There is no shortage of female leads in YA fiction, but strong female leads (that are not simply butt-kicking cardboard cutouts) are very rare. They’re not nearly as rare as good female villains because there is only one female on my list of favourite villains, but they are rare nonetheless. Here are my favourites in descending order.
1. Lisbeth Salander from the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson.
What I love most about Lisbeth is that she truly doesn’t care what other people think of her. She’s smart and independent, but she is also deeply flawed. Because of all the trauma in her childhood, she has a hard time learning to trust people and it takes a very long time for her to develop any sort of relationship with Mikael Blomkvist in the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She seems to have Asperger’s Syndrome (or something similar) and she is not afraid to speak her mind. But Lisbeth is not your stereotypical punk girl, however, because she feels insecure about her petite body and falls in love with Mikael, which causes her to sever ties with him throughout The Girl who Played with Fire. She is my favourite heroine because although the book is mostly told through Mikael’s point of view, she steals every scene she is in throughout the trilogy and Stieg Larsson gave her an incredible amount of depth.
2. Katsa from the Seven Kingdoms series by Kristin Cashore.
Katsa is an excellent female lead because she can kick butt and she is not a man-hater like most butt-kicking heroines. She is very independent and doesn’t obsess over men, but when Prince Po enters the scene, she slowly falls in love with him at what I consider to be a natural pace. Does she go soft because of her love? Of course not! It even makes her stronger and more determined to find out why Po’s grandfather was kidnapped. Katsa fights well, but at the end of the day she is still a woman with a woman’s needs and feelings, which is why she is one of my favourites.
Thu is a woman I can sympathize with because her experience in House of Dreams mirrors my own in some ways. She was an ambitious child and as soon as the opportunity presented itself, she took it and improved her standing in life. The seer Hui tutored her, manipulating her into transitioning from a child to a beautiful woman in much the same way the people around me manipulated me during my tween years. Thu was also unknowingly manipulated into trying to kill Pharaoh Ramses III, but in the second book she words hard and against all odds, she finds both redemption and forgiveness. Thu never, ever stops fighting even when things look utterly hopeless and that is why I admire her so much.
4. Meghan Chase from the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa.
Meghan is a great YA heroine because she reflects teenage insecurities and what teen love is like. She may not e able to kick butt like Katsa and she may not be as three dimensional as Lisbeth, but she is still a strong character. When her brother is kidnapped by the Iron King, she embarks on a dangerous journey to get him back—no matter what the cost to herself. Meanwhile she falls in love, but it makes her stronger instead of weaker. She is an ordinary girl who does extraordinary things for the ones she loves and that’s why she makes my list.
5. Meggie Folchart from the Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke.
Meggie is not physically strong, but she is incredibly brave and resourceful for a girl her age. She convinces Capricorn not to kill her aunt Elinor, reads herself and Farid into Inkheart and saves her father by bluffing the Adderhead. Meggie does everything she can to protect those she loves and I truly respect her for that. She makes my list not because of her physical courage, but because of her moral courage, which (to paraphrase Mark Twain) is incredibly rare.
So what do you think makes a good heroine and why? Who are your favourite heroines?