It’s hard to define “feminist” in relation to literature. Does it mean books addressing gender equality directly or could it simply be books with a strong female heroine? How about books that, while not actively feminist, are not anti-feminist either? In other words, they don’t promote inaccurate or damaging stereotypes?
When I started looking for recommendations of feminist YA books, I was bombarded with the ‘strong female heroine’ books, but they mainly seemed to be in the genre of fantasy/dystopia. For contemporary books – particularly contemporary romances – it seems ‘not promoting stereotypes’ is the most common, but that’s fine. Feminism by stealth works too!
Here are some of my favourites…
It was reading 10 Things We Shouldn’t Have Done that actually gave me the idea to write about feminist chick lit. It’s a very sweet and funny book and it also addresses some issues I haven’t often seen in YA fiction. Like STIs. Plus the main character’s best friend Vi is openly feminist. She’s introduced with “Vi was also the type of girl who hated being called a ‘girl.’ She was a woman, thank you very much.” Which made me love Vi instantly.
I hope you’ll forgive me for including my own book, but the stealthy feminist message was very important to me when I was writing it. I wanted to address a particular issue that comes up very rarely in teen fiction (I won’t say it here since it’s a bit rude and I’m already blushing from the whole ‘including my own book thing’) and it actually got me uninvited from a local school. I call that a win, frankly. The book’s been described as ‘sex positive’ and ‘body positive’ which makes me very happy.
I adore all of E Lockhart’s books – and I think The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks is actually more feminist – but I had to pick Fly on the Wall because just thinking about it makes me happy. Gretchen Yee wishes she could be a fly on the wall of the boys’ locker room… and then she is. Literally. And there not only does she learn about boys, she learns that the boys’ locker room is significantly bigger than the girls’, even though more girls do sports. And so she campaigns for the rooms to be switched (when she’s back in human form, obviously!).
I’ve only just finished this one, Diane Messidoro’s debut novel, and it’s another stealthy feminist read. The main character, Circe, is smart, funny and insecure in a painfully teenage way. It made me a bit sad (both for Circe and my little teen self), but I loved it too.
Princess books get a very bad press, but The Princess Diaries series is definitely feminist. I love Mia Thermopolis, the main character, so much that if I’d had a daughter, I planned to name her Mia. Seriously. Mia identifies as a feminist (as does her best friend, Lilly) and absolutely walks the talk, but with plenty of struggles that only make her more endearing.
I’ve only actually read the first chapter of Adorkable, but that was all it took. The main character, Jeane, says “Though I wondered why I had to run myself down in order to make Barney feel better about our relationship when I was a card-carrying feminist. Like, seriously. I had the word ‘feminist’ on my business cards.” As they (probably don’t) say round here – you’ll do for me, cocker.
Keris Stainton is the author of Della Says OMG, Jessie Hearts NYC and the upcoming Emma Hearts LA. Visit her website here.