Strong Female Protagonists in Young Adult Literature

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Here at Once Upon a Book Club, we love strong female protagonists! So, why do they resonate with us? They are characters who manage to captivate, challenge, and inspire us, and we can always relate to them on some level. And let’s be honest, we love it when a woman is the hero and does a little bit of butt-kicking along the way!

Young Adult literature is filled with strong female protagonists, and we can’t wait to share some of our favorites! But first, let's look at some of the elements that make them absolutely fabulous!

Open book with 'Recipes' and text about strong female protagonist qualities

The Strong Female Protagonist Recipe

A Dash of Complexity

A great protagonist is anything but boring or straightforward. Just like us, they have their own unique traits, ambitions, fears and quirks. (We simply haven’t had to save the world … yet!)

A Splash of Agency

Yes, she is the master of her own destiny, and her choices matter. They shape the adventure and generally prove that she doesn’t need a knight in shining armor.

A Hearty Dose of Growth

Like any great story, through the trials and tribulations, her character transforms, and she emerges stronger and wiser and definitely ready to conquer whatever comes her way.

A Pinch of Grit

A strong protagonist always faces obstacles with courage and perseverance - whether she’s battling dragons or smashing glass ceilings, she always makes it through to the end!

A Spoonful of Relatability

It doesn’t matter if she is slaying invisible monsters, negotiating interstellar peace, or taking down the bad guys; she is always relatable! It’s a reminder that we all have hopes and fears!

A Measure of Flaws

As they say, “Perfectly imperfect!” It is those flaws and vulnerabilities that make her character authentic. We love watching her overcome them and are always rooting from the sidelines!

A Generous Serving of Purpose

We all need goals and a sense of purpose, and our heroine is no different. Although, honestly, she is often far better at staying on course! Whether she’s on a quest for redemption or saving the galaxy, she is always driven by a goal that propels her toward success.

A Sprinkle of Impact

Our protagonist always leaves her indelible mark on the world. She always successfully changes the course of her story and often of those around her. 

A Scoop of Diversity

Another reason we love our heroine is that she comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds – another reminder that it is who we are on the inside that really counts.

A Final Touch of Influence

Finally, she isn’t merely a character but a role model who demonstrates the power of courage, compassion, and conviction. She might just end up inspiring us to embark on our own adventure!

Covers of three books with strong female leads against a white background

Strong Female Protagonists – Book Recommendations

Truly Devious (Series) by Maureen Johnson

This series features Stevie Bell, a true crime aficionado with a keen mind for solving puzzles. She enrolls at Ellingham Academy, where she aims to solve an age-old case that has intrigued her for years.

Stevie's determination, intelligence, and courage make her a standout character as she unravels past and present mysteries.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

The protagonist, Daunis Fontaine, is a biracial, unenrolled tribal member who dreams of studying medicine but puts her dreams on hold when her family is struck by tragedy. Her life takes a dramatic turn when she witnesses a shocking crime, pulling her into an FBI investigation of a lethal new drug.

Daunis uses her scientific knowledge and cultural heritage to unravel the mystery, showcasing her bravery and resilience.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Tierney James is the protagonist in this dystopian novel where girls are banished to the wild to rid themselves of magic. Unlike most, Tierney questions societal norms and fights for survival in a patriarchal society that seeks to pit women against each other.

Her strength lies in her rebellion against unjust systems and her struggle for freedom and equality.

Throne of Glass (Series) by Sarah J. Maas

Celaena Sardothien, a highly skilled assassin, is this series' main character. Her journey from a slave in the salt mines of Endovier to a powerful queen involves numerous trials, betrayals, and battles.

Celaena's complex character evolves throughout the series, displaying not just physical strength but also emotional depth, intelligence, and a fierce determination to fight for justice and her loved ones.

If you liked this book, you will definitely want to check out our awesome Bonds and Betrayals book box featuring Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove by Rati Mehrotra. Also included are four gifts that work together to bring this incredible fantasy novel to life!

Abhorsen Series by Garth Nix

Sabriel, the protagonist, is a necromancer like her father before her. She is responsible for crossing into the world of the dead to make things right in the world of the living.

Sabriel is portrayed as courageous, wise beyond her years, and dedicated to her duty. Her journey is one of self-discovery, resilience, and the fight against the forces of evil.

We loved this trilogy and if you did too, you might want to try The Scarlet Alchemist by Kylie Lee Baker.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie Hunter is a girl out for revenge after her sister's murder. The story is told through a true crime podcast format and Sadie's own perspective, showcasing her determination, strength, and vulnerability.

Sadie battles through her trauma and the darkness of the world to find justice, making her a compelling and gritty protagonist.

Beads spelling 'GIRL POWER' on a vibrant pink background.


Strong female protagonists are a reminder through their adventures, struggles, and triumphs of the strength we all have within. We all face challenges, grow, and make an impact in our own unique way. Let's celebrate the courage, resilience, and the spirit of determination that lies within each of us. We can be the heroes of our own stories.

We can’t wait to discover more strong, fearless, and unforgettable female protagonists and we are sure you will find a character that speaks to you, challenges you, and maybe even changes you.

When it comes to YA literature, there is no doubt that the spirit of adventure and the quest for identity are alive and well - and they are decidedly female.

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