I love a badass book, especially with a strong female protagonist. Some of my personal favorites include Jane Eyre, Emma, Elizabeth, Salvage the Bones, and Harriet the Spy. Here are a few more we can add to our lists via books recommended by readers across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Like the list? Follow me at @LorenKleinman and DM with more books I can add to this growing list! NOTE: This is NOT a ranking.
1. Jennifer Jean: I‘ve recently loved Mrs. Ali in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson because she navigates late-in-life love as well as cross-cultural love with grace, vulnerability, honesty, and success.
2. Tim Tomlinson: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. Its protagonist, Ifemelu, migrates from Nigeria to the US, where she observes, then writes about, the peculiar customs of Americans, both white and black (and immigrant). The scenes range from New England and Baltimore to London and Lagos. The ear never falters, the vision remains sharp, and the pace is driven by the intellectual ambition of the young woman at the novel’s center.
3. Susan Tepper: I nominate 19-year-old Tish, from James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk. It takes place in the Village during the ‘60s and deals with a love affair with the young sculptor, Fonny, who is falsely accused of a serious crime and imprisoned while Tish is carrying their child. It is reflective, in my mind, to the terrible police brutality that has surfaced again. Tish is a model of strength and vulnerability, a character I will never forget. Also one of Baldwin’s most brilliant books.
4. Robert Pruneda: Favorite book with a strong female protagonist: A Warrior’s Tale (Book 1 of the Imago Chronicles) by Lorna Suzuki. What I really like about Nayla Treeborn, the female protagonist in A Warrior’s Tale, is how the author builds her character. In so many fantasy stories female characters are the ones needing rescuing AND are usually strong because of some magical power. Not in A Warrior’s Tale. Nayla Treeborn is a badass because of years of training. And SHE’S the one doing the rescuing. The writing in this novel is superb! Really pulls you into the scenes. Character development is excellent!
5. Lisa Bankson-Hacker: Fern from Charlotte’s Web is the consummate female protagonist. It is not her position as a leading character that makes her such, but her role as a fearless advocate in this story that brings her to mind. The image of her standing fearlessly between her father and Wilbur ― the runt, good-for-nothin’-piglet ― is one I will never forget. No fear of the ax, no fear of her father. No fear of the work that would come as the caregiver of this helpless creature. She refused to back down, to give up the fight for what she believed in. What a passionate, bold tale I found in those pages, back in 1977 in the Eddyville Elementary library. And what a heroine. I loved Wilbur, but I wanted to be Fern, the little girl who showed all little girls that they had a powerful voice. Nearly 40 years later, the book still sits on my shelf. I just couldn’t bear to bring it back, fearing the day when I would want to immerse myself back into the story, only to find it missing from the library shelf. Shameful, I know. But something powerful still happens to me when I open that book. While it would likely still happen with a new copy, there is something undeniably magical about turning the same dog-eared pages again, and seeing my shy, 9-year-old self within.
6. finelines.jpg: Code Name Verity! It’s a beautiful book, the character herself is extremely well-written, and the author manages to find the perfect balance of vulnerability and badass-ery. The book’s also about the very strong friendship of two female pilots fighting for their lives... Who doesn’t love that?
7. Joseph Falank: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. It’s an unforgiving book. Melinda ― overcoming her rape and rapist ― was the first strong female protagonist I came across reading YA. Hooked me on Anderson’s work.
9. Grace Elizabeth Cook: Dracula. Mina is a bad ass. She’s got places to go and people to see.
11. Annette Damato-Beamesderfer: Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Oldie but goodie, and the protagonist remains true to herself even if that means death.
12. Svetlana Schreiber: Maria-Maria and her mother in Mother’s Day: Song of a Sad Mother by Carmen Francesca Banciu. A wonderfully wrought work of art, really a timeless epic poem about the endless quiet wars between mothers and daughters.
14-18. And some beautiful recommendations from Kate:
Celaena Sardothien and Manon Blackbeak, Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Mass
Feyre Archeron, A Court of Thorns & Roses series by Sarah J. Mass
Lasislav “Lada” Dragwlya, And I Darken (The Conquerers Saga) by Kiersten White
Inej Ghafa & Nina Zenik, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
19. Lucy Logsdon: The Given World by Marian Palaia’s central character, Riley, is so tough, stubborn, and strong that she defies labeling. Never before have I identified with a lead female character so strongly. Riley takes the road less traveled because she can’t take the easy way. She’s wired to do the difficult and how we readers love her.
20. Keri English: Smoke by Catherine McKenzie! Female firefighter saves the day―so good.
21. Sky: Wynonna Earp by Beau Smith is seriously badass. We first meet Wynonna Earp casually bitching about her boss to a zombie before blowing its head off. It doesn’t get more badass than that, right? But despite not always playing by the rules, time and time again Wynonna displays fearlessness when faced with all manner of paranormal danger. And it’s one of the many reasons why she is not only a badass protagonist but why she is the true Earp heir who will save us all from literal hell on earth.
22. Helene Cardona: Orlando by Virginia Wolf! One of my all-time favorite. It’s about the adventures, over the course of three centuries, of a poet who changes sex from man to woman and lives a tumultuous life, while barely aging.
23. Jenny Larkin: Burn Down The Ground by Kambri Crews. Kambri grew up with two deaf parents but used her street smarts and sense of humor from a very young age to become a personal and professional success.
24. Susan Tepper: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton brings to life the extravagantly elegant Countess Ellen Olenska who defied all of rich New York’s etiquette at the turn of the century by leaving her lout Count husband behind to return to NYC, where she steals Newland Archer out from under the nose of his wife May. Female boldness far beyond its time in history and social circumstances.
25. Lisa LeStrange: Hannah, from Danger Slater’s Puppet Skin, is a badass protagonist because she follows her dreams even though she’s scared. And she should be scared because she’s growing up in a world where all the adults have been turned into puppets and it’s almost the day she graduates from middle school and becomes a puppet too! Hannah faces the unknown even though she’s afraid of what might happen. But even more than that, she’s afraid of the complacency of a puppet life. She knows she is going to disappoint her mother. She knows her teachers will be angry. She knows best friend won’t understand. But through every hardship, she refuses to just give up and give in and remains true to herself until the bitter end.
26. Kathryn Kulpa: Sula, from Toni Morrison’s book of the same name. She’s a “difficult” protagonist, not always likable, but strong and fiercely honest, living life on her own terms and accepting the consequences. (And why should women protagonists have to be “likable,” anyway? We accept and admire flawed male protagonists all the time, from Heathcliff to Don Draper.)
Looking for another book with a strong female lead? Check my book This Way to Forever. Only $.99 on Amazon.
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