour.
    The Tortall universe is still well worth reading! But for me, the later Tortall series are far better than the earlier ones. Reading the Tortall series in order of publication really allows you to see Tamora Pierce growing and maturing as a writer, but I worry that people who start with the Lioness books will get creeped out by some of the tropes, give up, and miss out on all the amazing developments of the later books.

  11. 20

    I agree with a previous comment about Tamora Pierce’s “Circle of Magic”, that is where I started and I truly enjoy her work.
    Other authors in my library, with strong female leads include:
    Melina Marchetta, Australian author of “Saving Francesca” and “Looking for Alibrandi.” Both of which I greatly enjoyed.
    Rose Melikan, US author of “The Blackstone Key” and its sequals. A bit of mystery and adventure mixed with a touch of chaste romance.
    Patricia C. Wrede’s “A Matter of Magic” is also excellent, in my opinion.
    Cornelia Funke’s “Inkheart” series was a pleasure for me to read.
    Oh and “Tell the Wolves I’m Home” by Carol Rifka Brunt would not let me stop reading. I read its nearly 400 pages in about a day and a half.
    I know I could go on for a good long time but those are the few that come to mind immediately.
    Good luck with your search, I know I’ll be watching for recommendations from commenters as well as taking some from the list.

  12. 22

    I love Nalo Hopkinson (haven’t read Chaos; will look for that.) But do not overlook the urban fantasy “Brown Girl in the Ring” and the science fiction novel “Midnight Robber,” both of which have strong female protagonists of color. Both stories have some scenes that may be too strong for young teens, but older ones probably see worse on prime time television. Hopkinson is interesting in that she draws heavily from Caribbean legend.

    Another excellent author is Octavia Butler. She didn’t write specifically for a YA audience, but they are suitable. All have strong African American women as protagonists and explore issues of race, gender and community.

  13. 24

    I was really wrecking my brain when I saw your post, mostly because of two reasons:

    1. I tried to figure out why I felt that there where more YA books about girls, that there apparently is – I found out that this might be due to the fact that I am danish, so I may have read some books years ago that where by danish authors, for young adults. Specifically I remember reading a weird coming of age book, that was mostly about two girls and their more or less weird friendship, but in a way that you could relate to. When I found it on my shelf just before, I saw that it is written by a danish man – that sort of suprised me, but in a good way.

    Then again one of the most popular danish authors writing for “preteens” right now, is the secretary of the church and of gender equality (I really hope this does not get totally lost in translation – becauee I can see how it could.) He is an indian decented male, which writes these books about a guy called ‘Iqbal Faruoq’ and his life in the appartment building he lives in. While most of the main characters are males, they are also almost all non-whites, either being of turkish decent, pakistani decent, indian decent or similar. But still my boyfriends blond haired children loves the books to pieces 😉

    We also had a writer for young adults when I was growing up, that besides from writing novels, was the lady on the radio you called, when you as a young girl or guy, had something that you really was scared or worried about or felt awkward about, but you could not talk to your parents about. It was obvious she used some of this experience in her books, and they where also altogether excellent.

    But after realising that maybe it was the danish books I remembered something else struck me…

    2. What was it with the books about a girl and dragons and music and stuff… This one took me a long time to google my way into. Apparently it is a series of books by Anne McCaffrey and is called “Dragon riders of Pern”, and the first two books have a female protagonist. It fails me at the moment to remember if she was actually very well described – but I remember finding the books a quite nice read.

    And I will join the chorus of people recommending Tamora Pierce. My boyfriend have for years had fun on my account because I read Tamora Pierce, while he read real fantasy (Real fantasy means long tiring books with pages long technical describtions of sword fights – or characters who whine all the time – I only managed to get through three of his books, which basically featured one good male, who was a protagonist, and whined ALL the time, and a whole society of stinking evil around him… Ohh yes and the society was of course one of the only female lead societies in the forgotten realms world – Welcome to Drizzt *sighs*). At this point I have just stopped caring if he thinks Tamora Pierce is “too lightweight”. I think the characters are interesting, and I think she has a great diversity in her cast (having both a female protagonist that chooses to sleep around(a bit), because she is allowed to do that without people judging her (Alanna), a kingdom mentioned in The tortall series where homosexuality is a normal thing, a girl that is described as being overweight, but not in any way ugly, or unable to take her of herself, she is one of the protagonists of the circle series. If that is lightweight – well that’s okay for me.

    I also love the witches of Terry Practhett, and I mean all of them. Both Tiffany and Granny, but definitely also Nanny Ogg that have built a family empire in Lancre, or Magrat Garlick, that have becomed queen of Lancre, and always tries so desperately to be girlish, but have no idea how…. And even Agnes Nitt, one of the most well described overweight girls in literature, that gets to have a personality, two actually, even though she is overweight.

    Okay last comment before I make this way too long: (too late – it is not hard to see that this is the only thing I have allowed my self today as a procrastination, before getting back to the hardships of proofreading my master thesis, that needs to be handed in on thursday…)

    Rick Riodan might be, with his 2 series about Percy Jackson, be a bit on the heteronormative side, but he has at least a bit of diversity, in his egyptian series, where the two protagonists are siblings, a girl and a boy, where the boy is even a person of colour. And he writes really really well…

    1. 24.1

      My boyfriend have for years had fun on my account because I read Tamora Pierce, while he read real fantasy (Real fantasy means long tiring books with pages long technical describtions of sword fights – or characters who whine all the time – I only managed to get through three of his books, which basically featured one good male, who was a protagonist, and whined ALL the time, and a whole society of stinking evil around him…

      I literally laughed out loud when I got to the end of that paragraph. As you described his preferred books, I was building a mental impression of Terry Goodkind (who’s certainly serious in at least one regard; his books are serious doorstoppers), and then you mentioned Drizzt and my mind was completely derailed. I consider it funny because I (and pretty much everyone I know, including people who read and enjoy them) pretty much consider those books to be the definition of lightweight fantasy. They’re the equivalent of those endless pulp serials: you know what you’re going to get, and it’s going to be the same every time. Tamora Pierce tends to slim down a few subtleties (although not ones that Forgotten Realms potboilers are much good at) largely because they’re aimed at a slightly younger audience; YA books are like that for reasons of length and target age group.

      Ohh yes and the society was of course one of the only female lead societies in the forgotten realms world – Welcome to Drizzt *sighs*)

      That’s not actually the author’s fault; blame Ed Greenwood for adding that shit on to the Realms in the first place. R.A. Salvatore is actually fairly good when he’s writing in his own worlds, but most of his stuff is Forgotten Realms stuff, and the Dark Elf stuff particularly is heavily formulaic steady paycheck material; Drizzt started out as a minor supporting character in another series entirely, but pulled a Wolverine because a certain segment of the fanbase just adored him to pieces.

      1. It is not very nice of me, to make it sound like my boyfriend only reads Salvatore, it is just one of the few things he has succesfully made me read of his fantasy, because after playing Baldurs Gate 1-2 for quite some years, I started wondering about the world I was playing in. And to make matters worse I did not read it, I heard it as audiobooks – this did not help matters much. He also reads Terry Goodkind, and quite an extensive amount of David Eddings (which even he admits has a tendency to have 5 original idea he then just revises for each new book he makes).

        I did not know it was Ed Greenwood that added the underdark to forgotten realms, but then I have only read few things from forgotten realms – I have however enjoyed a few of the short stories Ed Greenwood have written about Elminster.

        And again to be fair to my boyfriend, I think our disagreement on especially fantasy fiction, is because we enjoy it for very different reasons. This can best be illustrated by the fact that we both tend to only “skim” or skip through parts of the Lord of the rings trilogy, after having read it more than a few times –
        But he will “skim” through any part where he feels Frodo is just whining and being an ass, and as he puts it – nothing happens, besides from them walking.
        I will usually “skim” the parts where Tolkien decides to become very technical about what arrow did what in some battle or other… For me this is the parts of the books where nothing happens 😉

        I think this illustrates the differences really well.

        And my boyfriend does identify as “fantasy geek”, whereas I enjoy reading fantasy, but not to the extent he does – I think this make him feel like he should be the expert on this genre, since this is his speciality.

        1. Yes, well, my opinion of Goodkind is frankly lower than Greenwood. He’s a devout Randist, and it shows through more and more the farther you get into his series, while storytelling suffers badly. Eddings is deliberately formulaic, but enjoyable nevertheless. Apparently the Belgariad was the result of a bet, and was deliberately crammed with every fantasy cliche he could think of, the goal being to make it worth reading anyway. Since it was, he did it three more times :). Incidentally, neither he, nor Goodkind, nor Tolkein know a damn thing about swordfighting. Salvatore does, but it doesn’t show in the books in question because he’s trying to make it emulate D&D. Their blow-by blow accounts are the literary equivalent of Flynning, for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Eddings and Tolkein, but sword manuals they’re not. For my part, I would usually consider ‘serious fantasy’ to involve at least one

          And my boyfriend does identify as “fantasy geek”, whereas I enjoy reading fantasy, but not to the extent he does – I think this make him feel like he should be the expert on this genre, since this is his speciality.

          I admit I’ve got some of the same thing going on; I don’t mean to knock either of you.

    2. 24.2

      Tris! She’s my favorite character in the Circle of Magic series.

      Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern has some questionable tropes in it (“fulfillment by relationship” the most prominent to me), as do the Crystal Singer and Talent series. At the time it was published, though, it was incredibly progressive for fantasy/sci-fi, full of strong female leaders. (The books published later in the 80s and 90s are much better about women.) And homosexuality was totally normal.

      Ugh, I have this fluffy-fantasy argument with Game of Thrones fans. I read fantasy for escapism, not graphic violence and despair.

  14. 27

    Ancient, dated, 100% white & British, but Five Children And It and its two sequels are not to be missed.

    The author, E. Nesbit, basically invented children’s literature as we know it (everything before is… not; I’ve read some of it, and it’s just not). The lead characters are four siblings, two girls and two boys, but frankly the oldest girl is the lead (and my role model growing up, honestly). Those novels are in the fantasy genre, too. In fact, they’re the predecessor to the “urban fantasy” genre.

    I’ve never quite been sure what the “YA” category meant; in the late 1980s it meant “children’s books with large amounts of sex”, mostly Judy Blume, in which case 3/4 of the books other people mentioned would not be “YA”. But lately “YA” seems to just mean “children’s books which aren’t for the very young”, in which case Nesbit qualifies.

  15. 28

    With apologies for resurrecting an old thread, I just got the GoodReads YA newsletter in my e-mail which includes this interview with Tamora PIerce – http://www.goodreads.com/interviews/show/892.Tamora_Pierce?utm_medium=email&utm_source=ya_newsletter&utm_campaign=2013-09&utm_content=pierce – there’s probably only one actual spoiler for people who haven’t read the books, and given it’s revealing one of the very examples of diversity you’re looking for, I don’t see it as a huge issue to say one of the characters figures out sexuality details later in the series! The rest of the interview, she’s talking about themes which all seem relevant to this discussion.

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