The young adult genre sits at a precipice. Stretching between middle grade and new adult books, it serves as a transitional phase for an age group that’s full of changes. But YA is far more than just a placeholder; after all, there’s a reason that this genre is so ubiquitous.

For many young readers, this is a complicated time of exploring their big questions about the world through fiction. It may be comforting to see their own fears and insecurities mirrored in the books’ protagonists. For girls especially, growing up can be difficult, or even frightening. During times when the heaviness of reality is difficult to cope with, reading about heroines in YA fiction can be cathartic. These fictional young women go on adventures, wield magic and smash gender expectations, whether in their world and in our own.

Today, on the International Day of the Girl Child, we at BookTrib want to celebrate some of the books that have helped young women find their own inner strength. From surviving a dystopian gladiatorial battle to helping bring power back to Mother Earth, here are 6 young adult reads that will have you rooting for the girls.

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press)

It would be impossible to write a list of strong female protagonists and not include Katniss Everdeen. Her tenacity and drive for survival are only matched by the ferocious cruelty of her dystopian nation. In a world shattered by war, the United States is a distant memory. Now the nation of Panem is split into 12 districts — and every year, two tributes from each district are chosen to fight in a televised gladiatorial battle to the death. There’s only one winner, and it’s rarely someone from District 12.

Katniss has faced death before, but when her little sister Prim is chosen for the games, it’s the final straw. Katniss volunteers herself in Prim’s place, knowing that she’s “basically signed away her life.” But Katniss’s gift for survival is stronger than anyone expected, even herself. And when it comes time for the games, it seems the girl from District 12 might just surprise the entire nation — if she can stay alive until the end.

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by Jordan Ifueko (Harry N. Abrams)

The story of Raybearer centers around Tarisai, a girl who’s only ever known a world of living in the shadows. Raised in solitude by her cold and mysterious mother, known as The Lady, Tarisai craves companionship. When The Lady enters her in an empire-wide competition for a coveted position in the Council of 11, Tarisi jumps at the opportunity. The Council of 11, a sacred group dedicated to serving the Crown Prince, is bound by an oath that runs deeper than blood. Finally, Tarisai has the chance to make friends, and belong to something bigger than herself. She’s thrilled — until The Lady reveals the second half of the plan.

Using magic, The Lady binds Tarisai’s will to do her bidding. She commands that Tarisai make it onto the Council, get the Crown Prince to trust her … and then murder him. But even though she’s trapped by the spell, Tarisai refuses to stand by and let the injustice happen. Raybearer teaches us that strength comes from within, and that true bravery means doing what’s right — even at the cost of all you’ve ever known.

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The Dreamcatcher Codes
by Barbara Newman (Green Writers Press)

In this debut eco-fantasy novel, author Barbara Newman features not one, but four strong heroines. Maia, Falcon, Ava and Yue have been chosen as the new Guardians of the Earth, an ancient tradition worshipping Mother Earth that’s been passed down through generations of indigenous peoples. This generation’s duties are especially urgent; with climate change on the rise, the girls need to protect the sacred codes of Nature from both supernatural and manmade disaster.

The situation only becomes more dire when the Crystal Horseshoe — a precious artifact containing the wisdom of the world — is shattered into six pieces and hidden away by dark forces. The four girls must embark on a dangerous journey to reunite the shards and protect the Earth from destruction. Newman’s writing effortlessly captures the magic that flows through the story, as well as the heightening danger of the girls’ daunting task. The bonds of the Guardians, of sisterhood and of reality itself will be tested, all in an attempt to save Earth from the very beings that call it home. The Dreamcatcher Codes is a fantastic and all-too-timely reminder to see the magic of the natural world and to draw on our inner strength to help the world around us.

Read our full review of The Dreamcatcher Codes here.

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Iron Widow
by Xiran Jay Zhao (Penguin Teen)

In Xiran Jay Zhao’s debut new release Iron Widow, strength is measured in levels of qi. It’s the energy in pilots’ minds that enables them to wield Chrysalises, the mechanical forms that they use to defend the Huaxia nation. Engaged in battle with creatures called Hunduns, a pilot focuses his qi — and the qi of his concubine-pilots — into powerful blasts that will force the Hunduns back behind the Great Wall. It’s a noble way to die, defending the land from enemy invasion. Of course, it’s almost always the girls who die in the battles, not the male pilots.

In Zetian’s opinion, revenge is long overdue. After her sister is killed by a male pilot, Zetian volunteers to become a concubine-pilot herself. But when Zetian is in the Chrysalis with him, her vengeance unfolds in an unexpected way. This time, it’s her qi that overpowers the male pilot, and it’s her alone who steps out of the cockpit.

Thus begins the reign of the Iron Widow, a name that’s whispered through the battlements for fear of incurring her wrath. But Zetian’s very existence threatens the precarious balance of Huaxia’s patriarchal military. Many people would rather see such an outlier to the system eradicated — but to Zetian, that’s simply another challenge. She’s already done the impossible, and she’s not going to stop now.

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Mortal Sight
by Sandra Fernandez Rhoads (Enclave Publishing)

For 17-year-old Cera Marlowe, life has never been normal. Homeschooled due to strange neurological attacks, she and her mother always pack up and leave town after each convulsion. It may be routine to Cera now, but it’s still lonely, and after so many years of the same events she’s desperate to find an explanation for what’s happening to her. But things only get worse. In the next town Cera moves to, a girl is brutally murdered — by a monster only Cera can see. Is she seeing things as the result of a seizure, or is there something supernatural going on?

With her eyes newly opened to the possibilities, Cera begins to find magic everywhere she looks; from messages in classical artwork to the letters in a famous poem. But as Cera comes into her newfound abilities, more monsters keep coming. She’ll need help to defeat all of them — that is, if there’s even anyone else out there like her. Mortal Sight teaches us that being brave in the face of uncertainty can be the most powerful thing of all. 

Read our full review of Mortal Sight here.

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by Margaret Rogerson (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

In the lands of Loraille, the Gray Sisters are women who dedicate their life to the deceased. By cleansing the bodies of the dead, the nuns ensure that the departed spirits will pass on rather than lingering on the mortal realm and growing a hunger for human flesh. The newest recruit Artemisia is only too happy with this assignment — she’d take the dead over the living any day, if only to escape the whisperings about her scarred hands or her unsavory past.

But when her convent falls under attack from sinister forces, it’s Artemisia who finds a way to protect the sisters. She grabs a long-dead saint’s relic and calls to the spirit bound to it. Awakening a revenant spirit, she’s bought her convent temporary safety — by sacrificing her own. In bonding herself to this malevolent force, it’s only a matter of time before its magic corrupts Artemisia’s very soul. The last priestesses who knew what to do with revenants died centuries ago, and now Artemisia is alone in her struggle. But she won’t let her fate be decided so easily — and with the company of this otherworldly demon, sets off to choose her own destiny.

Take a look at our full review of Vespertine here.

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