Nothing makes me happier than sitting down with a cup of tea and a great book. Especially when that great book has a strong, interesting female protagonist. This leads people to assume that I must love Katniss Everdeen, from The Hunger Games. Which I totally do, BUT, being a full, grown adult (at least on paper, sometimes I feel like I’m still a teenager), I’m not really into the young adult genre. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy The Hunger Games, but looking at all the praise its received, I can’t help but think of all the other great books out there, (old and new) with kick-ass female leads that don’t get as much attention (as having a huge, multi-million dollar budget series of films is wont to do).
Here is my list of what I feel are some of the best books with awesome female protagonists that don’t get the recognition they deserve. I tried to include a good mix of genres and age-groups (and of course, they had to be books I’ve actually read, enjoyed and remember well), but I’m sure I’ve left a ton of great examples out.
7. Wicked – Gregory Maguire
Wicked – The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, and the series of books that followed, is Maguire’s take on the original L. Frank Baum classic series as well as the 1939 film adaptation. The main characters are Maguire’s version of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, and Glinda the Good Witch, Galinda. You’ve probably heard of this due to the hugely successful Broadway show based on the books, but it’s worth the read as well, as it touches on subjects like genocide, lost love, racism, and political power.
6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is another book made famous by its live-action adaptation, this time a Hollywood movie. The main character of this thriller is investigator Lisbeth Salander, who is looking into a mysterious disappearance with disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist.
5. Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh
Okay, so Harriet the Spy isn’t exactly the most mature book on this list, but who didn’t read this as a kid and totally want to be Harriet? Harriet is a quirky 11-year-old little girl who loves to write, wants to grow up to be a spy, and enjoys keeping tabs on her neighbors (don’t we all?). The story is pretty simple but it touches on friendship, trust, loyalty and self-growth, some pretty heavy stuff for a little kid, and maybe worth a re-read one some rainy afternoon when you’ve got nothing else to do.
4. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
You can’t have a list of female-driven books without including Little Women. It’s like, against the law or something. Little Women is about Jo March and her three sisters, Beth, Meg and Amy, growing up in poverty around the civil war, all based on Alcott’s own life and family. It’s a classic and if you didn’t read this in 7th grade English class, then I suggest you get on it.
3. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl is a little different than the rest on this list, as its main female protagonist, uber-perfectionist Amy Dunne, is actually missing, with her husband Nick the one being investigated. But, without giving away any key plot points, I can say that this is still very much a female-driven book and Amy is one of the most fascinating and enthralling characters I’ve encountered in a long time.
2. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Memoirs of a Geisha follows Sayuri, one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha. It follows her life from her childhood, where she is, for all intents and purposes sold into the geisha world, to her eventual success, and all the trials and tribulations that went along with it. Not only is Sayuri a strong willed, smart female lead, but he book itself is a great look into an often misunderstood world, though as many books written about the east by a westerner, it can occasionally be a little heavy handed and influenced by modern culture. Still, it’s a great read and Sayuri is one of my favorite female protagonists ever.
1. Coraline – Neil Gaiman
Yes, Coraline is another young adult book, but come on, this is Neil Gaiman we’re talking about, who is insanely talented (and incidentally, wrote some of my favorite Doctor Who episodes in recent years). The book (and subsequent film) follows Coraline into a strangely creepy yet familiar world where she discovers a new set of “parents” with black button eyes who want to keep her forever.