What are some YA novels with feminist antagonists?
April 22, 2013 6:03 AM   Subscribe

A friend and I were talking, and she was saying that there aren't any feminist heroes in YA fantasy. I countered with Ursula Le Guin. There must be others, but being a guy who mostly reads male authors I can't think of any others, but they must exist.

If front-page titles were used in Ask.Meta this would have been called "Help me, PhoBWanKenobi, you are my only hope".

A broad definition of fantasy is okay, but tending towards dragons and stuff.
Novels preferred, short stories okay too.
posted by Mezentian to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
You say 'antagonist' in your title, but hero in your question. Which are you looking for? For most people those are antonyms, even though technically speaking an antagonist doesn't have to be good or bad.
posted by Think_Long at 6:08 AM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Your question is a little confusing (do you want feminist heroes, female heroes, feminist authors, or feminist antagonists?), but, assuming you're looking for heroines, here are a couple:
Cimorene. Alanna, Kel, Daine, Beka Cooper. Sabriel. Lyra. Tiffany Aching. Meg Murray.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:14 AM on April 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Are you looking for 'protagonists'? Or are you looking for feminist vs. feminist antagonism?
posted by rocketpup at 6:20 AM on April 22, 2013

This is an old skool title but Laura Chant in Margaret Mahy's "The Changeover" is a strong, awesome protagonist.
posted by kariebookish at 6:22 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Assuming you're talking about protags, your friend has no idea what he or she is talking about. It's a genre with girls doing 90% of the protagging. Some fantasy examples:

Katsa, Eona, Elissa, Celaena, Liyana, all off the top of my head, not to mention those named above. If we expand the definition to include dystopian or sci-fi novels, I could probably name hundreds more.

If the problem is that your friend doesn't think these girls are "feminist" because, I don't know, they like boys, or something, that's a whole 'nother kettle of sexist fish.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:28 AM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Pretty much everything by Tamora Pierce.
posted by jbickers at 6:29 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mercedes Lackey's work is full of strong female protagonists. I'm not sure that they would qualify specifically as feminists, because the context of the stories doesn't require that.
posted by alms at 6:29 AM on April 22, 2013

Many of Diane Duane's female characters would count.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:30 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Lyra Belacqua, also known as Lyra Silvertongue, is the heroine of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Lyra is a young girl who inhabits a universe parallel to our own. Brought up in the cloistered world of Jordan College, Oxford, she finds herself embroiled in a cosmic war between Lord Asriel on the one side, and the first angel to come into being, called The Authority, and his Regent, called Metatron, on the other."
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:32 AM on April 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Oh, and the great, wonderful, female characters of Robin McKinley. Deerskin. The Blue Sword. The Hero and the Crown.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:35 AM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (winner of the first Arthur C Clark award) has a very complex feminist protagonist in Offred. John Wyndham Trouble with Lichen has an early feminist hero (I like how John Wyndham writes women characters in general for his cosy catastrophes).
posted by saucysault at 6:41 AM on April 22, 2013

A friend and I were talking, and she was saying that there aren't any feminist heroes in YA fantasy.

What? The whole reason I read YA is because the women kick ass and take names, sometimes literally. I mean, even the least well read YA critic is surely aware of Katniss Everdeen at one end and Hermione Granger at the other? Because I'm pretty sure the whole world read Hunger Games and Harry Potter.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:44 AM on April 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: (Assuming you mean protagonists)

Toads and Diamonds has two! They're stepsisters that love and care about each other. It's really sweet.

Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
posted by creepygirl at 6:47 AM on April 22, 2013

Darling Bri, these are strong female characters but are they feminists? Does Hermione Granger push back against limitations or limited expectations that are placed on her as a girl? I don't recall that, but it's been a while since I read HP.
posted by alms at 6:48 AM on April 22, 2013

Response by poster: Sorry, I mean protagonist (aka hero).
It's been a long day.
posted by Mezentian at 7:15 AM on April 22, 2013

Response by poster: I just want to thank you all. I am abed, and no doubt by the time we (MeFi and I, my friend and I, in reverse order) meet we should have much to talk about. But not here. That would be wrong. But anyway... thanks! I knew I wasn't crazy.
posted by Mezentian at 7:32 AM on April 22, 2013

There's Weetzie Bat and the Dangerous Angels series by Francesca Lia Block.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:44 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Darling Bri, these are strong female characters but are they feminists? Does Hermione Granger push back against limitations or limited expectations that are placed on her as a girl?

It's less of an issue in Harry Potter, because there aren't the same limitations placed on girls, but in the Alanna series, the main character disguises herself as a boy to push back against the extreme limitations placed on women in her pseudo-medieval culture; she later champions girls becoming knights and warriors without having to disguise themselves.

Similarly, Cimorene from Dealing with Dragons (and it's sequels) rebels against the expectations put on her as a princess.

YA fiction - both fantasy and mundane - is filled with books which can be summed up as "girl shows world she can do anything a boy can do, possibly better".
posted by jb at 8:07 AM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh oh oh OH Clare Bell and her feminist fire-wielding paleolithic cat protagonist, Ratha. Her books were out of print for a while but that is no longer the case. I would start with her first and (imo) best book, Ratha's Creature. I also recommend Clan Ground, Ratha and Thistle-Chaser, Tomorrow's Sphinx and The Jaguar Princess.
posted by ziggly at 8:22 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Diana Wynne Jones is another author to look at - Howl's Moving Castle, House of Many Ways, Hexwood and A Tale of Time City come to mind, in particular.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:26 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I really loved Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series when I was in high school. So much so that I still read some of my favorites over and over again now. The Harper Hall trilogy has the main character of Menolly who is a gifted musician and songwriter, but who has to struggle against her family thinking she shouldn't become anything just because she's a girl. This trilogy is written specifically for young adults and would be a good introduction to the series.

There are strong women characters throughout these books. The original trilogy has Lessa who determinedly survives her family's slaughter and manages to save the world and become the most influential and powerful woman on the planet. Moreta and Nerilka's stories are awesome, and the prequel Dragonsdawn features strong women-folk through all strata of the colonization team.
posted by jillithd at 8:28 AM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Darling Bri, these are strong female characters but are they feminists? Does Hermione Granger push back against limitations or limited expectations that are placed on her as a girl?

Hermione is certainly an equal partner in the Harry Potter gang, she is defined by more than her relationships with men (unlike, say, Cho Chang, who exists for no other purpose than to have Harry lust after her), and she definitely pushes back against expectations that are placed on her as a magical child of non-magical parents.

She doesn't have to push back against limitations placed on her as a girl because I don't see that the Harry Potter universes places any such limitations on her. Does that make her less of a feminist?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:48 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The way you've worded the question is confusing (apart from the antagonist/protagonist thing which you've cleared up). Most of the characters people have named so far are female, not feminists. By definition, in fantasy fiction, you're not going to get many feminists because most fantasy fiction is set in a world where feminism hasn't happened. If you actually mean strong female characters (as most people seem to be assuming) then that's a different story. Sorry to be pedantic, but it does seem like an important distinction.

Agree with many recommended so far, especially Diana Wynne Jones (also try The Year of the Griffin, The Spellcoats, The Time of the Ghost, Fire and Hemlock) and Margaret Mahy (also The Tricksters, Maddigan's Fantasia, Kaitangata Twitch).

Also Margo Lanagan - particularly short story collections and novel Tender Morsels. Cynthia Voigt mostly writes non-fantasy fiction but Jackaroo is fantasy and has a wonderful main female character. Wildwood and its sequel (I haven't read sequel yet but looks promising). The Touchstone Trilogy by Steve Augarde, composed of The Various, Celandine and Winter Wood has at least two different strong female protagonists. And some books I loved when I was a teen, Sylvia Louise Engdahl's Enchantress from the Stars and its sequel; it's arguably more science fiction but hey, I got all nostalgic. Anyway I could keep going but think that's probably sufficient.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:53 PM on April 22, 2013

Best answer: Trouble with Dragons
Dealing with Dragons
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Julie of the Wolves
Equal Rites
A House Like a Lotus - others by Madeline L'engle
Izzy, Willy Nilly - others by Cynthia Voigt

I don't believe any of these specifically use the word "feminist," but. Some of these are simply about strong female characters, some are about strong female characters who take on a traditionally male role or push back against societal expectations. I think the last two are the least explicitly feminist but still very must about strong female characters figuring themselves out and pushing back.

Googling "feminist YA books" will get you tons of results, including this one from Bitch Magazine which interestingly includes a book by another Jessamyn.
posted by bunderful at 8:21 PM on April 22, 2013

Okay I am increasingly realizing that a signifcant percentage of posts on websites in general are me telling people to read Rachel Hartman's Seraphina, but seriously, read Rachel Hartman's Seraphina. Excellent female protag in a fascinating world. With dragons. I think it really makes an effort to challenge the standard roles of fantasy novels, too: almost all of the political leadership roles are in the hands of women and the main character gets through most things with her brains instead of with fights. It also has some gay (male) characters, so minor bonus for intersectionality, I guess?

But I also want to second the hell out of Beka Cooper, which is totally explicitly feminist and, in my opinion, the best of Tamora Pierce's writing. It's a really fun take on both standard fantasy worlds and police procedurals. She also has to get a great community of people who care about things to solve crimes (especially in the first one)-- very "it takes a village to solve a crime", but in a friendly way.
posted by NoraReed at 8:07 AM on April 23, 2013

Best answer: Sorry I'm so late to answer but this was apparently kicking around in my subconscious and I finally remembered the Dragonsword trilogy, by Gael Baudino. It's an explicitly feminist work with an explicitly feminist protagonist. As in, she's literally an academic and an ardent feminist and then she gets transported to this fantasy world originally built out of the whims of her sexist department chair.

It's been a while since I read them, but I remember them being a lot of fun.
posted by kavasa at 12:44 PM on April 23, 2013

Any Tiffany Aching book, all of them deal with a young girl being trained to assume the duties of Witchhood by her various Older, female teachers.
posted by The Whelk at 4:29 PM on April 23, 2013

Response by poster: she gets transported to this fantasy world originally built out of the whims of her sexist department chair.

Please, please, please let me get what I want this time: That's a pretty shallow reference to John Norman, isn't it?
posted by Mezentian at 4:43 AM on April 24, 2013

Wise Child and sequels.
posted by naoko at 11:49 PM on April 26, 2013

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