I’m living for the insurgence of strong female leads in fiction these days! I’m even more living for the fact that most of these strong female leads are written by strong female authors. I love that we’re seeing these characters emerging across all types of genders, from romance, to suspense, to thrillers, and even dark academia. So, here are just a few of the best ones I’ve read so far this year.
#1. The Change by Kristen Miller
As a 38 year old woman grappling with getting older and what that means, I fell head over heels for this book. It’s a suspense novel that follows three women, Nessa, Harriett, and Jo, as they investigate the murders of young girls in their oceanfront community. Each woman is in her 50s or beyond, and each is facing a bit of an identity crisis as they navigate the changes that age has brought. But, as they work together to solve the murders whose details just aren’t adding up, they discover they each have unique and incredibly powerful gifts. Nessa develops the ability to hear and see the dead — a gift which has been passed down from woman to woman in her family for generations. Jo discovers that the rage that overpowered her in her youth is now something that can be harnessed and channeled. And Harriett, the town oddity, discovers some witchy talents that help the trio get ahead of the murders.
I can’t say enough good things about this book. It was heart-rending, exhilarating, and so incredibly profound.
#2. The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer
Did you know that the author of the Twilight Saga also writes adult fiction? I actually discovered Stephenie Meyer’s novel The Host before I knew anything about Twilight, and it instantly became my favorite book of all time (still is). But this year, I finally read The Chemist. And let me tell you, Alex is the smart, deadly, courageous female protagonist every woman needs to read! As a former secret employee of the U.S. government, Alex “The Chemist” is now on the run. Her former employers want her dead, and soon. She is offered a way out — a way to finally get her life back and stop the constant running — but it will require taking the biggest risk of her life.
And oh, by the way ladies, there’s a hunky man involved, who Stephenie Meyer expertly writes as the male version of a damsel in distress who our female lead has to protect and save. It’s spicy, suspenseful, and contains surprises around every turn of the page.
#3. Ink Blood Sister Scribe by Emma Torzs
If you love a good suspense novel that centers around magic, you’re going to love this one! Emma Torzs gives us two incredibly powerful female leads who have gifts, talents, and secrets that only adulthood has allowed them to explore. For their entire lives, sisters Esther and Joanna have continued their family legacy of protecting ancient magical books. When a mysterious book the sisters have never seen before kills their father, the two must work together to find out where the magic has gone frightfully wrong.
I read a review of this book that called it “atmospheric,” and I truly think that’s the best word for it. It’s beautiful, drawing you in at every moment. I think the best thing about this book, though, is the dichotomy of the sisters. Esther is strong and powerful, while Joanna is withdrawn, meek, and gentle. But both women reveal an enormous depth of courage and ferocity in the face of danger, each in their own way.
#4. Alfajiri by Michael LaBorn
It fills me with so much pride to say that this book was written by my talented and inspiring friend, Michael LaBorn. Every character in this book is beautiful in its own way, but I was especially drawn in by the two female leads — Kiah and Queen Vashti. In a fantastical world called Alfajiri, three Alfajirians must leave behind everything they know as they discover that the freedom they believed they had in Alfajiri was all a facade. We meet Kiah, a bright and powerful heir to the throne, who must make the hardest decision she’s ever made — choosing between loyalties that are all dear to her heart. We also meet Queen Vashti, the ruler of the land and the intended villain of the story, but who also is rich in depth and complexity.
The book left me thinking deeply about what it means to love, what is meant to be loyal, and what it means to choose freedom over comfort. I don’t tend to read books with female leads who are written by male authors. I usually find the characters flat and clearly written through the lens of the author’s maleness. But Michael LaBorn is a breath of fresh air, writing remarkably complex and valiant women who I could actually relate to in very deep ways.
#5. Adelaide by Genevieve Wheeler
This one makes the list because, in Adelaide, we learn the beautiful truth that there is strength in vulnerability. Adelaide Williams is an American transplant living in London. She meets the electric Rory Hughes and falls instantly in love. But Rory is inconsistent at best, often failing to respond to text messages or leaving her on read for days or even weeks at a time. Then, when an unexpected tragedy rattles Rory to his core, we watch Adelaide do everything in her power to support him as he pulls further and further away.
I think the book was originally marketed as a romance, but I found it to be far more about a woman’s empowering journey of battling her demons. We watch Adelaide go through a mental health crisis, and we see the painful reality of how poor mental health can go unchecked in determined women who keep pushing through it. It’s been awhile since I’ve identified so much with a fictional character.
#6. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Dark academia is my guilty pleasure, and Leigh Bardugo delivers epically in Ninth House and its sequel Hell Bent. I’ve heard we’re supposed to be getting a third book in the series, but I’m unsure when it will be released. In these books, we meet Alex Stern, a troubled but gifted young woman who is the sole survivor of a horrific and unsolved multiple homicide. Following the incident, Alex is offered the opportunity to change her whole life — to attend Yale and monitor the university’s secret societies who tamper in forbidden magic. Alex is confused as to why she would be made such an offer, but her arrival at Yale leads to the discovery of her deep ties to the spiritual world. Throughout the novel, we learn along with Alex about her gifts and how she can use them. But the question we keep asking ourselves is, how did Yale know about them before she did?
I think my favorite thing about this book was the fact that our female protagonist is just an absolute bad ass. She is strong, sassy, and opinionated. She’s also able to deliver an epic smack down if needed. But we also see her vulnerable side, the side that is filled with self-doubt and the frustrating imposter syndrome that just won’t go away. She is a beautiful example of female strength and vulnerability, and I cannot wait for the next installment in the series!
This is certainly not an all-inclusive list! The publishing world has delivered us MANY strong female leads this year alone, and I know there are many more to come. But in case you’re looking for some great female leads to read this summer, I strongly suggest checking these out!
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who writes primarily about women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the FREE newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload!