What do we need now? Books. Books that instill empathy. Books that show readers how to deal with the inevitable chaos and evil and injustice swirling around us (especially in times like these). Books that portray fierce, intelligent, courageous, perseverant characters — especially girls! — readers can look up to, see themselves in, and from whom they can gain important skills about how to be a strong adult in the world. Luckily, the young-adult category is full of such books. Here are some of my favorites, from classics to nonfiction to poetry to novels. (For more young feminist books, check the Amelia Bloomer Project’s fantastic selections.)
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This book began as a TEDx talk, and it’s as appropriate a refresher for your grandma as it is for your teenage niece (or nephew). Adichie, a novelist, uses her personal experience growing up in Nigeria as a branching-off point to share universal truths in this slight (in size) but inherently weighty work.
Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann
These immensely readable, ripe-for-sharing poems turn the tables on fairy tales and social stereotypes, and are at turns dark, hilarious, and heartbreaking.
The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
McGinnis’s novel about a teenage girl who avenges her sister’s rape and murder and becomes a self-created human weapon is a gut punch that will leave you reassessing everything you thought you knew about the lives of young women.
You Don’t Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent
In this collection of hilarious essays, Nugent explores topics ranging from lipstick to food to friendship. Her thread is the feminism that empowers us throughout all of our daily activities, no matter who we are (or how we initially feel about the “F-word”).
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda is a high-school girl who’s lost her voice — she doesn’t talk, and she’s become isolated from her peers. As Anderson reveals the trauma that’s led to Melinda’s change in behavior, she presents a crucial study of communication, compassion, and the need to fight back against rape.
Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti
Prominent feminist Valenti presents a youth-friendly (and fun to read) updated manual on the many issues facing women and girls today — and why it matters that we call ourselves feminists.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Young Meg Murry fights against forces of darkness to save her younger brother and her dad in this sci-fi kid’s classic that introduced concepts of quantum physics to a mass youth audience. Spoiler: She’s really good at math, too.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
$14 (available for pre-order, 2/28 release)
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is in a car with her childhood best friend Khalil when he’s fatally shot by a cop. As the only one who knows what really happened, Starr has to figure out how to protect the truth, and also herself. Thomas’s debut novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t even out yet (February 28), and it’s already slated to be a movie.
The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M. Martin
This best-selling series taught girls they could run their own businesses using their individual talents — and that a group of women united were more powerful than one alone. Begin with the one that started them all: From Kristy’s Great Idea to the world’s ears.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Lest anyone forget, Anne Frank was a refugee. By chronicling her intimate thoughts and experiences while in hiding during the Holocaust, Frank demonstrated to the world how human we all are, and how each of us can make a difference by our actions for each other. More important than ever right now.
Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen
Jensen gathers the work of 44 writers, dancers, actors, and artists in this collection of writing and art “about everything from body positivity to romance to gender identity to intersectionality to the greatest girl friendships in fiction.” Contributors to this feminist power tome include Mindy Kaling, Malinda Lo, Wendy Davis, and Roxane Gay.
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