What makes you fall in love with a character?
For me, characters are the heartbeat of a book. I can deal with a plot that’s a bit dull about the edges of the characters are explosive, dynamic and lifelike, the type of people I can’t stop thinking about.
When characters are phenomenal, books aren’t just the alphabet mixed up on a floppy piece of paper – the book becomes real.
And that’s what you want! You want to finish a book and feel inspired, motivated, thoughtful. You want that book to leave its mark on you.
You want villains to seethe at, antiheroes to feel conflicted for, and heroes to make you clench your fish in fierce admiration and whisper, “get up get up you have to win this!”
This is why reading a book with a strong female character who could be replaced by a pot plant makes us roll our eyes and toss the book.
What Makes A Female Book Character Strong?
When we’re talking about a ‘strong’ female book character, we mean the opposite of a ‘damsel in distress’. Basically we’re over reading about girls who flake around waiting for a man to do all the thinking.
The damsel doesn’t have motivations or goals, and she’s only there to encourage the man to live his best life. It’s offensive and disappointing that girls even have these flat types of role models in books.
Because actual women just aren’t like that.
Women are complex, emotional and have dreams and goals. They’re thoughtful, passionate, and flawed. Women can be buff and physical, ambitious and powerful. Women can be feminine and gentle, thoughtful and shrewd.
Women can save the planet, or fight wars, or be involved in STEM work, or be a dreamy artist. Women can be a combination of all these things because there are so many ways to be a woman and so many ways to be powerful.
“Strong” isn’t synonymous with “punches people and can fight”. If we’re going to define what a “strong female book character” is, it’s simply this: a complex woman.
That’s what we want in books and that’s what every little girl, teen, and adult woman deserves to read about when they pick up a novel.
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Female Characters Who Inspire You
I’m sharing some of my top favorite strong female characters! They’re from Young Adult and Children’s books because these are the girls I grew up admiring.
Whether they’re famous female literary characters or girls from underrated gems of books, I hope you pick one of these up and fall in love with these phenomenal women too.
When this book came out in 2017, it took the world by storm. It hasn’t left the bestseller list!
And rightly so. It’s the powerful #ownvoices story of a black girl who watches her best friend be murdered by a corrupt cop, and how she decides to break the silence.
It’s an incredible book that will both inspire and bring you to tears over the world so many black kids face in the USA with racism. Another thing I love about this book is how it’s about family too.
It’s about injustice and survival, but also love and fun moments and teasing siblings and a dad who still can’t get Voldemort’s name right (Starr is a huge Harry Potter fan; another reason to love her).
Being a teen and finding your footing in the world is hard enough without speaking up, being loud, and making a difference.
But we have Starr. She’s not perfect and she’s still a kid, but she’s the kind of character who will stir your soul.
When the conversation about epic female characters begins, Katniss almost always graces the list. And you know what? She deserves it.
Not only is The Hunger Games a cultural sensation, it has so much layered meaning that even over 10 years after it came out, it still is poignant and pertinent to our lives. It’s not a cliché to love Katniss.
It’s totally common sense! She is a combination of a soft and loving older sister, who would literally die for her family, but she’s also good with weapons and won’t go down without a fight. She’s fierce and loyal, but also vulnerable.
The Hunger Games is infamously set in a dystopian world where children are forced to fight to the death for the amusement of the rich – until Katniss’ small act of defiance sparks a rebellion.
She didn’t mean to be the face of the revolution, but she is, and there are people to save.
Let’s move aside the chivalrous and pure heroines for a second and talk about antiheroes. When we mention “female heroines”, we tend to think this has to mean wholly good. But do you know what else is actually awesome? Antiheroes.
Girls who do wrong to do right. Girls forced into dark situations, who fight their way free with blood on their teeth and bruised knuckles and hearts burning with fierce determination.
I fell in love with Six of Crows and its motley crew of six thieves embarking on an impossible heist.
While the job isn’t supposed to be personal, it quickly becomes so when the team becomes entwined in each other’s hearts as they outwit fate and foe to break into the Ice Court.
Kaz is the notorious criminal of the barrel, ruthless and cunning, and Inej is his spy and shadowy wraith, wickedly deadly with her knives. But what does she plan to do with her portion of the reward? Bring justice to brutalized girls.
Inej was stolen as a child and sold into slavery and now all she wants to do is pay her debts, find her family, and change the world for the better. She’s the kind of girl to be awed.
I really wanted to highlight a gentle female character for this list, because I think so often the term “strong female character” gets confused with this idea that the girl has to kick evil in the teeth and overturn a dictatorship.
And those women are incredible. But so are soft, gentle, feminine and nurturing women! So meet Lara Jean Covey!
She’s a Korean-American girl who writes letters to all the boys she’s had a crush on… until the letters mysteriously get posted and all the boys get her (embarrassing) letters.
She ends up fake dating her childhood crush (she’s not into him anymore… so she thinks) and awkwardness ensues. But maybe tenderness too. And maybe love.
It’s a rom-com with a family focus, and it’s funny and light, with lots of baking, and some weightier moments since Lara Jean’s mother died when she was young and their family will always feel that loss.
Sometimes the female book characters who inspire me are the ones who do their best to be kind in a world where kindness seems in short supply.
As someone who grew up reading Narnia (and then rereading it as soon as I’d finished), I can’t help but add Lucy to this list!
Narnia is such a childhood classic, an incredibly magical and whimsical tale of a little girl who tumbles through the back of a wardrobe into a whole other world.
Narnia is strangled by ice and snow as a witch rules with a frozen fist, but there’s a prophecy about four children breaking the enchantment. But the witch will do anything to stop them.
This story is both wholesome and layered with messages of bravery, sacrifice, courage, and curiosity.
It’s the curiosity that always had my heart beating faster as I checked the back of the wardrobes in my own house too. (I wanted to have tea with a faun okay. I had my priorities.)
What inspires me about Lucy is her craving for answers, her love of pure magic, her ability to see good in things despite the danger.
I never want to lose my love for magic, so Lucy will always be on my list of characters to admire.
This epic trilogy follows Jude Duarte, who is raised by her parents’ murderer… who also happens to be a faerie war general and takes her and her sisters back to Faerie Land to live.
Growing up human surrounded by the Fair Folk, who love tricks and schemes and don’t understand how easy it is to traumatize a human, is anything but easy.
Jude learns to be cunning and wicked out of sheer desperation. And when she finds a way to outwit her school tormentor, Prince Cardan (with his soft sullen mouth and terrible attitude), she snatches the chance and makes a play for power.
Jude reads as an absolute antihero, with most of her motivations unspooling from a need to chase power. But why does she crave it?
She wants safety. She wants revenge on her tormenters. She wants it to be known that she can’t be walked over or taken advantage of.
I find that such a pertinent topic for today’s society too. Take out the faeries, and how many girls do we know who face harassment every day?
Jude will forever fill my heart with admiration for the way she fights for respect and fights to belong.
This is one of my all-time favorite series, so I couldn’t help but immediately think of Blue when I begin writing this list.
Blue is that perfect mix of witty and sharp, curious and careful, and you can’t help but fall in love with her as you follow this tale of a psychic’s daughter with no magic of her own who has a doomed prophecy hanging over her head: if she kisses her true love, he’ll die.
When she becomes tangled up with four boys who are searching for a dead Welsh King and the magical favor he might give if he’s awoken, she discovers a great many secrets about her own family. And about herself.
Blue is so relatable and I think that’s why she caught my heart. Her friendships are fierce and deep, and her dreams reach taller than the trees.
She’s depressing-ly “not special” in a family full of impossible abilities. And her loneliness about that is something a lot of us go through.
You don’t have to be born magical to find your own magic.
No list about strong female book characters could be complete without the famous Hermione, the heartbeat and logical sense of the golden trio in Harry Potter. She’s famous and a heroine to so many girls all over the world… and rightly so.
Hermione is brave and careful, intelligent and hungry for knowledge and truth and to do what’s right. I could keep rattling off ways Hermione inspires us forever!
I’m sure we all know the premise of Harry Potter, the boy who thought he was anything but special, then is whisked away to a magical school where he discovers he’s the chosen one, meant to defeat the infamous Voldemort.
Hermoine might not be the lead in this book, but she saves Harry from danger again and again (also saves him from failing classes).
And when she gives advice, she speaks one of the most beloved lines of all bookworms: “When in doubt, go to the library.”
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About the Author
CG Drews is a YA book blogger with the goal to read every book in existence. She’s aiming for immortality for this. When not reading, she writes novels and blogs at paperfury.com.