Mini-reviews: YA novels featuring resilient female characters

For today’s blog I’ve chosen three recent YA reads which all feature female protagonists in difficult situations who emerge having shown considerable strength and resilience. Not all of them begin as ‘resilient’ characters, or would necessarily describe themselves as having resilience, but each would be a good read for a teenager who was, equally, going through tough times and needing to see others struggling, falling down and getting back up.

These are quite different books in tone, style and genre, but I’ve grouped them because of the ‘gritty’ qualities of their protags. All of them keep going – in each case, for someone else, or something bigger than themselves, and again, this is something they are not always conscious of, or variably so through the text.

In All the Invisible Things, Vetty is moving back to London after a few years’ break in the country. The family had left the city when her Mum died and much of the book is about re-negotiating old friendships and her sense of self which had shifted in mourning. This book is particularly strong in its LGBT rep, and is also, in many ways, a classic coming-of-age YA as Vetty figures out she she really is, where she fits, what she wants, what matters to her. It’s all beautifully done and I dare you to read it and not care for Vetty.

In Music and Malice in Hurricane Town, Jude is a down-on-her-luck musician, trying to make ends meet and support her ailing father (who is supremely ungrateful for her efforts). The book sees her quickly dropped into a mess of Cajou trouble in this New Orleans-influenced atmospheric fantasy (Cajou is like voodoo). I loved Jude’s anger and sense of injustice – she’s a full character who is easy to understand and empathise with, even if sometimes you are wishing she’d make a different choice (but then, that is when you know a character is rounded!)

The Secret Deep is something of a genre-defying novel. Set in the contemporary period, with fantasy/sci-fi and thriller elements and a strong eco-theme, the novel is every bit as gorgeous as its beautiful cover. Aster and Poppy are flown to stay with their Aunt, who they barely know, after the death of their mother. As the blurb tells us, Aster later finds herself alone on a mysterious tropical island and must find Poppy and figure out what has happened. To complicate matters, Aster suffers from panic attacks (which are perfectly described – I felt for her so deeply). The sisterly bond, with all its nuance of tenderness and annoyance is rendered perfectly, and the oceanic detail allows for marvellous escapism and genuine fear.

Overall, I would recommend any (or indeed all) of these novels to encourage a teen who needs a boost. Equally, they’re all great stories to dive into – and it’s fab to see different types of ‘hero’ offered. The cycle of uncertainty and discouragement before taking action is particularly useful to depict, in terms of readers being able to identify with the characters they are reading. We can’t all be decisive, action-heavy hero-types, but most of us can identify with knowing we ought to do something but being a bit scared of the possible consequences, or feeling safer with the status quo, even if it is less favourable.

Published by Beth Kemp

Teacher of English, writer, blogger, reader, mother, feminist

One thought on “Mini-reviews: YA novels featuring resilient female characters

  1. Thanks for this, Beth. I read your blog to my Year 9, 10 & 11 English classes to inspire them to delve into new fiction, particularly that with a feminist slant….

    Emma Wells

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