2015 Is the Year of the Feminist YA Novel

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Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Feminist YA to read


Dear budding young feminists and hard-core, passionate, already-devoted feminists:

It’s been an incredible period of time in YA when it comes to feminist fiction. We’ve seen the likes of A. S. King give us an incredible view of a world without feminism in Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. Sure, it’s a far-out-there view of what the world could look like were feminism not around, but it’s also a scathing critique of a world which refuses to implement change toward putting women on the same level as men.

Cover for Poisoned Apples by Christine HeppermannLast year, Christine Heppermann offered up amazing feminist twists on classic fairy tales in her collection of poetry, Poisoned Apples: Poems For You, My Pretty. There are no prince charmings here. No easy ways out- only through.

These books made their marks last fall, in small part because they were called what they were: feminist.

Other feminist novels filling out YA bookshelves in the past few years included explorations of sexuality and identity with Malinda Lo’s Adaptation duology, as well as her novel Ash. Fiona Wood wielded feminist ideologies in her portrayals of female sexuality and friendship in Wildlife, and Alexandra Duncan took a feminist glance at dystopia in her debut Salvage. Tiffany Schmidt destroyed the notion that girls should “be nice” at every turn in Bright Before Sunrise without ever once suggesting that being yourself, rather than fitting into the socially prescribed roles for girls, would keep you away from a sweet, satisfying romance.

Book cover for Beauty Queens by Libba BrayOf course, this but skims the surface of feminism in YA. Scads of other books tackle issues relating to feminism, including Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens, Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, E. Lockhart’s unforgettable The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, works by Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley, the titles talked about here on Book Riot before by Amy Reed and Siobhan Vivian and Megan McCafferty.

I haven’t even touched the Rookie Yearbooks that have given feminist ideas and ideals an incredible and appealing platform outside its online presence.

But 2015 is going to be a tipping point. 2015 is the year of the feminist YA novel.

That’s not an indictment against any other YA years nor any of the amazing feminist novels that came before. Rather, 2015 is the year when keeping track of feminist novels becomes hard because they are abundant. Because they’re going to change the course of conversation.

Because they’re not afraid to be feminist, and because passionate readers won’t be afraid to call them such.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? If you’re unfamiliar with the ways women took charge in the early labor and workers’ rights movements, get Melanie Crowder’s Audacity at the top of your reading pile. This novel in verse is a fictionalized account of Clara Lemlich, who led the largest strike by women in America. It’s an incredible look at her journey from being discriminated against because she was a Jewish Russian to immigrating to America to educating herself to becoming a fierce woman of change.

Book Cover for Under a Painted Sky by Stacey LeeContinuing in historical fiction is Under A Painted Sky (March 17) by Stacey Lee, about a pair of girls in the 1850s who disguise themselves as boys and make their way along the Oregon Trail. It’s a story of survival and friendship, and it not only features two tough girls, but one is Chinese and the other, a runaway slave.

Laura Ruby, who is known for being an outspoken feminist on the internet, carries those feminist passions in her forthcoming Bone Gap (March 3). This mysterious fantasy novel is about a girl who goes missing from her small town and about a boy who knows that there’s far more to the story than the people of Bone Gap wish to believe. That’s right — it’s a feminist novel where one of the main characters, a boy, is himself a feminist.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (March 24) is going to make you angry. And it’s the kind of angry that comes from understanding the feelings and thoughts young girls have and the way their experiences and feelings as young girls are regularly undermined, belittled, and made into clever things that are then used to further hurt and quiet them. It’s about how girls can and do turn toward one another, just as much as they can and do turn away from one another. This is about raging and rattling cages and the mysterious powers of girlhood.

Book cover for All The Rage by Courtney SummersCourtney Summers’s All The Rage (April 14) is a blistering, brutal, and unflinching exploration of rape culture and the ways in which an entire town can — and will — turn against a girl for the sake of protecting its cherished golden boys, despite all evidence being stacked against his innocence. What Speak did for sexual assault, All The Rage does for rape culture. It’s about appearances and about the power of believing victims — believing women — and what that power can ultimately do.

While not out until June, Trish Doller’s The Devil You Know explores the feminist values of choosing your own life and making your own decisions for yourself, whether or not those choices are always the best ones you can be making. This thriller features a girl who doesn’t always do right by the world’s standards, but she does right by her own. This one gets kudos for how well it handles sexuality and the choices girls get to make about their bodies.

Speaking of girls getting to make choices about their bodies, Amy Spalding’s Kissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys) is about the awkwardness of first loves and romances, with an incredibly realistic depiction of how some girls decide to lose their virginity. This isn’t Forever . . . and that’s okay — girls choose how they want to have sex for the first time, and Riley’s experience is about that choice. This book is funny.

Do you want more? Because there are more.

Book cover for Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz2015 will see the conclusion of Sarah McCarry’s incredibly feminist “Metamorphoses” series with About A Girl (July 14). No need to have read the previous titles — though you should — to enjoy this story of a girl finding her way in the world. It’s about mistake making, about sexuality, and it features a racially diverse cast of main and secondary characters that are absolutely reflective of today’s world.

Go into a historical fantasy world with two fully-fleshed, strong — as in powerful and as in willed and as in every sense of the word — female characters in Justine Larbalestier’s Razorhurst (March 3). Have your perceptions turned upside down with Hannah Moskowitz’s Not Otherwise Specified (March 3), about a black bisexual girl living in Nebraska who would do anything to make her New York City performing dreams come true. Katie Coyle’s just-released Vivian Apple at the End of the World is about a girl learning how to find her voice and how to be bold and brave on her own, without someone coming along to save her.

Dearest feminists and dearest fans of YA literature, rejoice.

This is but a glimpse at the incredible year for feminism in YA. It’s a year where feminists of all shapes and sizes, of all colors and identities, are having their voices heard and shared with readers who are hungry for them. This is a year when discussions will stop being about whether a female character is or isn’t strong. Instead, discussions will be about all of the amazing ways in which a female character is strong.

It will be a year of talking about why we fail our girls — AND our boys AND those who don’t identify as either a boy or a girl — by refusing to talk about and acknowledge the biggest, scariest, most damning “f” word of all: feminism.



One Happy, Excited, and Eager Feminist YA Reader

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