• Thu, Jan 23 - 2:00 pm ET

7 Great Books With Female Protagonists That Are Better Than The Hunger Games

female protagonists

Catskills Photography

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

female protagonists

Amazon

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

female protagonists

Amazon

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

female protagonists

Amazon

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 

female protagonists

Amazon

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

female protagonists

Amazon

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

female protagonists

Amazon

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

female protagonists

Amazon

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.

Share This Post:
  • CMJ

    Amy March is my literary nemesis.

  • meghancnyc

    The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo does have a female protagonist, but the writing sucks and it is so bloated and overwrought. These recommendations are terrible.

    • Crayzcheshire

      Please share what you’d recommend!

    • meghancnyc

      Amazing Books with Amazing Female Protagonists: The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell; Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein; Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein; The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani; Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl; Jersey Angel by Beth Ann Bauman; Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.

      Maybe I should pitch this to The Gloss myself…

    • Shae Rosa

      Not to mention, for those who love YA – the Chemical Garden series by Lauren DeStefano.

    • Shae Rosa

      THANK YOU. Besides which, when she meets the dude (who is clearly the author’s version of himself), she becomes completely defined by her relationship with him.

  • Cary6677

    мʏ ʀօօмαт­­­­­­e­­­­­­’ѕ ѕт­­­­­­e­­­­­­ք-мօтн­­­­­­e­­­­­­ʀ мαĸ­­­­­­e­­­­­­ѕ $76 ­­­­­­e­­­­­­ʋ­­­­­­e­­­­­­ʀʏ нօυʀ օɴ тн­­­­­­e­­­­­­ ʟαքтօք. ѕн­­­­­­e­­­­­­ нαѕ в­­­­­­e­­­­­­­­­­­­e­­­­­­ɴ օυт օғ α ʝօв ғօʀ т­­­­­­e­­­­­­ɴ мօɴтнѕ вυт ʟαѕт мօɴтн нɛʀ ƈн­­­­­­e­­­­­­ƈĸ աαѕ $20842 ʝυѕт աօʀĸιɴɢ օɴ тн­­­­­­e­­­­­­ ʟαքтօք ғօʀ α ғ­­­­­­e­­­­­­ա нօυʀѕ. ɴαʋιɢαт­­­­­­e­­­­­­ тօ тнιѕ ա­­­­­­e­­­­­­вѕιт­­­­­­e­­­­­­ fox800&#46com

  • Eileen

    I’m going to suggest Gone With the Wind, as long as you’re able to accept that casual racism was a part of life in that culture and community – because Scarlett is one of my favorite female protagonists ever. She’s attractive and smart and charming and strong-willed, but she’s also seriously flawed in ways that I think female protagonists aren’t “allowed” to be these days.

    Also, Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. I will never not recommend this book if you’re looking for an engrossing read with an interesting, incredibly human female lead character (bonus is how relatable she is while still remaining firmly rooted in her fourteenth-century Norwegian world. And Undset won the Nobel prize for this one.)

    • Crayzcheshire

      Thanks Eileen! Just added these to my goodreads.com!

    • Shae Rosa

      Yay “Gone with the Wind”. Scarlett O’Hara might be my hero.

    • Eileen

      I love her – but as I said, part of why I love her is that she’s stubborn, selfish, vain, jealous, culturally ignorant, and really obtuse about feelings, and these failings are portrayed as actual flaws (unlike the classically clumsy Mary Sue). I don’t think that female heroes today get to be rich, interesting characters who are at times unlikeable the way that Scarlett is.

      Of course, I will always appreciate characters with Scarlett’s will and resolve – “This is what I want; I’m going after it; I’m not settling for anything less” – but mostly it’s the complexity I enjoy!

  • emily

    Seriously? “Wicked” was so terribly written and I feel the author hasn’t even read books… They just threw out some popular books/classics with female protagonists to sound more well read.

    • emily

      Read many books*

    • Crayzcheshire

      So… would love to hear some alternative suggestions!! :)

  • Crayzcheshire

    I wish there were more that were a little more under the radar, but overall, thank you for this list!

  • Shae Rosa

    Good selections, however “Little Women” is not so much about the girls living in poverty – it is more about their relationships with one another. (They were also not in poverty – not as rich as they once were, but certainly never starving.)

    Another good book with a female protagonist is “Codename: Verity”. Can’t remember the author right now, but an exceptionally riveting read.

  • Nancy

    Loved Wicked and Coroline! Most of the others were already on my too-read list, but now I’ve added Gone Girl. Thanks for this list! Pretty disappointed about the comments on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I was really looking forward to reading it but now I kind of don’t want to….but I still may haha.

  • Anne Marie Hawkins

    Instead of Arthur Golden’s travesty, why not read Mineko Iwasaki’s memoir? All the drama and intrigue, none of the racism.

  • PretenderNx01

    If we can include YA novels- I just want to say one of my favorite books as a kid was “The Egypt Game” by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Not just a female protagonist but she has two female friends as well (one black and the other Asian)a long with one’s little brother.

    But the story is what enthralled me, these kids find a junkyard near an antique store and set up their own secret Egypt with an Oracle and the whole bit as they’ve been to the library over and over doing research- then have to deal with being found out by some classmates and the panic after a town child is killed and suspicion is on the antiques store owner (which an online review likened to To Kill a Mockingbird’s plot but anywho).