Strong Female Characters

Blood water paint

Joy McCullough

YOUNG ADULT FICTION Mccullou Joy
Young Adult, Poetry, Historical Fiction

In Renaissance Italy, Artemisia Gentileschi endures the subjugation of women that allows her father to take credit for her extraordinary paintings, rape and the ensuing trial, and torture, buoyed by her deceased mother's stories of strong women of the Bible.

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A lovely novel in verse, telling the story of the incredible painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Everybody should know her name. Her story is heartbreaking and difficult, but it's worth sticking with.
- Amanda

Akata warrior

Nnedi Okorafor

YOUNG ADULT FICTION Okorafor Nnedi
Young Adult, Fantasy

Now stronger, feistier, and a bit older, Sunny Nwazue, along with her friends from the the Leopard Society, travel through worlds, both visible and invisible, to the mysterious town of Osisi, where they fight in a climactic battle to save humanity.

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Sunny is a young witch just coming into her power in Nigeria. This book is even better than the first book in the series, Akata Witch, because now Sunny is comfortable among the Leopard People (witches and wizards) and doesn't have to learn the basics of her new world. Now, she gets to spend more time doing serious, amazing magic. I can't wait for the 3rd book!
- Amanda

Practical magic

Alice Hoffman

FICTION Hoffman, Alice
Fiction, Fantasy, Romance

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Alice Hoffman writes so richly and beautifully--I could live in her prose for days. This book was published long before The Rules of Magic, and the two are wonderful companion pieces, but also stand alone just fine. Read this book for witches, romance, sisterhood, and strong women coming together to save each other.
- Amanda

A discovery of witches

Deborah E. Harkness

SCIENCE FICTION Harkness, Deborah E.
Fiction, Fantasy, Romance

Witch and Yale historian Diana Bishop discovers an enchanted manuscript, attracting the attention of 1,500-year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont. The orphaned daughter of two powerful witches, Bishop prefers intellect, but relies on magic when her discovery of a palimpsest documenting the origin of supernatural species releases an assortment of undead who threaten, stalk, and harass her.

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This book is delightful! It starts a bit slow, but it's so worth sticking with it. It's part coming-of-age, part romance, part fantasy--and it's a series, so if you like it, there are more books!
- Amanda

Akata witch

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

YOUNG ADULT FICTION Okorafor-Mbachu, Nnedi
Young Adult, Fantasy

Twelve-year-old Sunny Nwazue, an American-born albino child of Nigerian parents, moves with her family back to Nigeria, where she learns that she has latent magical powers which she and three similarly gifted friends use to catch a serial killer.

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What a gorgeous book! I'm a sucker for all things witches, and I love YA. I'm so thrilled to see a popular book by a Nigerian author about awesome Nigerian and African American kids saving the world. The mythology is beautiful, the world building is phenomenal, and everybody should read it.
- Amanda

The rules of magic

Alice Hoffman

FICTION Hoffman Alice
Fantasy

From beloved author Alice Hoffman comes the spellbinding prequel to her bestseller, Practical Magic. Find your magic. For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people's thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk. From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse. The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love reminding us that the only remedy for being human is to be true to yourself.

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The prequel to Practical Magic, this book follows siblings Franny, Jet, and Vincent, as they deal with a centuries-old family curse and explore their magical powers in the 1960s. Hoffman's writing is exquisite, and the story she weaves is breathtakingly beautiful. This is by far one of the best books about witches that I've ever read. The backdrop of the 1960s works so well with this tale of witchcraft, and the themes of loss, love, and longing are so universal it will appeal even to readers who don't usually like fantasy.
- Amanda

Uprooted

Naomi Novik

SCIENCE FICTION Novik Naomi
Fantasy

"Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows--everyone knows--that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn't, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose"--

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Starts out kind of slow, but picks up in the end.
- Alyssa

Little fires everywhere

Celeste Ng

From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, the intertwined stories of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the mother and daughter who upend their lives. In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned - from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren - an enigmatic artist and single mother - who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs. Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood - and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

Eleanor & Park

Rainbow Rowell

YOUNG ADULT FICTION Rowell Rainbow
Young Adult, Romance

"Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits--smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try"--

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A beautiful story of first love between two misfit kids in the 80s. I read this in one sitting, and then promptly devoured everything else Rainbow Rowell has written. This book explores gender roles, abuse, and love.
- Amanda

Jane Steele : a confession

Lyndsay Faye

FICTION Faye Lyndsay
Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, Mystery

"A reimagining of Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer, from the author whose work The New York Times described as "riveting" and The Wall Street Journal called "thrilling.""--

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Jane Eyre is one of my absolute favorite books, and this retelling didn't disappoint! The prose reads like a 19th-century novel without being too archaic, and I loved the characters so much. I also enjoyed learning more about the Anglo-Sikh Wars and the Sikh religion. If you love classics, and especially if Jane Eyre is your jam, you will LOVE this!
- Amanda

Tess of the road

Rachel Hartman

YOUNG ADULT FICTION Hartman Rachel
Young Adult, Fantasy

In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons can be whomever they choose. Tess speaks out of turn, has wild ideas, and can't seem to keep out of trouble. When Tess's family decides the only path for her is a nunnery, she chooses a different path for herself. She cuts her hair, pulls on her boots, and sets out on a journey. The open road is a map to somewhere else-- a life where she might belong.

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A very complex, poignant, lovely book about mental illness, grief, and healing, all set in a fantastical world.
- Amanda

Emma

Jane Austen

FICTION Austen, Jane
Literary Fiction

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This book is HILARIOUS. Emma keeps trying to fix her friend up with different guys, but it just won't work. Nobody does it better than Jane Austen.
- Amanda

Pride and prejudice

Jane Austen

FICTION Austen, Jane
Fiction, Classics

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What can I say about "Pride and Prejudice" that hasn't already been said? Jane Austen is funny, and can be a bit snarky, and she excels at describing the relationships that define our everyday life. It's a great story, and if you have seen one of the many movie adaptations, or read the knockoffs or continuations, may I suggest returning to the original?
- Heidi L

Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë

FICTION Bronte, Charlotte
Fiction, Classics

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I read "Jane Eyre" when I was a teenager, and have reread it a few times since. I admire the title character's intelligence, drive, and integrity, and it certainly helps that there is a happy, romantic ending. As with several other titles on this list, love of the novel led me to reading about its author, and Charlotte Bronte was a complex woman, progressive in her thinking. The character of Bertha in "Jane Eyre" and her part of the story is troubling in my 21st century reading (for another perspective of Bertha, read "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys). Nevertheless--Reader, I named my cat Charlotte.
- Heidi L

The Tea Dragon Society

Katie (Cartoonist) O'Neill

jGRAPHIC NOVEL O'Neill
Kids, Graphic Novels, Fantasy, LGBTQ+

After discovering a lost Tea Dragon in the marketplace, apprentice blacksmith Greta learns about the dying art form of Tea Dragon caretaking from the kind tea shop owners.

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Pick this graphic novel up for the whimsical fantasy art and keep reading it for the gentle story exploring themes of friendship, memory, and tradition. Greta wonders why her mother is teaching her the art of blacksmithing when swords are no longer used. When she saves a tiny tea dragon and begins to train as a tea dragon caretaker, she forges new friendships and makes new memories as long held traditions are passed down. She soon realizes the value in keeping old skills alive.
- Morgan

The blue sword

Robin McKinley

YOUNG ADULT FICTION McKinley, Robin
Young Adult, Fantasy

Harry, bored with her sheltered life in the remote orange-growing colony of Daria, discovers magic in herself when she is kidnapped by a native king with mysterious powers.

Drum dream girl : how one girl's courage changed music

Margarita Engle

jE Engle
Kids, Picture Books

Follows a young Cuban girl in the 1930s as she strives to become a drummer, despite being continually reminded that only boys play the drums, and that there's never been a female drummer in Cuba. Includes note about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who inspired the story, and Anacaona, the all-girl dance band she formed with her sisters.

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The true story of a young Cuban girl who defied cultural norms and became a percussionist. Inspiring and beautiful!
- Amanda

An extraordinary union

Alyssa Cole

FICTION Cole Alyssa
Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance

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This book is fantastic! Elle is a free black woman, serving as a Union spy during the Civil War. She clashes with another spy while they're both undercover, and sparks fly!
- Amanda

Beauty queens

Libba Bray

YOUNG ADULT FICTION Bray, Libba
Fiction, Young Adult, Adventure

When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island's other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition.

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What happens when a plane full of teenage beauty queens crashes on a desert island? Instead of going full Lord of the Flies, they build a successful society! This book is hilarious and heartfelt, but it also is deeply satirical and intriguing. Plus, it has great diversity representation!
- Amanda

The rook : a novel

Daniel O'Malley

eAUDIO

A high-ranking member of a secret organization that battles supernatural forces wakes up in a London park with no memory, no idea who she is, and with a letter that provides instructions to help her uncover a far-reaching conspiracy.

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I absolutely LOVED this audiobook! The writing is superb, and the narrator, actress Susan Duerden, is SO good. I couldn't stop listening. This book is weird, quirky, occasionally dark, and very powerful.
- Amanda

The governess game

Tessa Dare

FICTION/Dare Tessa
Fiction, Romance

"He's been a bad, bad rake--and it takes a governess to teach him a lesson. The accidental governess. After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don't need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud: duke's heir in the streets and devil in the sheets. The ladies of London have tried--and failed--to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart . . . without risking her own. The infamous rake. Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to give her an education--in pleasure. That should prove he can't be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase's heart are crumbling . . . and he's in danger of falling, hard." --

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I absolutely loved this book! Tessa Dare writes the sweetest, most comforting romances. This book features a smart, independent Filipina-American-British woman who accidentally becomes governess to two willful, traumatized little girls. After struggling to get through to them, she decides to try something unconventional: she teaches them to be pirates. I'm 100% not kidding. And the hero is basically a human cinnamon roll, with terrible self-esteem. All in all: I loved this book SO MUCH.
- Amanda

Howl's moving castle

Diana Wynne Jones

YOUNG ADULT FICTION Jones, Diana Wynne
Young Adult

Eldest of three sisters in a land where it is considered to be a misfortune, Sophie is resigned to her fate as a hat shop apprentice until a witch turns her into an old woman and she finds herself in the castle of the greatly feared wizard Howl.

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I love this book so much. Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favorite writers of all time, and I'm sure I've read this book at least 10 times.
- Amanda

The hate u give

Angie Thomas

YOUNG ADULT FICTION Thomas Angie
Young Adult

After witnessing her friend's death at the hands of a police officer, Starr Carter's life is complicated when the police and a local drug lord try to intimidate her in an effort to learn what happened the night Kahlil died.

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THIS. BOOK. Listen, there's a reason this book has won so many awards. It's gorgeously written, with a relatable narrator--and it's about a hugely important, relevant topic. This book is heartbreaking and inspiring, and everybody should read it.
- Amanda

Into the drowning deep

Mira Grant

FICTION Grant Mira
Horror, Science Fiction, Suspense

"Seven years ago Atagaris set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a "mockumentary" bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy. Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they're not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life's work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost. Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves"--

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This is NOT your grandma's book about mermaids. These mermaids are vicious, murderous creatures who live at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. I couldn't put this book down! It's impeccably, beautifully researched, so rich and complex, and features many strong, smart, fierce female characters. Also, it's about killer mermaids, which I loved!
- Amanda

My plain Jane

Cynthia Hand

YOUNG ADULT FICTION Hand Cynthia
Young Adult

You may think you know the story. Penniless orphan Jane Eyre begins a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester--and, Reader, she marries him. Or does she? Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Bronte, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

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This book was so good! It was also bizarre, but in a great way. If you love Jane Eyre and YA fiction, give this a try.
- Amanda

There's something about Sweetie

Sandhya Menon

YOUNG ADULT FICTION Menon Sandhya
Young Adult

"The irresistible companion novel to the New York Times bestseller When Dimple Met Rishi, which follows Rishi's brother, Ashish, and a confident, self-proclaimed fat athlete named Sweetie as they both discover what love means to them. Ashish Patel didn't know love could be so... sucky. After being dumped by his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are annoyingly, smugly confident they could find him a better match. So, in a moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up. The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl -- under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he'll be taking his date on "fun" excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work? Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she's also fat. To Sweetie's traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death. Sweetie loves her parents, but she's so tired of being told she's lacking because she's fat. She decides it's time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she'll show the world (and herself) what she's really made of. Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date they realize there's an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?" --

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This book is adorable! Two Indian-American kids date against their parents' wishes. Plus, this book has a good dose of body positivity!
- Amanda