I want more authentic feminism in YA literature

Teen reader Ngaire Bogemann wants to see more authentic depictions of feminism in contemporary young adult (YA) literature.

(Please note that there’s a spoiler for the Divergent series in this blog post.)

The accurate representation of women in the YA department has grown exponentially in recent years. I’m proud of where we are, proud of the increasing number of female-written, female-driven novels being released. I’m happy to see positive, realistic, strong females being brought into the world, and I’m happy these positive, realistic, strong women are being discovered by young adults. But I have an issue.

My issue is this – there’s not enough of it.

I’m not saying that there’s no female-driven YA fiction. I’m aware The Hunger Games exists. I know that Harry and Ron would be nowhere without Hermione. I have read countless books with well-written, fleshed out female characters, and I have loved them. I have also read books with female characters that have no development except that of their reliance on a man, and I have been disappointed with the way certain celebrated female-driven books end.

Take, for example, the famed Divergent series. While I loved the first book, I became increasingly irritated with its supposedly feminist protagonist, Tris, throughout the rest of the trilogy, and I was angered by her ultimate killing off. I felt we got to see very little of Tris as an independent being who could take care of herself, and that instead, she was reduced to a female so in love with someone that she joined the resistance. That, coupled with the fact that she was eventually offed, left both the character of Tris and the Divergent series out of my good graces.

It cannot be denied that males still form the majority of protagonists in YA literature, and also seem to dominate the most talked-about books in this area. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Paper Towns, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the entire Maze Runner trilogy, the Percy Jackson books – hell, even Harry Potter – are all centred on male protagonists. These are not bad books, not by any standards, but the fact that they are some of the most recognisable YA books of the twenty-first century for the general public and they are all male-centric is, quite frankly, very concerning. These are the books the wider world thinks of when they think of YA fiction – these are the titles and characters that are most familiar to and known by the general population. Don’t you think it’s necessary for even the most casual of readers to have access to strong females in literature?

It’s important that boys have positive role models, but where should girls find their role models? Sure, they can be found in the background of many male-driven works, but why not bring them to the fore? Why should females be solely love interests and sidekicks? Why should female protagonists not get to be kickass warriors or daring tech geniuses or strong willed manipulators? Why can’t females be villains in the same way men are? Why can’t they be heroes in the same way males are?

I acknowledge we’ve come a long way, but we still have a while to go before we’re equal. Even within the feminist literature we have currently, the diversity of female protagonists leaves a lot to be desired. The majority of feminists present in YA literature are heterosexual, cis and white – this, as I’m sure you know, doesn’t accurately represent feminists in real life. It’s important that, in the literature produced for our next generation, feminism is intersectional, and that we acknowledge and present female characters from all walks of life.

While we fight for that day, here’s a list of recent YA fiction featuring some of the strongest and realest literary females going around – read and be inspired.

  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – This story of an English spy taken captive in France by the Nazis, and the Scottish pilot who brought her to France in the first place, is a beautiful ode to the power of friendship and the strength of women, while also a flawless acknowledgment of the hardship and suffering of war.

  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart – Following the story of a girl refused entry into a secretive all-boy club, Lockhart’s novel showcases the power of strong-willed and independent woman in the face of adversity, while also being truthful and unapologetic.

  • Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill – Set in a dystopia where young women are bred to be wives and concubines to the world’s most powerful men, this novel is not only a page-turner, but also offers an unabridged look at patriarchal culture, beauty standards and women’s right to their bodies.

  • The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis – This is a contemporary look at rape through the eyes of three teenagers – the angry sister of a murdered girl, the star athlete who played a role in said murder, and the preacher’s rebellious son. Not only does this book tackle some tough and, admittedly, taboo subjects, it also presents female feelings and loss in a very real, raw way, while also keeping you on the edge of your seat.

  • The Illuminae Files trilogy by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – An unusually presented series by two Australian YA authors, The Illuminae Files teaches us all about perseverance, confidence and resilience in the face of adversity – all through the perspectives of Kady, Hanna and Asha, three kickass females – while also taking a considered look at the possible future of the human race and artificial intelligence.

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – This powerful novel is an emotionally charged and realistic look at the relevant issues of racism and police brutality in America through the eyes of a teenage witness-turned-activist. It is brave, engaging and brought to life by a strong female protagonist, while also being thoughtful and intelligent.

Browse even more suggestions in the collection below.

Ngaire Bogemann is a member of our 2018-2019 Readings Teen Advisory Board. Find out more here.

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas

$17.99Buy now

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