HI, WORD! I'm looking for YA recommendations for a friend. She really loved both the Hunger Games and Divergent series. What are some other dystopian novels with kick-ass ladies and a bit of romanticalness?
Hi, wonderali! We can certainly help with that.
Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series are really fantastic, and have a scrappy, kick-ass heroine in Hester Shaw, who along with a boy named Tom gets stranded by one of the giant, predatory cities that crawl across the earth’s surface. These books are inventive and clever and honestly, we can’t think of other books that open with London chasing a smaller town across the plains, so there’s that.
Garth Nix’s Shade’s Children takes place in a future where Overlords don’t allow humans to pass their 14th birthdays. Our heroes and heroines work with an entity called Shade to topple the overlords and find out their secrets. (It’s creepier than it sounds.)
Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies books have a couple of great heroines in Tally and Shay, who are looking forward to the operation that turns all 16-year-olds into beauties — until they start to suspect there is more to said operation than there seems. This series begins a little less action-packed than something like Divergent, but the pace definitely picks up.
Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now is a slow-burn dystopia, and its heroine, Daisy, is tough as nails in a quieter way than Katniss or Tris, who are both right in the middle of the action. Daisy is the opposite: She’s living in the countryside with her cousins when a simmering war boils over. Her bleak trip to get home again is dark and slow and intensely believable.
A few more ass-kicking ladies in books that are less dystopian:
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, starting with Cinder, has a full cast of ladies based on fairytale characters, but given a modern twist. There are several separate relationship storylines to ship — plus cyborgs, mutant werewolf armies, evil queens, and space fights.
Maureen Johnson is really good at quippy, smart heroines, and her Shades of London series involves secret ghost police, unexpected powers, murder, mayhem, and some verrrrrry interesting romantic plotlines. The first book is The Name of the Star.
Going the other direction, there’s a great olde time series about teenage lady assassins: Grave Mercy is the first book and follows Ismae, who has dark and powerful gifts but still doesn’t quite know her way around a guy. Dark Triumph is the second, following Sybella, who is a seductress extraordinaire (not always by choice) and a mean hand with a throwing knife. Both of them are fighting to save their country from traitors and foreign powers, and both are well worth rooting for.
And of course there is Graceling (and its companion novel, Fire, and sequel, the amazing Bitterblue), which features one of our favorite ass-kickers: Katsa, whose talent for killing has her working as an assassin for the king - until a whole lot of intrigue and a dollop of romance spills into her lap.