We truly have been blessed with some incredible feminist fiction this year. For purposes of this post, I’m defining feminist fiction in two ways. First, if the themes within the book promote feminism and equality, and second, if the existence of the book itself disrupts the current canon of “what a YA leading lady looks like.” A few honorable mentions from earlier in the year (I told you, we’re blessed) include Sona Charaipotra’s Symptoms of a Heartbreak,
Ashley Poston’s The Princess and the Fangirl
, Tehlor Kay Mejia’s We Set the Dark on Fire
, Taylor Simonds’ Collateral Damage,
and Renée Watson & Ellen Hagan’s Watch Us Rise.
Let me start by saying this is one of those books where when anyone you know reads it, they scream about it on social media. The grace year is the year where girls are banished (their sixteenth year) to release the power they’re told lurks beneath their skin and return “pure”. But there are poachers in the woods—men waiting for a chance to grab a girl to sell on the black market–and not every girl makes it home alive. Tierney dreams of a different world, a different society, but when the society she is in pits women against each other, their greatest threat could be each other.
“How the heck do you describe a genre defying, blastoff of a debut book like Pet in a way that does it justice? The question I am trying to answer. How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist? The question Jam is trying to answer.” The city of Lucille tells it’s children, like Jam and her best friend, Redemption, there are no more monsters. But then Pet, a creature of horns and colors and claws, appears, arriving out of a combo of Jam’s blood and her mom’s paintings. And Pet is here to hunt a monster. If you don’t believe me that you should read this, believe the fact that it’s a National Book Award Finalist.
Kiera is one of many Black gamers who duel as Nubian personas in SLAY, a secret multiplayer online role-playing card game. When a teen is murdered IRL over a dispute in the SLAY world, the mainstream media picks up on the story, labeling SLAY as racist, exclusionist, etc. And no one knows that Kiera is the game developer, not even her boyfriend. Worse still, an anonymous troll infiltrates SLAY, threatening to sue Kiera. Easily one of the best books of the year, Morris’ debut is a can’t miss experience.
Two sisters battle it out in a fight to the death in this North African inspired fantasy debut. Magick of blood and marrow hasn’t been seen for generations in Myre. Living in the shadow of the Queen who last possessed the magick, who massacred thousands and killed her own sister generations ago, Eva and her older sister, Isa, must battle to determine who ascends the throne. But an assassination attempt weeks before the battle proves there are more threats out there for Eva than just her sister.
I’m noting here that The Good Luck Girls is pitched as Westworld meets The Handmaid’s Tale and while I haven’t seen either of those shows, I have read The Good Luck Girls, and those shows are lucky to be compared to it. When Clementine accidentally kills a man, she and four other girls (Aster, Violet, Tansy, and Mallow) escape the life they were sold into and embark on a journey to freedom. They’re pursued by powerful forces, including men who gained power by trading away their humanity, and their only hope lies within a story.
Nova works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, loaning out spellbooks and assisting with supernatural investigations in their town. When searching for a white wolf there were sightings of, Nova stumbles on her childhood friend (and crush), Tam, who is being hunted for the wolf magic they possess. You know how excited Olaf from Frozen gets about Summer? That is quite literally how excited I am when I talk about this book.
What does it mean to be a young woman in a world that doesn’t hear you? Kaur’s debut is a combination of stunning poetry, prose, and illustrations that tie into this question through six sections. Not only one of the best books of the year, but one of the best YA poetry books, ever, full stop.
Simone is trying to make a name for herself at her new school without that name involving the knowledge she is HIV-positive. As she begins to go out with Miles, a swoony boy at her school, she finds an anonymous note in her locker threatening to reveal her secret if she continues to see Miles. Camryn Garrett is a force to be reckoned with, and this is a book that should be in everyone’s hands.
Dating a sweet and popular boy should be the best thing ever. And honestly, Wells is pretty great to Allie. The problem is his father—a conservative shock jock—and the fact that Wells doesn’t know Allie’s family is Muslim. I mean, her parents don’t really practice, but Allie has sort of embraced her faith recently. Featuring some of the most nuanced discussions about faith and organized religion, Courtney’s newest is a remarkable entry into the contemporary canon.
Okay folks, let’s get down to business. Mulan has trained her whole life for a duel, but when a summons comes to her family and none of the men are able to go, she ties up her hair and heads off to war. Selected to serve under the princeling due to her martial arts skills, Mulan and the princeling must work together to uncover the plans for an enemy invasion before it’s too late.
Good news, friends, Guinevere has arrived to marry King Arthur! Don’t you love a good royal wedding? Will and Kate who? Oh, except, just one thing you should know…technically speaking she isn’t Guinevere, she’s just here to protect Camelot (thanks, Merlin!). Not only must she keep her identity and true name a secret, but she also must navigate the court where the ideas of the old and the new clash as loudly as swords.
Devon’s dreaming of two things—the stars, and Ashton, the boy who broke her heart. In the past year, she slowly put herself back together, only to be shocked when he shows up on the first day of senior year. Davis’ debut is a masterclass in teen emotion and the complicated, messy ways that love manifests and transforms.
Let’s talk about the scenes from horror films that Rachel, a certified Wimp, knows of. 1) Tippi Hedren being attacked by birds 2) shower scene in Psycho 3) Shelley Duvall screaming against a door in The Shining. Now, these are the first things I think of when I think horror and they all play into one thing: violence towards women. The thing I like best about Bobulski’s Remember Me is that it’s entirely about breaking a cycle of violence towards women, while still having horror elements. Following a girl who was murdered in a hotel in the early 1900s and a modern girl moving into that hotel, this book takes twists and turns that left me gasping.
Considering it is a spin-off of what I consider two of the best TV series of all time (Avatar: the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra) it shouldn’t be surprising that The Rise of Kyoshi is spectacular. Plus, due to it’s prequel nature, even if you’ve yet to see those shows, you’ll still fall for this book. Following the journey of Kyoshi, it begins with the world believing someone else to be the Avatar. Oh, and did I mention there is a queer love story at the center of it?
After having sex with her boyfriend and then being dumped when said boyfriend becomes a born-again Christian, CeCe follows him to Jesus camp to win him back. Tugging her best friend, Paul, along for the ride, only to discover the ex already has a new girlfriend, who is at camp with them, CeCe and Paul begin a fake relationship. And before anything else can happen, CeCe will need to reevaluate the reasons she had for coming to camp, as well as the relationship she has with Paul.
Aeon was ruled by generations of twin goddesses until their world was split in two after a betrayal. Now, one realm is eternal night, the other lies beneath an ever-burning sun, and they are divided by a Great Abyss. One sister rules Aranth, a frozen fortress, the other rules the Golden City, and both have daughters at their side. Those daughters must journey in an attempt to heal their broken world.
It’s the end of the 21st century and London is underwater. Leyla is a submersible racer, chosen to compete in the annual marathon, whose winner receives a promise from the Prime Minister. Seeing a chance to save her father, who was arrested on false charges, Leyla fights her hardest through an unexpected turn. But there’s more to her father’s arrest than even she knows, and levels of corruption running all through the government. A spectacular debut with some of the most inventive worldbuilding I’ve ever read, and a heroine who never loses her spark of optimism.
The only sequel on this list is here because Alice in Wonderland by way of Buffy always has my vote. In this follow up to A Blade So Black, Alice has to return to Wonderland to save her friends and defeat the Black Knight once and for all. But a mysterious new force is shifting pieces on the board, and it will take a huge confrontation for Alice to defeat it. If you haven’t picked up this series yet, what are you waiting for? Go, right now. I’ll wait for you.