Revelle Blog

12 Books With Strong Female Characters

March 18, 2021

Jacqueline Parisi
woman wearing ripped jeans standing on a stack of books_books with strong female characters_revelle

Let’s hear it for the fierce female protagonists inspiring us to be the strong, badass, beautiful women we are.

Jeans may be Revelle’s MO, but it’s not because we want you to shop more. At our core, we’re here to empower women so they can challenge the antiquated size chart, find clothes that ACTUALLY fit, and have the confidence to be their strong, badass, beautiful selves. But in order to do that, it’s so, so, so important to see representations of leading female characters in the content we consume every day. Because it’s this very content — TV, movies, books, magazines — that has the power to shape our perceptions of what constitutes beauty (as if there could ever be one definition). 

Below are 12 of our favorite books that shine the spotlight on fierce female protagonists. Most are targeted towards adults, but we’ve also thrown in a few children’s books and young adult picks, too — because when it comes to fostering self-confidence, you gotta start ‘em young.

For children...

01 Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)

You can’t get more classic than Anne of Green Gables, which has stood the test of time as one of the best novels for young readers since the mid-20th century. It takes place a century prior — in the late 1800s — and tells the story of an 11-year-old orphan by the name of Anne Shirley. After mistakenly being sent to the home of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (who had requested to adopt a boy in order to get a second set of working hands on the farm), Anne makes a new life for herself among the Cuthbert family in the (fictional) town of Avonlea in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

02 Harriet The Spy (Louise Fitzhugh)

Published back in 1964, Harriet The Spy centers around the precocious young main character of Harriet M. Welsch, an 11-year old on a mission to one day become a writer. But why wait until adulthood to start? Encouraged by her nanny, “Ole Golly,” Harriet maps out a “spy route” to begin carefully observing everyone around her — New York City neighbors, the local store clerk, classmates, and best friends — proving that even the most ordinary of days can become an adventure. Bonus points for the fact that Harriett was one of our founder (Joanna Hartzmark)’s IDOLS when she was a child.

For young adults...

03 Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)

Loosely based on Alcott’s life, Little Women is a classic coming-of-age novel (and now, movie!) that follows the lives of four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Set in Concord, Massachusetts during the time of the American Civil War, the novel explores the joys and challenges that presented themselves during each sister’s transition to adulthood. Jo, a fiercely independent teacher and writer with a fiery temper and tomboy personality, is fighting back against the reductive stereotypes that constrained women in the mid-19th century. Her older sister, Meg, on the other hand, is dutifully fulfilling all that is expected of her. Elizabeth (Beth) is the quiet one of the bunch — the shy sister who spends most of her time playing the piano until weakened by scarlet fever. And finally, Amy, the youngest sister who flees to France to become an artist.

04 The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)

Katniss Everdeen is the definition of a strong female protagonist. What’s more impressive than volunteering as tribute to take the place of your younger sister in a televised, survival-of-the-fittest death match?! This dystopian trilogy is an epic adventure that brilliantly explores the themes of identity, class, community, and the lengths we’d go for love. 

For adults...

05 Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)

Jane Eyre tells the story of its eponymous heroine, who finds herself falling in love with the master of the stately Thornfield Hall, Mr. Rochester. When it was published in 1847, its first-person narrative style represented a notable departure from the norm, offering readers a uniquely intimate look into Jane’s moral and spiritual development into adulthood. Excuse us while we hang these quotes around our house and make them our phone backgrounds…

^^ What she said. Talk about a ROLE MODEL.

06 The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)

You may be familiar with this dystopian tale from the wildly popular TV series adaption, but trust us on this one — it’s worth reading the book before you watch. The story takes place in a patriarchal, totalitarian fictional state called Gilead, which has overthrown the US government. The protagonist, Offred, is one of many subjugated “handmaids” stripped of her independence and forced to produce children for the ruling male class. It’s at once haunting and thought-provoking — and if it were up to us, it’d be compulsory reading at school.

07 Wild (Cheryl Strayed)

When Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine, picks a book to transform into a movie or TV show, you KNOW it’s gotta be good. That was exactly the case with Wild, an autobiography published by Cheryl Strayed in 2012 and subsequently adapted into a movie. It’s a gripping tale of adventure and self-discovery that unfolds as Strayed traverses (by foot, by *herself*) the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail.

08 Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

Americanah’s protagonist is Ifemelu, a young woman who flees the military dictatorship of Nigeria to attend college in the US. Adichie masterfully tells her story, alternating between the US — where she’s greeted for the first time with racial distinctions (what does it mean to be labeled a “Black Person”?) — and Nigeria, where she left behind her high school classmate and love, Obinze.

09 Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng)

Little Fires Everywhere is set in 1990s Shaker Heights, Ohio, the (seemingly) idyllic town where the wealthy Richardson family lives. Their life is upended when a rough-around-the-edges artist, Mia Warren, and her daughter, Pearl, move into the family’s rental home, threatening their fragile image of perfection. It’s the kind of story that stays with you — one that deftly explores the complexities of mother-daughter relationships that many of us know all too well.

Like Wild, Little Fires Everywhere was adapted by Hello Sunshine, this time for a TV mini-series on Hulu which you should 100000% watch after reading the book — it brilliantly weaves in the theme of race, which wasn’t explicitly explored in the book.  

10 Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi)

Homegoing traces, chapter by chapter, the descendants of a woman named Maame, staring with her two daughters: Effia and Esi. While Effia goes on to marry the British governor, James Collins, Esi remains in captivity in the dungeons. What follows are stories of their respective children, whose lives are shaped in starkly different ways by the fate of the two sisters.

11 My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante)

My Brilliant Friend is the first book in the four-part Neapolitan series penned by Elena Ferrante (fun fact: no one actually knows who Ferrante is…it’s one of the best-kept secrets in literature). The quartet tells the story of Elena and Lila’s enduring, complicated friendship that begins in 1950s Naples and spans a lifetime.

To date, there are two seasons of the TV adaptation on HBO.

12 Where The Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)

Owens’ smash-hit novel tells two intertwining stories: one that centers around Kya, who is abandoned as a young girl and left to grow up isolated in the remote marshes of North Carolina, and another about Chase Andrews, a well-known local who’s mysteriously murdered. Simultaneously empowering and heart-breaking, this coming-of-age tale has spent a staggering 124 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list.

Any great books with strong female leads that haven’t made it on our list? Comment below — we want allllll the reccs from allllll the book clubs. 

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