Rebels with a Cause: Young Adult Books Featuring Unlikely Heroes

Confident woman in a red mask and cape drinking a green smoothie, with the phrase 'Rebels with a cause!' in bold letters against a blue background.

Who doesn’t love that rebel with a cause or unlikely hero? There is something special about how against all odds, they always manage to save the day. Perhaps it's because it reminds us that heroes can be everyday people. 

These characters have a wonderful way of captivating us. We often find ourselves cheering them on from the comfort of our couches as if they were one of our closest friends. Let’s be honest: They were never destined for greatness, but somehow, they achieved it anyway, and that’s what makes them special!

Why We Love YA Literature’s Rebels With a Cause

So, what makes us love and cheer on our unlikely heroes? We have had some great conversations and believe that no matter how old you are, there are a few traits that make every rebel with a cause story a page-turner… 

They are relatable

If we think about traditional heroes, they often seem larger than life, while our unlikely heroes are simply real people. They battle with their insecurities, they face obstacles of all kinds, and they have their fair share of personal struggles—these are feelings and experiences that many of us share or can relate to.

It's their authenticity that makes them so relatable, and through that, we can find a piece of ourselves in their journey. When they succeed, we feel like we have also won, especially if you have ever at some stage felt underestimated or overlooked. 

They inspire us and give us hope

Underdogs, misfits, and rebels with a cause remind us that being a hero isn’t about being the strongest or the smartest. It boils down to having heart and determination. These stories often inspire us to believe in ourselves and in our own potential, no matter the odds.

They are a fabulous reminder that even when the world seems against you, you can achieve greatness through sheer perseverance and self-belief. We love how these characters spark hope and, in some way, encourage us to face our own challenges.

They challenge the status quo

Our unlikely heroes are often found on the fringe of society, challenging norms and expectations just the way we like it. We think that’s why they especially appeal to young adults—they highlight the importance of questioning, defying convention, and fighting against injustice. It's a great reminder that one person’s actions hold power and that you should always stand up for what is right, even when it's difficult or unpopular. 

Character development at it’s ultimate

But perhaps one of the most compelling aspects of unlikely heroes is their character development. We love how they grow from ordinary individuals to extraordinary heroes. 

We think it resonates with us because, on some level, it mirrors our own potential for growth. Their struggles and triumphs show us that change is possible, obstacles can be navigated, and we can, as they say, become the hero of our own story!

Everyone’s included

Another aspect that appeals is rebels with a cause often come from diverse backgrounds and bring a unique perspective. Including different voices and experiences always seems to take the story to another level. After all, everyone, no matter their background or circumstances, has the potential to make a difference.

Cool Books for Young Adults

Book subscription box featuring 'A Million to One' by Adiba Jaigirdar with themed items and wrapped gifts marked with page numbers

A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar

Imagine pulling off a heist on the Titanic. Yes, you read that right! Adiba Jaigirdar's A Million to One introduces us to four daring girls, each with their own unique talents and motivations. These young women aren't your typical heroines; they're outsiders driven by necessity and ambition. Their audacious plan to steal a priceless jewel aboard the ill-fated ship showcases their courage and ingenuity, proving that even in the face of disaster, determination can lead to extraordinary feats.

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

Meet Nora O’Malley, a master of disguise and deception. In The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe, Nora is the daughter of a con artist who has assumed multiple identities throughout her life. When she and her friends are taken hostage during a bank robbery, Nora's unconventional skills become their best hope for survival. You will love this protagonist who defies the odds through quick thinking and adaptability, proving that even those with a troubled past can emerge as heroes in their own right.

ook subscription box featuring 'The Scarlet Alchemist' by Kylie Lee Baker with themed items and gifts wrapped in red and gold packaging

The Scarlet Alchemist by Kylie Lee Baker

Kylie Lee Baker's The Scarlet Alchemist will transport you to an alternate history where alchemy and magic intertwine with the real world. Meet Zilan, who dreams of becoming a royal alchemist but with a secret that could land her in trouble. Despite being dismissed by her peers and superiors, her tenacity and skill shine through as she navigates political intrigue and dangerous conspiracies. Her journey beautifully shows the power of resilience and the impact one person can make!

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

In The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, you will find yourself in Garner County, where the Grace Year is shrouded in secrecy and fear. Girls are taught that their very existence has the power to drive men wild and provoke jealousy among women. At sixteen, they are banished for a year to expel this dangerous magic, returning only if they survive, purified and ready for marriage.

Tierney James, on the brink of her own Grace Year, envisions a society free from this oppressive cycle. But as she embarks on this harrowing journey, she quickly learns that the wilderness is not their only enemy. Poachers lurk, eager to profit from the girls, yet the most formidable danger lies within—each other.

With its incisive prose and unflinching realism, The Grace Year delves into the fierce and complex bonds between girls, the women they will become, and the perilous choices they face. This gripping novel is a must-read for those who appreciate dark, thought-provoking tales of survival and sisterhood.

ook subscription box featuring 'This Rebel Heart' by Katherine Locke with themed items and gifts decorated with floral and vintage designs.

This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke

Set against the backdrop of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Katherine Locke's This Rebel Heart tells the story of Csilla, a Jewish teenager battling with her past and turbulent present. We loved Csilla's journey from standing on the sidelines to entering the fight for freedom, both poignant and powerful. Her inner turmoil and growth reflect the complexities of real-life heroes, reminding us that sometimes, the most impactful rebellions come from the hearts of those who have suffered the most.


In the end, our love for these unlikely heroes, underdogs, and misfits is their ability to touch our hearts. Stories of struggle and triumph are human; they are filled with moments of self-doubt, courage, and resilience. Ultimately, they show us that it really doesn’t matter who you are; anything is possible if you’re willing to fight for it. And as we said, we love cheering them on!

Join us as we celebrate the rebels with a cause while we remember that sometimes, the most unlikely heroes can make the biggest difference. Happy reading, and don’t forget to dust off your own inner rebel! 

Make sure to check out our blog A New Chapter: Welcoming the Once Upon a Book Club Tween Box. We are so proud of our Tween Book Boxes, which are packed with an exciting book, surprise gifts and so much more, subscribe now and save!

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