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Best brave novels to inspire your teenage daughter

Have you read any Young Adult fiction recently? Because, seriously, YA fiction is where it’s all happening. Strong characters, gripping plots, imaginative worldscapes – the best YA books are packed with all the juiciest elements of fiction. Perfect for inspiring teenage daughters to take on life at full tilt. Here’s my pick of the best!

NB: Obviously, all these books can be read by boys too – in fact, please do give them to your boys to read. It is only when boys also see strong female characters as inspiring that children will have genuine choices about how to be their authentic selves. I chose these particular books because they have strong female characters with the kind of bravery and resourcefulness that I would wish for every teenager to carry them through to adulthood and beyond.

*This post contains affiliate links

Book cover of Code Name Verity, one of list of best brave novels to inspire your teenage daughterCode Name Verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is the best Young Adult book I have ever read. It was so good that I read it again straight away. Then I went out and bought copies to give to all my female friends and family (of all ages!). Set in World War II, it tells the story of two extraordinary young female pilots and their against-the-odds intense friendship. The bravery, ingenuity and love shown by the two heroines is breath-taking and utterly inspiring. Buy a copy for yourself as well as your son/daughter/niece/neighbour and be prepared to cry buckets, it’s brilliant.


book cover of The Girl With All The GiftsThe Girl with All the Gifts

If horror is your teenager’s genre, The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey really delivers. It’s a zombie novel but packs so much more too. Melanie is clever, brave, loving and wise – but highly original too. She is also a child zombie torn between helping her human teacher or eating her! Poignant as well as terrifying, a truly gripping read.


Book jacket of Mortal Engines by Philip ReeveMortal Engines

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve is worth reading just to get to know Hester. Hester might not be the main character in this book but she is definitely the most interesting.  She is a total kick-ass character – angry and violent with a fierce temper and a lust for vengeance. However she is loyal and brave and wiling to die for those she loves. Perfect for a passionate teenager working out who she is and what she believes in. (And, best of all, you grow to love Hester despite her flaws).


Book cover of The Territory by Sarah Govett, one of our best brave novels to inspire your teenage daughterThe Territory

The Territory by Sarah Govett is the first book in a trilogy featuring a blighted world of global warming where only the brightest are allowed to remain in the unflooded lands. After exams at 15, the rest are sent to the Wetlands and almost certain death (so lots of echoes of the pressures put on GCSE students there!). The heroine Noa is a bright girl growing up in an unfair world with the odds stacked against her. This first volume is fairly tame but the second one (Escape) sees Noa get down and dirty as she attempts to rescue her friend Jack from the Wetlands.


book jacket of The L-shaped Room by Lynne Reid BanksThe L-Shaped Room

The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks is pretty vintage now and not specifically Young Adult. It’s also far slower-paced and more reflective than the previous books. But this was my teenage coming-of-age book so I had to include it. True, the heroine ends up pregnant and living in a bedsit without adequate heating or a fridge, so perhaps not the ideal role model. But it’s really about striking out on your own as a young woman despite the odds being stacked against you. I re-read it recently, and it had stood the test of time. It’s also a startling reminder of how far we have travelled towards equality.

The Hunger Games Trilogy probably deserves a place on this list too – Katniss Everdeen is such a cool character, brave and beautiful whilst still being flawed and human. But I’m figuring you have already discovered that one (and if you haven’t, or if you have only watched the films, the books are definitely worth the effort).

If I have missed off your favourite Young Adult book, please comment below and share your recommendation. No spoiling the plots though. And huge thanks to my phenomenally well-read friend Lindsey Blake for her input in choosing and reviewing these brilliant YA novels!

*This is not a sponsored post, I chose these books because I honestly recommend them. But it does contain affiliate links which means that if you click through from this post and buy the book on Amazon, I will receive a small fee. For more details, see my Disclosure Notice.

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By Anita Cleare

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6 responses to “Best brave novels to inspire your teenage daughter”

  1. Heather says:

    Not sure if it’s classed as YA but The Alice Network by Kate Quinn was amazing. Switching between WWI and 1947 it brings together two women in a wonderful story of unlikely friendship and coming of age. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommended it to all my friends.

  2. Caroline says:

    My daughter (and husband) love the Sarah J Maas Throne of Glass action packed fantasy books about a female assassin. Not my thing at all but my daughter keeps telling me I should read them!

  3. Elaine says:

    Hi Anita, I love your blog and these books all look great. I just wanted to mention something that I have been noticing and feeling for a while in my cultural environment (UK), that your comments have really brought to the fore for me…

    I have a son and a daughter and I have raised them both to be non-discriminatory; to believe in equality (ie not that we should all be the treated the same, but that we are all different and these diffferences should all be treated with respect.) As they have grown up, I have exposed both of them to strong female characters, both in fiction and non-fiction. My daughter is nearly 12 and my son is nearly 9. My son will likely eventually be a white, middle class, man.

    I hear what you are saying in this blog about ‘boys can read it too’ regarding books about inspiring and powerful females, but with the implication being that really, it’s the girls who need these role models.

    I would like to challenge that perception. If we want men to not think twice about having a female boss, if we want there to be as many woman as men on Boards of businesses and committees, if we want boys and men to respect women and completely understand and accept the concepts around consent etc etc etc…then I think it is vitally important to have the boys grow up with strong female role models in life and in books.

    I want it to be as important to give boys these strong female role models as it is to ensure that girls have them. I want it to be perfectly natural that both genders are inspired by strong, capable, compassionate women. If my daughter, who is passionate about the environment can be inspired by David Attenborough and Rachel Carson, why can’t my son, who is passionate about space, be inspired by Katherine Johnson and Stephen Hawking?

    I want my son to grow up and it never occur to him to question whether a woman could or should do or say something… never to question whether a woman is capable of something, just because she is a woman. I want him to see everyone as people and accordingly be treated with respect. However, I also want them both to notice and stand up and be counted when they see discrimination happening

    I was so happy the other day when he turned to me and said that he can’t understand why people think that what colour your skin is or what gender you are has anything to do with what you are capable of, or what’s appropriate behaviour. He then pointed out that our two cats came from the same litter, are two genders, and have different colours and markings…but they both are capable of the sorts of things cats can do. He said their fur and their gender don’t affect their capabilities. He did point out that the male was bigger and the female would be able to have kittens, but he also pointed out that there is another female cat in the area who is bigger than our male, and that males and females were both able to climb and hunt, and both love to cuddle and snuggle. He said their different personalities had nothing to do with gender or fur colour.

    When he was 6, I was stopped by his teacher one day at pick-up. His teacher told me that he had been ‘helped’ by my son that day, about a gender issue. Apparently, a male child was ‘acting up’ and the teacher thought it would help if that child had some responsibility so that they would feel important and valued. So he (the teacher) suggested that the boy helped a nearby girl by carrying the table she was carrying away for tidy-up, because the boy was so strong. Apparently my son took the teacher aside and explained that the girl was quite capable of carrying her own table and was strong too, and that the teacher was being sexist. The teacher told me he then realised that in his efforts to empower the boy, he had effectively disempowered the girl…and that he hadn’t even noticed or realised he’d done it till my son pointed it out.

    So I have real hope that whoever one day is my son’s boss, or whoever he dates…whatever their genders, sexuality, religious convictions, or skin colours etc, he will not have even a moment of questioning their capabilities or their rights to respect etc based on these parameters…that he will be noticing who they are and what they are capable of, as just individual people.

    And, of course, I still also want my daughter to feel all these things about herself and others too.

    Does that make any sense to you? Sorry it is so long-winded. I was inspired by your comment, to send you a brief response, but it touched more of a nerve than I realised. This is probably too long to go up as a comment, but I still wanted to send it to you.

    I look forward to continuing to enjoy your blog.

    Cheers, Elaine (again, sorry for the epic)

    • AnitaCleare says:

      Elaine, that makes perfect sense and I totally agree with you. I have a few booklists on my blog that are targeted at boys or girls and I too have questioned whether that’s appropriate. In the end, I concluded that I want to live in a world where this division isn’t needed but I am not sure we are there yet. Teenage girls, especially, are in a period of intense identity-development and questioning and it is a time when ‘traditional’ gender roles can be horribly internalised (despite all our good work in their earlier years!). You are absolutely right that change will happen only when everybody sees things differently (and I love your anecdote about your son challenging the teacher on sexist views!!!!). You have inspired me to update the intro to this blog with a little firmer insistence that boys should read these books too 🙂

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