A budding feminist spec fic reader

A boy who is turning 12 years old wants to read sci fi and fantasy with strong females.  We have suggestions, of course.

Ursula K. LeGuin is probably the textbook choice, along with contemporary writer Andre Norton.  These strong women both address feminist themes through science fiction, though in different ways.

Ann McCaffrey is often suggested because she’s a woman who writes science fiction and therefore must be feminist.  Turns out that’s not true.  She’s a VERY BAD CHOICE as she promotes rape culture.  (Third book, protagonist rapes his girlfriend, and makes everything ok by helping her clean afterward.  No. No. No. No.  I stopped reading her after that book, but I am told that her later books have similar or worse issues with rape.)  (Thanks to #2’s warning, #1 hasn’t read that series, but I haven’t found anything problematic in the McCaffrey I have read.  #2 notes that’s probably because McCaffrey coauthors with actual feminists in many of her other series.)

I keep meaning to read C. J. Cherryh‘s  Pride of Chanur series.

Elizabeth Moon.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are excellent choices, together or separately (try The Wee Free Men).

Brian Sanderson’s Mistborn series is fantastic.  The Hunger GamesOctavia Butler.

Tamora Pierce in general and in specific, though #2 has a bit of a problem with the fourth book in her first series… the main character has a lot of messed up sex, and by messed up, she means messed up in terms of power differentials.  The sex is not really consensual given the power differences in one “relationship” and the age differences in the other.  (#1 missed that series.  The Pierce I have read has been fantastic!)  Holly Lisle probably has too much sex for a 12-year old.  Pre-read Diplomacy of Wolves to see if your kid is old enough for it.

Robin McKinley (her lighter stuff… Deerskin [a retelling of Donkeyskin] is feminist, and amazingly good, but it contains rather violent incest… Sunshine has happy sex in it IIRC, but is definitely more YA than Junior). The Blue Sword was the first grown-up fantasy book I ever read (fourth grade assigned reading, I LOVED Mrs. A.) and it got me hooked on the entire genre.

Patricia C. Wrede, particularly the first two books in the Dragon series (Dealing with Dragons is the start).  The third and fourth books leave the protagonist somewhat helpless until a boy grows up to save the day.

Carolyn Stevermer, both with and without Patricia Wrede.

Joan Aiken’s Dido Twite series: first is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Martha Wells.

Margaret Ball.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman.  Though she does address some adult themes, they always have happened off-stage before the book starts.  The characters heal during the book.

For hard sci-fi, you could start the Honor Harrington series with On Basilisk Station by David Weber. Jane Yolen’s graphic novel Foiled is a must (the sequel is Curses! Foiled Again). Anything by Susan Cooper, though #2 notes that The Dark is Rising has a stereotypical female character, the stereotypical “male” action coming from the boys.

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (her other series is for adults, but this one is YA with no sex).  IT IS ADDICTING.  I WANT MORE MORE MORE.

You could try Diane Duane’s series starting with So You Want to Be a Wizard. Everything by Diana Wynne Jones is very excellent, though her last book has an inappropriate sexual relationship thrown in as an afterthought.  A 12 year old might not notice it. (#1 didn’t.)

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman.  Only sort of fantasy, but has sequels if you like it.

The Blossom Culp series by Richard Peck (time travel, ghosts, etc. put this fully into spec fic!)

Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly series, starting with The Illyrian Adventure (spec fic in the sense that Indiana Jones is spec fic).

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.  (Sure, this is historical, but… you could pretend it’s fantasy.)

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (the sequel, The Song of the Quarkbeast, is out now).

Graceling by Kristin Cashore is excellent (though somewhat hardcore, violence-wise). It has sequels but I never read them.

Other good YA stuff is by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (any of it).

I can go on if you want… but I would need to check DC’s bookshelves for all my old YA books.  (I’m totally going to read hir The Real Me at some point, though that is not science fiction or fantasy at all.)

Chime in, readers!

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35 Responses to “A budding feminist spec fic reader”

  1. Tree of Knowledge Says:

    Garth Nix’s series that starts with _Sabriel _. It’s YA because it deals with death, but it could easily be for younger readers and fits right in with a lot of the list.

    Holly Black. Catherynne Valente, Juliet Marillier. Kelly Link (short fiction and amazing).

    There are more, but I’m tired.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ah yes, the Garth Nix series, I enjoyed it– particularly the second one.

      Black, Valente, Marillier, Link: I’ve read some of each one of these but not their YA stuff. Good picks!

  2. Leigh Says:

    I loved Tamora Pierce when I was in high school. There was definitely a fair amount of sex in the books though. I liked Alina’s (?) take charge attitude!

  3. delagar Says:

    Kage Baker and Eleanor Arnason, when he’s just a little older. Kage Baker’s fantasy novels right now.

    Lois McMaster Bujold’s novels have male heroes, but a lot of female characters. And they’re great, although their class issues trouble me. (My review here: http://www.strangehorizons.com/reviews/2011/02/cryoburn_by_loi.shtml )

  4. grrlpup Says:

    Nnedi Okorafor. Zahrah the Windseeker is a kid-friendly start– it takes place in a sort of alternate Nigeria where computers and buildings are grown from plants. Or Akata Witch, especially if he’s a Harry Potter fan– it’s about four kids learning magic.

  5. Linda Says:

    When I was 12 I was reading adult books and not just stuff that is called YA now. I guess it’s up to the parent, but simply having sex in a book doesn’t necessarily exclude it from a reading list, right?

    I recently finished the Brandon Sanderson book that you recommended, The Way of Kings. As you noted in a previous post, there are strong female characters in it. There also is no sex.

    How could you not list Sheri S. Tepper? Her Arbai Trilogy (Grass, Raising the Stones, Sideshow) has strong female characters and very little sex, as I recall. Six Moon Dance and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall are also a couple personal favorites that have a more feminist slant with some strong female characters; while Six Moon Dance has a male lead character and he is a consort by profession, there is no description of sexual acts. The Gate to Women’s Country, while it is all about strong females may not be suitable, but certainly the parent could read it make a decision first.

    There is a book I read at that age that I found very compelling: Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre. The main character is a woman and I think she would fit the bill as a strong female character. There is sex in the novel and some mention of child sexual abuse, but again the parent could read the book and make the decision if it is inappropriate for the boy. It’s out of print now, but available in eBook format. I need to download this so I can re-read it and add it to my personal collection. http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/dreamsnake/

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think it’s up to the parents about whether or not they’d recommend books with positive depictions of sex just as a blanket thing. Many 12 year olds can handle that or may just ignore it. (And not all parents are going to want/be able to carefully read every book their 12 year old wants to read!)

      In terms of more disturbing sex stuff, parents may be more leery of suggesting that, AND disturbing sex can be anti-feminist because it is a common trope used to punish strong female characters. Lemme dig up the excellent post that Seannan McGuire wrote about why her main character will never be raped.

      • Linda Says:

        Well, yes, rape or any non-consensual sex is not a good thing. I wasn’t equating sex with rape, though.

        As for the sex in Dreamsnake, it’s been a long time since I read it but I recall the sex to be consensual and positive from the female lead’s perspective. There is some sort of mention of child sexual assault, though, but I can’t recall whether it is detailed or not.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Why not Sheri S. Tepper? #2 hasn’t been able to get into any of her books. Don’t know what #1’s excuse is.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #1 finds Tepper’s books excellent but thick going for the average 12-year-old. I like Dreamsnake but I seem to recall sex in there; again, perhaps appropriate, perhaps not.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #2 obviously has less of an attention span than your average 12 year old.

      • delagar Says:

        I liked Sheri Tepper myself as a YA, but I’ve held off on recommending them to my own kid. Tepper has some iffy ideas about LGB people, or at least in her fiction she does.

        I *like* reading her books, also, at least some of them — Gate, Grass, Gibbon’s — but she’s just a little over the top, too, sometimes, I think.

  6. chacha1 Says:

    I just re-read “Black Unicorn” by Tanith Lee and think it would work well for a 12-yr-old of any gender.

    Thanks for reminding me about Lloyd Alexander’s Illyria books … for some reason I have never read those, even though I have practically memorized the Prydain books.

  7. Kris Says:

    My girls’ -and my – favourites are written by an Australian author, Lian Tanner: The Keepers trilogy and Icebreaker. Beautiful and dystopian but hopeful books with amazing, brave, clever fighting girls (Goldie Roth and Petrel) – can’t recommend them highly enough for the language, story, world building … everything.

    We’ve also loves the Lily Quench books by Natalie Jane Prior: Lily came from a family of dragon slayers but be-friend and works with a dragon as part of an uprising against colonial powers.

  8. JaneB Says:

    Definitely try the Chanur books for an entire culture where males are considered dangerously violent, volatile and unfit for life outside the home, whilst females are the sensible, rational, capable gender.

    Terry Pratchett’s witches books, too – funny and involve a range of options for women, who are strong and fully realised within their ‘normal’ social roles as well as being ‘fighting heroes’.

  9. darchole Says:

    No, nothing by McCaffrey, Lackey, or any of the currently “hot” authors like Stephanie Meyer (Twilight), Cassandra Clare (Mortal Instruments) PC Cast (House of Night) or Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games). The Hunger Games work great as a dystopia not so much as for feminists. The later series by Pierce are much better. I’m also ambivalent about Robin McKinley as some of her books (Sunshine, The Blue Sword the latest Shadows) require a man at the end to help out.

    For modern retelling of fairy tales Melissa Marr (Wicked Lovely) is good. Mike Shepard’s Kris Longknife series, while not YA is good, as main military leader in the books is female, and I like the main character more than Cordelia in Lois Bujold’s books. For YA David Weber’s relatively new series in the Star Kingdom universe written with Jane Lindskold that starts with A Beautiful Friendship is good, and probably better than starting with the Honor Harrington series. Even Weber’s older series War God, is good, even with the rape in the first book because the protagonist does not blame the victim, and does something about the situation.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      #2 hasn’t read the hunger games. I thought the Blue Sword she did everything at the end (maybe I should reread it!)… the Hero and the Crown required some guy (and had sex that 4th grade me totally skipped over).

      • darchole Says:

        Well in the Blue Sword the King kidnaps her and in the end she ends up marrying him, so not sure how the middle of the book makes up for that. The Hero and the Crown it’s the princess that does most of the work killing dragons, but in the end instead of the mysterious guy she felt a connection for she marries the prince she was destined to marry. While I still love the books, I’m still iffy on them being good feminist spec fic.If the reader is a more mature reader I’d totally suggest Deerskin or Chalice.

  10. J Liedl Says:

    There’s a new book coming out in March, “The Story of Owen” by E. K. Johnston, that is YA contemporary rural fantasy. Here be dragons and combustion engines (oh boy, do dragons LIKE combustion engines and their tasty carbon fumes). Here is a dragonslayer-in-training, Owen, learning his trade at the knee of his aunt, an injured and semi-retired slayer. Here, is his bard, Siobhan, who crafts the tales that turns Owen from ordinary into extraordinary and who joins in on the adventure that is less a quest than a race against time to save them all. Siobhan, the main character, is AWESOME. As is the book (I read an ARC and was entranced).

    I love your list. A lot of my favourites there already.

  11. Tirzah Says:

    I’ve enjoyed Melina Marchetta’s trilogy (The Lumatere Chronicles) very much both for the nice gender balance and also for the way the characters grapple with relationships.

    Daniel O’Malley’s “The Rook” isn’t particularly for kids, but it’s very readable and is populated with well-written women.

  12. Linda Says:

    I was sorting books to donate this weekend and came across one that belongs on this list: Emergence by David R. Palmer. (Yes, the first thing I thought was I had to add it to your blog post!) Sadly, it is out of print, but it should be possible to find some copies. The main character is a kick-ass young woman who is super smart and strong. I’m keeping my (unfortunately quite worn paperback) copy and I think I need to re-read it soon. http://www.amazon.com/Emergence-David-R-Palmer/dp/0553255193/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1410262870&sr=1-2&keywords=emergence


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