YA girl soldier genre
December 13, 2020 3:20 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand and avoid the YA genre that includes The Hunger Games (2008), Divergent (2011), and The Poppy War (2018).

Traits these three series seem to have in common: teen girl becomes exceptionally-competent soldier / war strategist. They are all from different publishers.

I would like to know what other books are in this violent fantasy genre so that I can avoid them. Please include books that don't have all traits listed above but that seem to be a match anyway. Please only answer if you know what I'm talking about.

Bonus points if you can make a solid case for to explain to me why/whether this is demand-based, or induced demand.
posted by aniola to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Uh off the top of my head, as a middle school librarian, you've got

- Legend (Marie Lu) (also probably all of her other books except the Mozart one)
- Graceling (Kristin Cashore)
- Red Queen (Victoria Aveyard)
- War Girls (Tochi Onyebuchi)
- Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)
- Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Laini Taylor) although the soldier part is complicated
- Shatter Me (Tahereh Mafi)
- Matched (Ally Condie), eventually
- iirc Delirium (Lauren Oliver) also becomes this eventually
- Shadow and Bone (Leigh Bardugo), probably also her other series
- The Testing (Joelle Charbonneau)
- The Darkest Minds (Alexandra Bracken)

...and tbh there's probably like 500 more. Honestly it'd be easier to list YA dystopian books that *don't* meet those criteria. If it's a popular YA dystopian novel you probably will not like it.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:29 PM on December 13, 2020 [12 favorites]

Best answer: also

Ember in the Ashes
Winner's Curse
Aurora Rising
I haven't read them but I think the Sarah Maas books are also this?

For what it's worth this subgenre is less popular than it was ten or even five years ago, but there are still plenty of kids who love it. If you ask them they'll usually tell you that they like the action and the pacing (though they maybe don't use that word). A lot of these books also include a strong romantic element that's chaste enough to be comfortable for middle school kiddos and that's appealing to some of them. I think they're also growing up in really weird and unsettling times, even pre-pandemic, and stories where someone not much older than them solves their society's Big Problems -- through violence or otherwise -- are satisfying for them.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:37 PM on December 13, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Do medievalesque girl-with-sword books count? because if so:

Tamora Pierce, all the Song of the Lioness (Alanna) books
Mary Gentle, all the Ash books
Elizabeth Moon, all the Deed of Paksenarrion books
Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword and The Hero And The Crown
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:52 PM on December 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The Poppy War isn't YA. It's adult fantasy that happens to have a young protagonist. Similar adult novels include Seth Dickinson's The Traitor Baru Cormorant and the complete works of Kameron Hurley. These are books about grappling with anger at injustice, and the particular horror of feeling complicit in a broken system.
posted by yarntheory at 3:55 PM on December 13, 2020 [16 favorites]

"Girl warrior" might be a useful term.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:00 PM on December 13, 2020

Scott Westerfield's Uglies/Pretties/Specials is a trilogy that would probably qualify.

The Just City by Jo Walton is not YA but hits similar buttons for me (I personally don't mind those buttons being hit, but based on your description I think it would very strongly not be your cup of tea.) Strongly seconding The Traitor Baru Cormorant, though as mentioned it's also not billed as YA.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:28 PM on December 13, 2020

Others here might be able to suggest titles from the Warrior Heroine Books list at Goodreads. See also these covers ("There are a LOT of girls armed with swords and knives on book covers these days.").
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:35 PM on December 13, 2020

Bonus points if you can make a solid case for to explain to me why/whether this is demand-based

The Hunger Games is about children forced to fight to the death merely to provide a media spectacle to a wealthy elite that's already starved their homes of all resources. I think it's very easy to understand why people born around the turn of the century would find this a compelling story. It's not a Top Gun- or even Ender's Game-type storyline at all.
posted by praemunire at 4:39 PM on December 13, 2020 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Not sure if these qualify as YA, but I think they fit your other qualifications:
The Power (Naomi Alderman)
Gideon the Ninth (Tamsyn Muir)
Hild (Nicola Griffith)
posted by oxisos at 4:49 PM on December 13, 2020

Best answer: "Military fantasy" is a term to look out for. Won't catch all of the books, but any book described with that term is one you'll probably want to avoid.
posted by brook horse at 5:18 PM on December 13, 2020

Best answer: You're gonna want to avoid the series that starts with Red Rising by Pierce Brown, I think. It's one difference is it's a teen boy protagonist, not a teen girl, though there are certainly teen girls in it.
posted by foxfirefey at 5:48 PM on December 13, 2020

Best answer: Poppy War is so not YA that you should ignore everything your hear from whomever told you that. And avoid every book they seem to like. JFC it features self harm, forced marriage, a horrific rape of Nanking(ish) scenario, brutal murder, genocide, nuclear war-type body counts, and that's just off the top of my head.

I love adult fantasy and have a tough stomach and that (excellent imo) book made me very uncomfortable.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:22 PM on December 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Mercedes Lackey's Hunter series probably fits. Though it's an excellent read, so you're missing out.

Honestly... many epic fantasies with a female protagonist would arguably fit this description. I suspect you may have over-generalized a little bit and might end up avoiding some books you might well enjoy.
posted by stormyteal at 6:24 PM on December 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is definitely catching some books that I have enjoyed.
posted by aniola at 6:37 PM on December 13, 2020

Response by poster: Divergent and The Hunger Games - I don't get the impression from either book description that there will be such an abundance of gratuitous violence.
posted by aniola at 6:42 PM on December 13, 2020

Response by poster: Violence for the sake of hitting you over the head with a concept is not something I need to avoid.

Creating characters who excel at coming out on top in a extremely violent environment for the sake of writing a page-turner is what I'm looking to avoid.
posted by aniola at 6:50 PM on December 13, 2020

Response by poster: ... by which definition, The Poppy War is probably in a separate category, if that helps?
posted by aniola at 7:10 PM on December 13, 2020

Best answer: I hope this fits in your bonus points category, if not please flag.

I consider what I think I understand as your genre here as an answer to the boy version of it. Boys have been assumed for a while to be able to be dropped into strife and rise to the occasion (all choices morally pure/aligned with the world’s moral order, all challenges met) on the strength of their formal and informal learning within whatever their fantasy culture is.

So I think this genre of not describing/narrating the girl’s education in order to arrive at her capacity is popular because it kind of - wholly inhabits its trope. It’s like a rom com but for overthrowing dystopias.

On that basis although it’s not quite aligned I’ll say the Gone series.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:34 PM on December 13, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've always assumed without even questioning it that these books were demand-based because it's a demand I completely understand. When I was growing up, books like this didn't exist. There were plenty of books and movies with men or boys who were brave, tough, and competent but girls were never shown that way. If a girl was brave, it was a "for a girl" kind of bravery, trying her best to do a scary thing despite her weakness and fear, not a confident bravery based on knowing she could handle whatever came at her.

But I assume there are a lot of girls out there who like the idea that a girl could be tough and win fights. People like to imagine all different ways of being. Why wouldn't some of us like to imagine that for ourselves or for the people we wish we could be? It was something girls wanted to read about and fantasize about but there weren't any books that would let them do that, so naturally people started writing them.

I imagine girl warrior books became such a big thing because they hadn't previously been a thing at all. There was a huge void to fill. Maybe the reason so many of those books exist is not that today's girls are demanding them, but that a lot of yesterday's girls wanted them and didn't have them, so those who grew up to become writers wrote them and those who grew up to be editors were excited about getting them published.
posted by Redstart at 9:48 PM on December 13, 2020 [14 favorites]

if you can make a solid case for to explain to me why/whether this is demand-based

All these books take how put-upon teenagers feel about having to go to school and wear uncool clothes and all that other totally stupid bullshit that their parents and societies make them do and turn it up to 11 by transmogrifying it into life and death combat.

This is basically how it feels to them anyway. Not being allowed to buy enormous pants or being sent back to school even though Hayden brushed past you in the hall yesterday and it kinda pushed you into your locker a little bit and you think Liam told Noah and Oliver that you were a dweeb is emotionally the same as being forced into hand to hand combat.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:56 AM on December 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: (As the opposite to an answer to your question - you might get a kick out of In Other Lands, where the main character finds himself in a magical military boarding school with female and male friends who excel at coming out on top in an extremely violent environment, and constantly tries to impress upon everyone how incredibly messed up that whole situation is.)
posted by trig at 9:56 AM on December 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the anti-recommendations.

Many of these anti-recommended books warn in the book description that they're going to be violence-centered. I am most interested anti-recommendations for the the ones that don't give away their violence-centeredness in their description. The Hunger Games and Divergent have descriptions that don't really warn just how violent the book will be. I would still appreciate more anti-recommendations in this category.
posted by aniola at 10:10 AM on December 14, 2020

Best answer: I’d add the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas.
posted by missjenny at 5:52 AM on December 16, 2020

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