Books for the non-misogynist young reader May 28, 2014 9:18 AM   Subscribe

In the long, and incredibly insightful thread about misogyny that was spawned by the tragedy in California, I had a moment, going through my book collection, whereupon I realized that I had very few books with strong female characters that I would be comfortable giving to the kids. (Mine, and the crew that seems to live here during summer; boys and girls, ranging in age from 11-13.) I asked for recommendations, and the wealth of suggestions was amazing. I would feel selfish keeping it to myself, and wanted to share, so that other people with tween kids would also have them.

Suggestions were made by Deoridhe, fever-trees, NoraReed, emjaybee, spacewaitress, pharm, jeather, Jeanne, and brokker.

In no particular order, the books/authors/sites recommended were:

Authors (given without books, or who were recommended for entire bodies of work)
Kristin Cashore
Victoria Schwab
Joan Bauer's
Terry Pratchett
Diana Wynne Jones
Robin McKinley
Carrie Vaughn (NOT the werewolf books)
Tamora Pierce


Ursula Le Guin's Annals of the Western Shore

Cynthia Voight Homecoming (and sequels)

Hunger Games

City of Embers

Neil Gaiman - Coraline

The Westing Game

The Enola Holmes mysteries(Sherlock and Mycroft have a much younger sister)

China Mieville - Un Lun Dun

Rachel Hartman - Seraphina

Terry Prachett's Tiffany Aching books

Gail Carson Levine's books

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler

Katherine Paterson's books

Liesl & Po


Harriet the Spy

Miss Marple books

Robin McKinley, "The Blue Sword," "The Hero and the Crown."

Tamora Pierce, the Alanna series and other books;ave girl and boy co-protagonists.)

Catherynne Valente, "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making" series

Grace Lin, "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon"

Hiromi Goto, "Half World" and the upcoming sequel

Kirsten Miller, Kiki Strike series

Ally Carter - there's a spy series that starts with "I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You" and a heist series.

Rebecca Stead, "When You Reach Me"

Adam Rex, "The True Meaning of Smekday"

Clare Vanderpool, "Moon over Manifest," "Navigating Early"

Rita Williams-Garcia, "One Crazy Summer," "P.S. Be Eleven"

Scott O'Dell, "The Island of the Blue Dolphins"

Jacqueline Kelly, "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate"

Sheila Turnage, "Three Times Lucky"

Avi, "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle"

Cynthia Kadohata, "The Thing About Luck"

Susan Patron, "The Higher Power of Lucky"

Kirby Larson, "Hattie Big Sky"

Rachel Hartman - Seraphina

Sangu Mandanna's The Lost Girl, but it might skew too old, I forget

Dragonriders of Pern

Lev Rosen's All Men of Genius

Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity

Garth Nix's Old Kingdom trilogy

"My Sister Sif" by Ruth Park

"Matilda" by Roald Dahl

"The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman,

"The Song of the Lioness" by Tamora Pierce

"Feeling Sorry for Celia" by Jaclyn Moriarty,

"The Magicians of Caprona" by Diana Wynne Jones.

The OZ series

The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger.

Jane Lindskold's Thirteen Orphans series, which has the added bonus of being racially diverse

Teresa Edgerton's Green Lion trilogy; high fantasy

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre; has the added bonus of contraception mentioned in sex scenes

Graphic Novels:

Raina Telgemeier's graphic novels

Faith Erin Hicks's graphic novels

Castle Waiting

Links and Sites:

Fever-trees shared the following note and links:
More broadly, a few things that have made me more aware of what I'm reading:
1. The Australian Women Writers Challenge
2. The Writer and the Critic (a podcast where two books are reviewed each month, the discussions they have about female characters has made me much more aware of these things as I read)
3. Galactic Suburbia (a longer running podcast and harder to dip into, I suppose - focused on speculative fiction)

Notes from mefites in their suggestions:

Dragonriders of Pern (OOP Note: I wouldn't be comfortable giving this series to 11 year olds. The female characters are abused for refusing to obey. It felt yucky to me when I recently tried to reread it. That may be me though. )

I think Kristen Cashore's trilogy starting with "Graceling" is a little bit too much sex for that age group but watch out for it in a few years; it's one of my favorite feminist fantasy series.

Tamora Pierce, the Alanna series and other books; there's discussion of sex and contraception but it's not at a level that's inappropriate for that age range IMO.

Also said about Ms. Pierces' books:
I'd go for Tamora Pierce's circle of magic quartet and circle opens (no further than those 8 because sex and war)

China Mieville - Un Lun Dun is nothing like his adult books.

Sangu Mandanna's The Lost Girl might skew too old, parents should review it first. The same is true for Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity.

Patricia McKillip, though she may be a bit dense for someone his age; her Fool's Run is one of my favorites, and the Forgotten Beasts of Eld is jaw dropping.

You may need to vet for age, but anything by Seanan McGuire / Mira Grant is really quality. Mira Grant is her horror pseudonym.

I apologize if I've duplicated anything, it's quite a long unordered list of goodness.
posted by dejah420 to MetaFilter-Related at 9:18 AM (69 comments total) 147 users marked this as a favorite

You missed Erin Bow! Her (two) books are great, especially Plain Kate.
posted by jeather at 9:23 AM on May 28, 2014

This would be great put up on the wiki someplace. There are lots of reading lists there.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:24 AM on May 28, 2014 [11 favorites]

If you're looking for YA books for girls, I would recommend the books of Leila Sales*; they focus on the female characters and female friendship more than on boys and (spoiler alert) even Past Perfect, which was criticized a bit for being too boy-centric compared to Mostly Good Girls, her first novel, is about coming to terms with a relationship not being good or right even though there's nothing wrong with the actual guy, which I appreciate.

*NB I am biased because she was my best friend in college and the maid of honor at my wedding and is a super awesome person all-around and I wish I got to see her more.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:32 AM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

As I recall, I moved into adult fiction at around the age of 11 or 12, reading mostly science fiction like Arthur C. Clark.

I guess Judy Blume was big with the kids in my class back then (Blubber, Are You There God, etc), notably "Forever." A copy of "The Carpetbaggers" was also circulated in my Grade 7 class, as though it were Samizdat.

Perhaps "young adults" hadn't been identified by publishing marketing departmens as a consumer persona yet, but at least for me I was leaving childish things behind in favour of slightly less childish, more adult genres like sci-fi and fantasy.

Hope that helps.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:45 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd particularly recommend The Pinhoe Egg by Diane Wynne Jones - one of the protagonists is female and the book has as a central theme the issue of adult expectations for female children.
posted by winna at 9:49 AM on May 28, 2014

I'd like to see something similar for books you read to younger kids as well. Which I should probably just take to AskMe.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:59 AM on May 28, 2014

younger kid rec - Kate DiCamillo. Holy Begumba are her books good
posted by edgeways at 10:12 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

It doesn't really seem like this is what MetaTalk is for.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:44 AM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Agreed, this should be an AskMe. And how about a link to the "insightful thread about misogyny"?
posted by Rash at 11:02 AM on May 28, 2014

Margaret Atwood books are written at a level suitable for readers at this age - her prose is very accessible, and the Handmaid's Tale has a great hook. Her more recent attempts are sci-fi are also well-suited for beginning "adult readers."
posted by KokuRyu at 11:05 AM on May 28, 2014

dejah420 is talking about the recent thread on the blue about the UCSB/Isla Vista shooting, and responses to her comment therein. This isn't the platonic ideal of a Metatalk thread or anything but the intent is good and it's fine as a one-off.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:10 AM on May 28, 2014 [14 favorites]

dejah420 is the one who brought us the Great Cake Episode of aught-nine, so I say she's allowed to post whatever she wants.

Relatedly, Nickel Pickle may also post whatever metatalks she'd like.
posted by phunniemee at 11:21 AM on May 28, 2014 [13 favorites]

This sort of post is pretty much exactly what I want to see on Metatalk from here on out.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:35 AM on May 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Agreed, this should be an AskMe.

Well its not a question, so not really a good fit.
posted by biffa at 11:38 AM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is great (except for the part where I don't need to know about any more good books to read). Thanks!
posted by rtha at 11:41 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

That Great Cake Episode still haunts me.

I still can't imagine what I would do to someone who did that to a cake I made even after I've had years and years to think about it.

Also Bobbie in The Railway Children is great but it's an older book so it's not entirely free from social role issues.
posted by winna at 11:44 AM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty liberal but I wouldn't give The Handmaid's Tale even to a very mature 13-year-old. Dragonriders of Pern also have some pretty intense rape scenes.

Don't forget about the classics: The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables were my favorites at this age (and younger).

As a child I utterly refused to read any books with boys as main characters, so my dad would change the genders of the characters to suite me. It's nice to see that these days, he might not have to bother!
posted by chaiminda at 11:53 AM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

It doesn't really seem like this is what MetaTalk is for.

Normally I'd agree (but I'm a curmudgeon, because I also don't get why people can post their "I vaguely remember this thing and I think I saw it on mefi but I lost it" threads to Metatalk instead of AskMe), but as someone who hasn't had the fortitude to do more than skim the original Mefi thread, I'm glad something good came out of there and if it hadn't been posted here, I wouldn't have seen it.

It's one post about a positive experience someone had on the site. It's not going to bury anything.
posted by kagredon at 12:07 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can't believe I forgot the Tiffany Aching books. Of course, a smart 11-13 year old would also love a lot of the Discworld books.

Atwood might be a little rough for that age; more of a high-school read.
posted by emjaybee at 12:12 PM on May 28, 2014

I'm pretty liberal but I wouldn't give The Handmaid's Tale even to a very mature 13-year-old.

I would even go further and say that by this age your average 13-year-old already knows what they want to read. Adults should all know the feeling of a friend or acquaintance feverishly recommending this book "you just have to read!" Often such evangelism is enough to turn me personally off what could be a great book.

While I am in no way suggesting he is a "feminist" writer (or, for that matter, a young adult novelist), by age 13 I was totally into Stephen King, who was entering (for me, anyway) his golden age in the mid-80's. Some of my happiest memories from that period of my life involve receiving a giant Stephen King book as a birthday present or a Christmas present, and just reading.

But my parents knew I liked Stephen King.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:20 PM on May 28, 2014

Sylvia Engdahl's Enchantress From the Stars is lovely and has a strong and thoughtful young woman protagonist.
posted by janey47 at 12:25 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would even go further and say that by this age your average 13-year-old already knows what they want to read. Adults should all know the feeling of a friend or acquaintance feverishly recommending this book "you just have to read!" Often such evangelism is enough to turn me personally off what could be a great book.

What a weird interpretation to project onto this thread.
posted by kagredon at 12:27 PM on May 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

Robin McKinley is great.
posted by JohnLewis at 12:30 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

dejah420 is the one who brought us the Great Cake Episode of aught-nine, so I say she's allowed to post whatever she wants.

yeah, that plus the Ruined Shawl Incident (whose was that?) were some of the most bewildering "How People Behave" AskMes ever.
posted by sweetkid at 12:31 PM on May 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

What a weird interpretation to project onto this thread.

Why is it weird? What I find weird about *your* comment is you seem to think that 13 year olds are open to getting book recommendations from parents. It's my (yeah, I know, not politically correct, and not the "right way" to think) that books alone are not going to solve the issue of misogyny and violence against women in our society.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:31 PM on May 28, 2014

I really like recommendations of what to read. When I was 13, the librarians at all 3 of our nearest public libraries were my friends and frequently made recommendations to me, as did my parents.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:32 PM on May 28, 2014

It's my (yeah, I know, not politically correct, and not the "right way" to think) that books alone are not going to solve the issue of misogyny and violence against women in our society.

Good thing then that nobody here thinks that.

This is the weirdest derail.
posted by kmz at 12:33 PM on May 28, 2014 [17 favorites]

(yeah, I know, not politically correct, and not the "right way" to think)

posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:37 PM on May 28, 2014 [13 favorites]

I haven't read all of these books, so as far as I know they're chock up of sensitive, true-to-life depictions of women and girls of color (given the inclusion of the incredibly problematic Island of the Blue Dolphins, I'm not terribly hopeful). But just in case anyone is specifically looking for a book like that:

One of my all-time favorite books is Betsey Brown by Ntozake Shange (of for colored women who have considered suicide... fame). It's a funny, sweet, true and touching coming-of-age story about a 13 year old girl and her family against the backdrop of school integration. The prose is lyrical and lovely, casually dropping in rhyme and snippets of slang, and Betsey's vivid inner life is treated with unusual understanding and reverence.

You can buy it for under $6 on Amazon right now, and some of your purchase will even go to help cash-strapped Metafilter if you use that link.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:37 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

books alone are not going to solve the issue of misogyny and violence against women in our society.

No, but a lot of people like to read them and feel happier if they are reading books that they enjoy and support them which I think has a lot of value.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:46 PM on May 28, 2014 [11 favorites]

What? You mean throwing the book at misogyny isn't literal? FUCK.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:47 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would be so excited if this didn't somehow armwrestle its way into being an extended argument about the proper and improper approaches to ending systemic misogyny once and for all &c.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:50 PM on May 28, 2014 [29 favorites]

At that age I systematically read through all the Nancy Drew books.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:53 PM on May 28, 2014

Adults should all know the feeling of a friend or acquaintance feverishly recommending this book "you just have to read!" Often such evangelism is enough to turn me personally off what could be a great book.

I do this all the time to the extent of buying people the book and going YAY and singing a song of congratulatory happiness when they finally read it.

I am sad to know that this may impact whether or not people read the books I urge them in song format to enjoy.
posted by winna at 12:57 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I in fact send a ton of books to my niece (and also my sister) and follow up with emails in all caps saying JUST BECAUSE I SEND YOU THIS DOESN'T MEAN YOU HAVE TO READ IT. That seems to have no effect one way or the other. They both appear to read the books they are interested in and set aside the ones that don't appeal.
posted by janey47 at 1:01 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Often such evangelism is enough to turn me personally off what could be a great book.

This is a variant of "You're not trying hard enough to win me over" and can be lumped with other similar sentiments. The less MeTa becomes any one person's "I'm not satisfied yet" thermometer, the more it can serve its actual purpose. Unless you actually want to throw down about what is known about the world of books, reading, recommendations, and how teens find the books they decide to read in which case bring it on.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:04 PM on May 28, 2014 [14 favorites]

*CTRL F Cushman*

No? Then I highly recommend Karen Cushman's Catherine Called Birdy and The Midwife's Apprentice. if additional recs are wanted.
posted by pointystick at 1:07 PM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Shannon Hale needs to be on here! I know, she writes books with "Princess" in the title, but really they are Not About That, her princesses and non-princesses are all ass-kicking. Bonus, she has a graphic novel series (Rapunzel's Revenge) with co-author and husband Dean Hale. Mostly MG.

Also, Scott Westerfeld, maybe? Some of his books? He has strong female characters who aren't Strong Female Characters (tm). YA, though, not MG.

Also, mark me down as another person who read Pern as a teenager and nowadays, after re-reading a few, would never, ever, EVER recommend the Pern novels for young readers (with the exception of the first two Harper Hall books... maybe). Super-rape-y. I get that it was a thing back then, but readers have better options now.
posted by pie ninja at 1:43 PM on May 28, 2014

If anybody here doesn't already know that Tamora Pierce is like the best writer in the history of ever, then I offer this explanation of why The Will of the Empress is basically the pinnacle of space-time.

In all seriousness, I have reread Pierce's bibliography more than I have reread any other books written by any other people. Though she is a pretty low-key non-flashy writer who avoids overtly "clever" hooks for her books (the way that Diana Wynne Jones, another uber-favorite, does), there's something about her worldview that is profound and wise without ever calling attention to itself, and the more recent quartets from both of her major worlds are completely amazing. I read Page when I was thirteen a good dozen times in a row, and I don't know if I've gone without at least skim-rereading it once a year in the decade since.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:47 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, Diana Wynne Jones' Fire and Hemlock is still maybe my favorite book to read ever, and captures what it's like to go from pre-adolescent to college-age with an astonishing insight. Speaking as a guy reader, it also helped me realize how ridiculous hormonal teenage boys look in the eyes of levelheaded teenage women, in a gentle and loving way as Jones is wont to do.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:49 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I suppose someone could post the original question as an, reply with the big list of books & then mark that reply as best answer, but that seems a little OTT.
posted by pharm at 3:04 PM on May 28, 2014

A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer is the only fantasy I can think of which has not only a very strong and appealing female protagonist as well as several other well-realized characters who are women and girls, but also puts the evolving relationships between the classmates at an all-women academy of magic at the very center of the action. These women and girls are unshakably sovereign in that they don't define themselves in terms of men's expectations, and it would never occur to them that it could be desirable or even possible to do so. And it's exciting, beautifully written, and very moving.

Diana Wynne Jones is also the author of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which doesn't really go out of its way to attack the sexist tropes rife in Fantasy, as I recall, but reduces quite a few of them to roadkill along its route even so.
posted by jamjam at 3:36 PM on May 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Rory, I can't think who the teenage boys are in Fire and Hemlock, though the parents, as usual in a Wynne Jones book, are pretty pathetic. I find Hexwood compelling also, though it has pretty dark themes and is strange besides. An interesting if not disconcerting criss-cross over the borders of adolescence. Shan't link to wikipedia because spoilers.

Also from Wynne Jones, Deep Secret, marketed for adults and set in Bristol(!) is entertaining and thrilling and would capture the interest of a 12 or 13 year old into that sort of thing. It has an agreeable heroine who at the start has no obvious advantages - very sympathetic character. Oh I just remembered, some flirty people have an orgy. That must be why it's supposed to be an adult book. But if you were 13, you might think they just took off their clothes. I would have let my teenagers read it.

Philip Reeve's Traction Cities books are a cracking series, where male and female characters are given equal weight and attention and autonomy. It's YA, gets gruesome, makes no concessions to sentiment, has heroic complicated female and male characters as well as shallow, or silly, complicated female and male characters.
posted by glasseyes at 4:03 PM on May 28, 2014

Jo Walton's Among Others is fantastic! The teen-aged hero is dealing with a load of crap (including the death of her twin, rigid family expectation, and boarding school), but that's not the focus. Our hero finds solace in books. Eventually, she finds some like-minded folk to become the young edge of a fantasy/SF book club in the middle of Wales.

As the author says: This isn’t a book about reading one book, it’s a book about the reading the way teenagers do, indisciminately, developing taste as they go along. She reads a lot, and some of it is tosh.

In summary, Among Others is a gateway drug to books as a life-long passion. The reader learns why people love to read, a vital lesson we're demonstrating right now. Aimed at adults, but definitely understandably to MG readers.
posted by Jesse the K at 4:25 PM on May 28, 2014

I was really into the Wrinkle In Time series by Madeline L'Engle. It's a sic-fi adventure series about a girl who travels the universe to save her father.

I ate up the whole series in elementary school. I think no read it in the 4th grade. I bought the first book in the series for my 10 year old niece but she either didn't like it or it was too above her level.
posted by LizBoBiz at 4:42 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Octavia Butler's Earthseed books are great. There is some violence but it's not senseless and if they're okay with the Hunger Games I don't think it'd be worse.
posted by adamsc at 4:51 PM on May 28, 2014

I know that I already got it on the list but I really really want to encourage people to check out Seraphina, because Hartman is a new author and I really, really want her to be the next Tamora Pierce and I think she has the potential to be that.

I know that ass-kicking heroines are in, and that's cool if that's your thing, but Seraphina has no combat ability and basically gets out of almost every situation through her own intelligence, bravery and an amazing ability to lie.

Also I wouldn't give the Hunger Games to little kids or sensitive kids. That series has a lot of murder, a character recalling being forced into prostitution, and I'm pretty sure that by the end everyone has either PTSD or is dead.
posted by NoraReed at 4:56 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is seriously what MetaTalk should be for.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:07 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Kaoru Mori's (a female manga-ka) Otoyomegatari (A Bride's Story) is comprised of a series of stories all built around various brides living in Central Asia of the 19th century, starting with Amir Halgal, who is...
...a young woman from a nomadic tribe betrothed to a twelve-year-old boy eight years her junior. Coping with cultural differences, blossoming feelings for her new husband, and expectations from both her adoptive and birth families, Amir strives to find her role as she settles into a new life and a new home in a society quick to define that role for her.
While it doesn't have a strictly feminist message in the sense that it takes, for instance, arranged marriages as a given of the culture of times and does not condemn the institution from the get go, this is more out of a care to avoid being anachronistically judgmental than out of an unthinking espousal. (I was really on the fence about this aspect of the work at first, but reading the opinions of some woman bloggers alleviated my worries)

Also, it is simply one of the most beautifully drawn mangas out there.
posted by procrastinator at 5:09 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm so stoked so see that Tamora Pierce has become so revered. I stumbled on the Alanna books when I was a kid browsing at the library and loved that the cover of the first book had a girl with a sword on it. When I was growing up nobody I knew had read these books. I got a little frustrated with the later ones which I felt at the time were too much about romance and not enough adventuring, but I loved them anyways (as and adult I think they're rad - main female character unapologetically has sexual relationships with multiple people, none of whom are presented as being her destiny or the love of her life? There's no particular shame or drama involved? How cool is it to present that idea to young girls who are being constantly bombarded with the idea that your prince is out there, and there's only one of him, and you better hope he finds you cause that's your only shot at love!)

For suggestions for other books, how about Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and its sequel Let The Circle Be Unbroken? Cassie is a pretty great protagonist - she's tough and smart. I loved those books when I was a kid, although they can be quite sad as well.

In The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson is such a cute book and as a young girl who was also crazy about baseball I had a lot in common with Shirley. I also loved the Witch series and the Alice series of books by Phillis Reynolds Naylor. How about The Egypt Game or The Witches of Worm?

I think I've said this before, but I think The Chronicles of Narnia books are really good for young proto-feminists to read. They were very instrumental in turning me into a feminist as a child. I didn't really understand sexism per se when I was 6 or 7, but I had a really strong feeling that, for example, Susan and Lucy not being able to fight because they were girls was unfair. I still love those books as an adult, both genuinely, and also for giving me an early easy tilt at the kind of worse sexism that flies under the radar in other media.
posted by supercrayon at 5:58 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. If you haven't read it -- it's written for adults, but most of it is about the narrator's mother and her mother's social circle and what coming of age was like for them. The writing is gorgeous, and even though the story is disturbing at times because the girls and women are in some very tough situations, it's not gratuitous or inhumane in the least.

Jodi Picoult also might appeal to the slightly older kids, especially if they want something with a bit of schlock value (I think she's a good writer, but she tends to go a little purple). I'd recommend My Sister's Keeper.
posted by rue72 at 6:08 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Diana Wynne Jones is also the author of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which doesn't really go out of its way to attack the sexist tropes rife in Fantasy, as I recall, but reduces quite a few of them to roadkill along its route even so.

Her Dark Lord of Derkholm is the novelized version of Fantasyland, and its assault on sexist tropes is pretty overt and hilarious. Lots of fantasy women who're intended to be pin-up girls but decide to launch an underground feminist movement instead. It doesn't hurt that Year of the Griffin, the book's sequel, is a concise and devastating critique of what happens when universities start focusing more on preparing people for their careers than they do on teaching young minds how to think. (That was published in the 80s... jeez.) Anyway, YotG also has a prominent women's lib storyline, equally entertaining-rather-than-preachy.

Other Diana Wynne Jones novels that young kids might love: Archer's Goon, A Tale of Time City, Deep Secrets, the entire Chrestomanci sequence, and Howl's Moving Castle especially — one of the books so well-written that it made Hiyao Miyazaki's adaptation look less charming and profound my comparison, which is a pretty damn difficult thing to successfully do. She's such a wonderful writer in so many ways.

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is by far the most acclaimed of his works, but if you can get your hands on any novels from the Sally Lockhart trilogy, by all means do so! They're mysteries set in the Victorian era, following a young feminist woman as she establishes a life for herself despite banal sexism and exciting mustache-twirling villains. The first book is slight, albeit wonderfully-crafted, but the second book is marvelous, intricate and deep and crushing without ever twitching a notch away from pure pulpy entertainment. It's an insane feat to pull off; the only reason I can imagine for its not succeeding wildly is that it's hard to explain just what a difficult tightrope it walks or with what aplomb it successfully walks it. Sally Lockhart is a fascinating character, too — deeply flawed yet still pretty freaking amazing. You can pick up the series for pennies on Amazon. Highly recommended.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:24 PM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

For kids aged 8 and up (to about 35 or so) - Patricia Wrede has a great series, starting Dealing with Dragons. Being a princess is boring, so the main character runs away and hangs out with dragons!
posted by jb at 9:55 PM on May 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

But really, there are so many good kids & YA books that aren't misogynist. I read through so many kids books from the 70s and 80s, and the vast majority had great female characters. We could here forever listing them.

I would second Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry and its sequel, Let the Circle be Unbroken. Great female protagonist, profound exploration of race in the pre-civil rights South.

Also, Summer of my German Soldier is a great book.
posted by jb at 10:01 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree that really AskMe is the right venue for this, but once it's rolling it may as well keep going.

I haven't reread either of these as an adult, so it might turn out that there are awful elements, but I loved and reread multiple times all the Madeleine L'Engle books, everything by Ursula K. Le Guin, and the series with bird names in the titles (ravens and kestrels, maybe?), perhaps set in Wales? I can't remember anything yucky in any of those, but I've been surprised a few times when I've looked at beloved childhood books, so read with some caution.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:09 PM on May 28, 2014

I totally forgot Tanya Huff. Sing the Four Quarters is one of my favorites of all time.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:17 PM on May 28, 2014

the series with bird names in the titles (ravens and kestrels, maybe?)

Mercedes Lackey, her whole bardic series. Actually, I devoured her books when I was a teenager, and even as an adult I'm really loving her 500 Kingdoms series (a mythical land where plotlines are a conscious sort of thing - it's very neat concept) and her Elemental Masters series (Urban Magic in the mid Nineteenth Century). Both are heavily fairtytale themed, but in the best way, with lots of mix ups, good characters of both genders, and even some racial diversity to make Deo a happy Deo.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:25 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, which of course doesn't have birds in the titles at all but does have rooks throughout.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:40 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I completely and utterly adore Diana Wynne Jones, but some of her books are better for this thing than others. The Dark Lord of Derkholm, for example, while you do find out at the end has had women working together to fix what's wrong with the world, also features an almost-gang rape scene which is really really badly dealt with. And because the focus isn't on the women who are overthrowing oppression etc, it's instead on their children who are, in the meantime, struggling with things like almost having been gang-raped... well, I'm not saying it's bad. It's just complicated. Fire and Hemlock is made of awesome though, and pretty much all of her books have amazing female characters who run the gamut from nasty to kick-ass. Never simplistic.

Other things that don't seem to have been mentioned so far:
- Harriet the Spy and Louise Fitzhugh's books in general. Nobody's Family is Going to Change also.
- E L Konigsberg does a great line in female characters, including From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth and me, Elizabeth, Scarlet and Miniver just off the top of my head.
- NZ author Margaret Mahy, who writes books at all levels - picture books, 7-10yo books, YA books. Almost everything of hers I've read is infused with an amazing sense of humour and also poignancy, and all her characters are complicated people. Particular highlights are The Changeover, Kaitangata Twitch, The Catalogue of the Universe and The Haunting.
- John Marsden's Tomorrow, When the War Began series. This is perhaps for an older audience, though some 12yo would be fine reading them. Main character Ellie is such a well-drawn and beloved character that she now has her own series (which I haven't read yet, though I'm sure they're good). Basic premise is group of teens are camping in the bush when the country is invaded, and they have to fight back. Ellie is tough and relentless and caring and human and really amazing. The movie of this was pretty good too.

I think I'll stop there, I could keep going and going and going!
posted by Athanassiel at 10:54 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

My most recent discovery in the non-misogynist young reader category is English writer Frances Hardinge, who writes amazing characters, and whose books star young girls in particular. Several of her books have different titles in the UK and the US, just to confuse things, but the one I'd start with is Fly By Night, features a young girl with a thirst for reading (and a goose) in a land where books not approved by the Printer's Guild are banned. Some of her books feature incredibly serious themes (colonialism/genocide) but never in a graphic way, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Definitely something to add to the list!
posted by harujion at 12:59 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

P C Hodgell has an extended fantasy series starting with God Stalk and Dark of the Moon. They're quite different to most other fantasies and she's still writing them, although I think the first two are the best.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:10 AM on May 29, 2014

Deoridhe: "Mercedes Lackey, her whole bardic series. Actually, I devoured her books when I was a teenager, and even as an adult I'm really loving her 500 Kingdoms series (a mythical land where plotlines are a conscious sort of thing - it's very neat concept) and her Elemental Masters series (Urban Magic in the mid Nineteenth Century). Both are heavily fairtytale themed, but in the best way, with lots of mix ups, good characters of both genders, and even some racial diversity to make Deo a happy Deo."

She's gotten better with the rape-tropes but she still has a tendency that I find unsettling as an adult, and outright upsetting as a teenager (my sister moreso). We both love(d) her books but I could never rec them without a disclaimer while I was working.

And I loved The Parasol Protectorate but it may get squirreled away for giggling, given the sex scenes. And the whole rape/abuse of the Beta (revealed in the last one maybe?) gives me pause too.

Basically I am all about the content warnings!
posted by geek anachronism at 4:38 AM on May 29, 2014

Dianna Wynne Jones had a really chaotic childhood. I think a lot of YA authors shunt off the adults/parents because it makes it much more convenient to plot a book without parents in the way. But in Diana Wynne Jones case, when she writes about three sisters living in a summerhouse without proper heat while their parents run a school and expect the 9-year-old to look after her younger sisters (and of course I can't remember which book that was), it's because that's the sort of thing she actually went through in her childhood (the section about The Cottage in her autobiography).

I really love Jo Walton, but in terms of providing Among Others to MG readers, I think it's worth noting that [SPOILER for Among Others] the book contains an upsetting incident involving attempted incest, one that might be difficult for a younger reader to contextualize. For some reason I feel like Tooth and Claw would be something I'd let children read much earlier than Among Others. True, the characters in Tooth and Claw eat one another, but they're dragons, we expect that.
posted by pie ninja at 5:56 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

You've got The Westing Game listed, but I'd say anything by Ellen Raskin; strong girl and young woman protagonists, and her all characters are complex with interesting motivations. Weird in the best way. Often dark, though.

Can I just say I love this MeTa, especially in light of LeVar Burton's Reading Rainbow kickstarter making its million-dollar goal in something like 12 hours yesterday?
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:40 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Some of my favourite strong women characters are form the Urban Fiction genre. Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah is the classic (the sequel Midnight was so victim I never read another of her books through). And Coe Booth in her debut Tyrell wrote about a young man struggling to be a good man. There are more suggestions at Street Literature.
posted by saucysault at 8:51 AM on May 29, 2014

It's been more than twenty years since I first picked it up, but I revisit the Emily trilogy by L.M. Montgomery nearly every year. She's my favourite Montgomery heroine--sarky, proud, persistent, ambitious--and is pretty much the only one in Montgomery's entire oeuvre to have a successful career. My second favourite would be Sara Stanley of The Story Girl and The Golden Road. I'm sure Anne Shirley was very fulfilled as a wife and mother to Gilbert Blythe, but I never identified with her because she ended up with seven children, dear god, and her youngest daughter is one of the most odious characters in the series.

A bit old fashioned, but I also loved Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. It's about three sisters adopted from different families realizing their talents through hard work and a strong support network of teachers and adoptive parents--one even becomes an engineer.
posted by peripathetic at 2:41 PM on May 29, 2014

pie_ninja, that DWJ is The Time of the Ghost, which is an excellent place to begin. I think it was the second of hers that I read. Awesome book.

Harujion's comment reminded me that I forgot to mention Kelly Gardiner's series - two books so far: Act of Faith and The Sultan's Eyes, with a female protagonist who is really smart and educated and gets involved with printing, comes into conflict with various religions and winds up going round Europe having adventures and basically standing up for freedom of information. Good fun, and there's a non-romantic male lead too. Disclaimer: I know the author but would think the books were good even if I didn't. :)
posted by Athanassiel at 6:07 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

GUYS guys Lumberjanes #1 is free today! By Noelle Stephenson, author of Nimona (which is also excellent adventure fare, and online).
posted by emjaybee at 6:12 PM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh and since I'm on a webcomics kick, Namesake is awesome too. And for more philosophical fare, Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell doesn't have a female protagonist but extremely strong female characters. There is some reference to sex and drugs but it's handled well, I don't believe there is any real nudity (some of the gods are partly naked). It's finished now so you can read the whole thing.
posted by emjaybee at 6:17 PM on May 29, 2014

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