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February 26, 2012 11:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for suggestions for science fiction/fantasy/fairy-tales/etc. for young(ish) girls. I'm especially interested in epic stories that are similar to the ones I devoured when I was that age (Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, superhero comics, Dragonlance, etc.), but which are centered on female protagonists and which don't reinforce sexist social messaging about female passivity or objectification.

The young lady in question hasn't technically been born yet, so unfortunately I can't give you anything more specific about her tastes than this rather vague request. Thank you!
posted by gerryblog to Media & Arts (46 answers total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I love The Paper Bag Princess, especially as an adult.
posted by warble at 11:39 AM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

A Wrinkle In Time?
posted by Rhaomi at 11:45 AM on February 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Tamora Pierce's Alanna series. Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword.
posted by posadnitsa at 11:49 AM on February 26, 2012 [11 favorites]

The His Dark Materials trilogy would be a prime example.

I personally never loved it the way I did Tolkien or Trek, but a lot of people do seem to rave about it.
posted by philipy at 11:49 AM on February 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Elizabeth Haydon's Rhapsody series! Those meant a lot to me as a young teenager. Seconding Alanna, but also other books by Tamora Pierce--the Beka Cooper ones are great, and the Circle of Magic books are excellent too.

Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is the fantasy fairy tale I wish I'd had access to as a little girl.
posted by bewilderbeast at 11:58 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Land of Oz series by L. Frank Baum--which is more than just the first book that inspired the famous movie--is almost 100 years old, and in some ways has aged quaintly. But it was amazingly progressive for its time, and it's still one of the few series with heroines who Have Adventures and Do Stuff and succeed through cleverness and determination,and who aren't required to be cleverANDdeterminedANDbetter than all the boys at (stereotypical male activity) because Real Women Never Wear Dresses and if you're not kicking ass you're worthless.
posted by nicebookrack at 12:01 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I found The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making to be extremely enjoyable.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:04 PM on February 26, 2012

Best answer: Fantasy: Two Princesses of Bamarre. My daughter listened to the audiobook a dozen times when she was six (reading level is more like 8/10).
posted by saucysault at 12:05 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some similar questions asking for fairy tales/fantasy novels with strong female characters:
and here
posted by sparrow89 at 12:08 PM on February 26, 2012

Best answer: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C Wrede. Loved those books, and they're good for a younger audience as well.

Definitely almost anything Tamora Pierce.

I liked Tithe by Holly Black in my mid teens.

I also loved Lloyd Alexander's books-- one that had a strong female protagonist was the Drackenburg Adventure (I don't know that that was really fantasy, though, might have been more like historical fiction in a fictionalized world).
posted by geegollygosh at 12:09 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with posadnitsa and bewilderbeast — I think that the Tamora Pierce books are exactly what you're looking for. She did a number of series all set in the same universe, often with overlapping characters: "Song of the Lioness" featuring Alanna, "The Immortals" featuring Daine, "Protector of the Small" featuring Kel, and "Trickers" featuring Ali. I know Pierce wrote other series too, but those are the only ones I have read and can personally recommend.

I read most of those series when I was much younger (we're talking late elementary school/early middle school) and enjoyed them, even though I didn't totally follow all of the underlying themes surrounding class warfare and treatment of women. (For what it's worth, some "mature" topics come up in some of the books, like puberty and sex and whatnot.) I read them again as a young adult and loved them in a whole new light.

For a slightly younger audience, I'd recommend the Enchanted Forest chronicles: Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons. The stories make frequent satirical references to well-known fairy tales, often in relation to their damsel-in-distress main characters.
posted by hypotheticole at 12:11 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

So this is better for teenagers, but Maia starts off seeming to reinforce gender stereotypes, but upends them in the end. It's about a girl who is sold into sex slavery that ends up making the best of it.

The Kushiel's Dagger series is similar, a girl in an a male dominated world that manages to rise to the top against the odds.

Both have sexual content, so consider age when recommending.
posted by Pants! at 12:11 PM on February 26, 2012

The Hunger Games is dystopian science fiction. Probably not quite what you are looking for in terms of the genre of the examples of books you gave but definitely what you are looking for in terms of non sexist social messaging.
posted by Laura_J at 12:12 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Terry Pratchett recommendation. Tiffany Aching begins the four-book series as a level-headed 8-year-old who's interested in learning, doing the right thing, and becoming a witch--because, in part, the princess-y fate goes to the blue-eyed blonde and not to the sensible brown-haired girl. She's cast into an adventure armed only with a frying pan and a loyal troupe of small blue Pictsies, and she wins by keeping her wits about her. The first two books in the series, "The Wee Free Men" and "A Hat Full of Sky", are utterly charming and I recommend them to you unreservedly; "Wintersmith" and "I Shall Wear Midnight" are good, but get into some more mature, and serious, territory.

FWIW, I've been working through the series with my 8-year-old son to reinforce the idea that girls can kick butt because of their smarts, grit and drive to do right.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:13 PM on February 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

His Dark Materials does seem like a good candidate, although it arguably falls into the trap of requiring the female protagonist to continually be more kickass than the male counterpart character in order to succeed. I didn't read it as sexism necessarily (and it's certainly not compared to, say, Anne McCaffrey), but it could be interpreted as reinforcing norms in a sort of damning-with-faint-praise-ish way.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:15 PM on February 26, 2012

Best answer: The Young Wizards series is a sci fi/fantasy series about well, several girls (and a boy) who Have Magical Sciencey Adventures and Do Stuff.

One of them has a self-aware Macbook named Spot.
posted by topoisomerase at 12:17 PM on February 26, 2012

Diana Wynn Jones split her protagonists pretty much evenly between boys and girls (or men and women in the case of her adult books). Her age range is from about 7 or 8 up. Howl's Moving Castle is a good introduction to her œuvre.
posted by ambrosen at 12:21 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Old Kingdom/Abhorsen Series by Garth Nix is solid young adult epic fantasy with strong female protagonists.
posted by Hawk V at 12:22 PM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When I was 12-ish I thought Drujienna's Harp was better than Lord of the Rings. (Gimme a break, I was just a kid.) The heroine, about 12 herself, and her brother get transported to a bleak world where she has to rescue a captive prince (and her brother) and hopefully not destroy the whole world in the process. She's smart, determined, brave, and not a warrior-princess badass, just an ordinary little girl who happens to find an enchanted bottle in a curio shop.
posted by Quietgal at 12:24 PM on February 26, 2012

Ursula Le Guin
Margaret Atwood
posted by J. Wilson at 12:31 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love the Elizabeth Moon series called the Deed of Paksennarion. A trilogy with at least one additional book written in the same world. One of my favorites when I was a kid and they hold up well as an adult.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 12:35 PM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

A series I read when I was younger was The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce.

It follows a young girl who swaps gender roles with her brother to become a squire whilst he goes to study magic. Maybe not exactly epic fantasy as such but still a good read, I think.
posted by DuchessProzac at 12:36 PM on February 26, 2012

Best answer: 3rding the Tiffany Aching books, with agreement that yes, the last two are a bit more grown up. Terry Pratchett's other novels are also worth a look--they're usually pretty light-toned, and always lady-friendly, especially the novels about the Ramtop Witches. 99% of his main characters aren't beautiful, which I think is really cool. And there's a zillion of his novels, which is nice when you're a kid and love sequels.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman is great, though rather scary.

Wise Child and Juniper by Monica Furlong are pretty cool if I recall correctly.

I had a lovely book of woman-centric fairytales when I was a kid called The Woman in the Moon--they were traditional stories from many cultures that featured strong women. I think it's out of print, but there are other collections like that.

I thought His Dark Materials was... not so great, feminism-wise. The first book is awesome, but as soon as Will shows up, Lyra becomes totally passive, and a lot of the point-of-view goes to Will. I know a lot of people didn't read it that way, but I was really disappointed with her character in the second and third books.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 12:50 PM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Tamora Pierce, Patricia C. Wrede and Lloyd Alexander. Those are all EXCELLENT suggestions. I'd also suggest Sherwood Smith. Oh, and Diane Duane's Wizard series.

For even younger I think Gail Carson Levine is excellent. 'Ella Enchanted' was a wonderful book, don't let the movie fool you.

Other than books, check out things like Miyazaki's 'Spirited Away' or the Avatar animated series.

And don't forget anime & manga. YMMV for some of the 'female passivity' etc, but there are a lot of series specifically written FOR young girls, and avoids all the T&A, broken-spine posing of western comics. Series like Petite Princess Yucie, Card Captor Sakura, Sailor Moon might be good. If you're completely unfamiliar with the genre just be warned that there are plenty of series aimed at kids, but there are plenty of series that are aimed at adults, and make sure you pay attention to the box, and maybe google the series before you pick it up.
posted by Caravantea at 12:52 PM on February 26, 2012

His Dark Materials was incredible. I understand what Kadin2048 is saying, but it is too amazing to not give it a chance.
posted by DeltaForce at 1:15 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you can find it, Anne McCaffrey's stand-alone novel Restoree was my favorite sci-fi book as a girl because of the smart female protagonist.

Sara, the heroine, is an intelligent but homely young woman. When Earth is attacked, she is taken prisoner by the invading alien forces. She awakens, gradually, to find herself employed in a mental hospital, serving up meals--and medication--to the heavily-sedated, dangerously insane patients.

Sara's ugly duckling body has been transformed; physically she is beautiful, as are the other attendants. But while they are basically catatonic, unthinking automatons following orders, Sara's brilliant mind inextricably remains intact. Furthermore, Sara begins to suspect that her charge is not a mentally ill patient, but the victim of a political conspiracy.
posted by misha at 1:47 PM on February 26, 2012

The Land of Elyon series by Patrick Carman would be a great introduction to fantasy for any kid who was starting to read chapter books. The story is pretty epic, but the writing is simple enough. There are lots of different characters and although there are villains, they aren't especially scary. The main character is Alexa, who is twelve years old but most of her companions are at least a little older and male.

The Keepers series by Lian Tanner features Goldie Roth as a rebellious tomboy and has two books out with the third due out this year.

Once they get a little older, I'd suggest the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull centers on Kendra and her younger brother Seth who discover a series of preserves that hold fantastic creatures. There are people who threaten the preserves (and the whole world, eventually) so they both have to fight them. They are on the same side, but Kendra uses "light magic" and Seth "dark magic", so it might be too female passive for you. However, there are more female characters (both good and evil) that display strength in positive ways.

I also highly recommend His Dark Materials.
posted by soelo at 1:51 PM on February 26, 2012

You should consider the Keltiad series by Patricia Kennealy Morrison. They deftly combine celtic mythology with sci-fi elements and with strong female protagonists.
posted by Jamesonian at 1:53 PM on February 26, 2012

One more, Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series might be a good one. I have only read the first one and it features one girl and one boy. It's a steampunk alternate history of WWI and the girl has to pose as a boy to get into the army.
posted by soelo at 1:54 PM on February 26, 2012

Best answer: On Fortune's Wheel by Cynthia Voigt (linked version has a terrible cover :( )

This book always held a really special place in my heart. I read it when I was quite young and instantly found a connection.

Check out the reviews- because the summary doesn't really capture anything.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 2:00 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you! This is a great list.
posted by gerryblog at 2:05 PM on February 26, 2012

Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series (and a lot of her other books, too) - for maybe early teens.

As a (female) teen I really liked all of Anne McCaffrey's (especially dragonriders series) and Marion Zimmer Bradley's (only the darkover series) books too, which have strong female characters but they do tend to have pretty defined gender roles so you might not find them ideal.
posted by randomnity at 2:42 PM on February 26, 2012

Nthing the Enchanted Forest books by Patricia Wrede and the Tamora Pierce books - they are both wonderful.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:47 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Dragonriders series do have a few "ho ho the wench resisted at first, but then got into it" moments, not quite as blunt as I made it here, but still a bit ...awkward... to say the least.

Seconding the recommendations for Tamora Pierce, do look out for her White Tiger comic series she did for Marvel, which has been collected and might be of use if the young lady in question turns out to like that sort of thing.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:56 PM on February 26, 2012

Best answer: Well since you said she isn't born yet, I will recommend Meg and Mog on the Moon, which is a big hit in our house (age 2 and 4). Tehnically sci-fi/fantasy, strong female character with agency, no sexist social messages.
posted by Joh at 3:01 PM on February 26, 2012

Woman on the Edge of Time
posted by crunchland at 4:08 PM on February 26, 2012

Hi, YA sci-fi author here. Glancing around my bookshelves, here are my suggestions: Kristin Cashore's Graceling, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, Mercedes Lackey's Arrows of the Queen and subsequent books (they're like Alanna for the slightly-older set), Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (not technically SF/F, but set in the middle ages and awesome), Diana Peterfreund's killer unicorn books, the Seed series by Pamela Sargent, A Great and Terrible Beauty and its sequels by Libba Bray, definitely the His Dark materials series, and seconding A Wrinkle in Time but want to warn you that in later books Meg gives up her career because she's worried about making her daughter feel insecure and it's weird. There's a terrific middle grade novel called Above World by Jenn Reese that just came out about a spunky mermaid girl who fights to save her people.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:53 PM on February 26, 2012

Oh, and I love McCaffrey, but a lot of her books can only be described as "rapey." The Menolly books (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums) are probably the best in that regard and still contain at least one sex scene where the issue of consent is . . . murky.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:57 PM on February 26, 2012

N-thing the issues with McCaffrey. Generally strong female characters, except characters sexually attack each other if their dragons mate in the Dragon Riders books. But the ladies always come around to admire the men. Urk Urk Urk.

I don't remember if the same sort of thing occurs in the Crystal Singer books.

The Ship Who Sings and the other Brain/Brawn books are lovely, with strong, smart female leads. (That the female leads are encased in titanium shells, to drive the ships and solve problems despite their nonfunctional bodies, keeps the sexual violence out.)
posted by BigJen at 7:09 PM on February 26, 2012

Since it's gonna be a couple of years before this unborn kid can go solo to merrily riff off Paradise Lost in His Dark Materials etc., for the picture book set there is the beautifully illustrated Baby Unicorn by Jean Marzollo, about a unicorn foal who sets off to save her family from dragons and earn her horn. Cue childhood/lifelong love for badass unicorns. There's a sequel, "Baby Unicorn and Baby Dragon," but I've yet to track it down.

That the female leads are encased in titanium shells, to drive the ships and solve problems despite their nonfunctional bodies, keeps the sexual violence out

By this description the ships sound like Creepy Space Burqas. (I've read some of the books in question & that is...not wrong as a description IIRC, with the various ship-ladies "freed" from flesh's weakness with their metal enclosures and/or falling in love with their captains and angsting because they cannot! have! sex! ever!)
posted by nicebookrack at 7:44 PM on February 26, 2012

It doesn't fall quite into the 'epic stories' category you've set out, but I loved Un Lun Dun, partly because I love China Miéville but partly because the (young female) protagonist saves the day by acting with way more agency and initiative than everyone else thinks she's supposed to, bucking prophecies and expectations all over the place.
posted by Aquinas at 8:38 PM on February 26, 2012

Emergence. It's out of print so it may be hard to get a decent copy but it's a wonderful novel.
posted by deborah at 10:14 PM on February 26, 2012

This series of books by Daniel Pinkwater: The Neddiad, The Yggyssey, and The Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl. The first book has a boy as the central character, but the girls in the story are solid characters. The focus shifts to one of them (Iggy) in the second book and then another female character in the third book.
posted by mikepop at 6:08 AM on February 27, 2012

For older readers, there are a few terrific graphic novels out there. Sandman and Fables come immediately to mind.

Please consider avoiding Margaret Atwood, especially the Handmaiden's Tale; it perhaps seems to stress the opposite of what you seem to want to stress.
posted by talldean at 7:32 AM on February 27, 2012

Gaiman's Death: The High Cost of Living is worth a read.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:58 AM on February 27, 2012

My two favourite YA, female friendly (but not epic) fantasy books are The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle and Plain Kate by Erin Bow. They have both made me cry.
posted by valoius at 9:23 PM on February 28, 2012

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