Not Otherwise Specified is a book about giving the finger to what other people tell you to be and staying true to yourself.
When it comes to young adult literature, I love too much. Asking me to pick five of my favorite feminist young adult books is like asking a gardener to choose five of their favorite flowers. But as much as I hate to choose, I love spreading the joy of amazing YA books even more. So here are five feminist YA books you might not know (I see you Hunger Games, but this is not the list for you).
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Usually when people ask me for book suggestions, I ask them about other books they’ve enjoyed, what they’re in the mood for, etc. and go from there. There are a few books, however, that I thrust into the hands of anyone who will let me. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is one of those books.
Francis — called Frankie because her father really wanted a boy — attends Alabaster Academy, an elite private high school on the East Coast. At the beginning of her sophomore year, Frankie catches the eye of Matthew Livingstone, the gorgeous, charming, sweet, and popular senior. Initially, Frankie is surprised and delighted.
When she finds out that Matthew is part of an all-male secret society, however, Frankie’s gaze begins to sharpen. She starts noticing all sorts of interesting things: the way privileged boys move through the world with a certain kind of ease and power, how they use that power in the most boring and unimpressive ways and, most appallingly, how many people underestimate Frankie simply because she’s a girl.
So, she does the only thing an intelligent, rebellious, outraged, love-struck girl can do: She infiltrates the secret society, covertly takes over the club, and makes the members do her bidding — all while they remain utterly clueless that the person holding the strings is sweet little sophomore, Frankie Landau-Banks.
Really, do I even need to convince you why this book is awesome?
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
Etta will be the first to tell you that she doesn’t fit neatly into any of the standard boxes. She’s too straight for her gay friends, too gay for Nebraska, too brown for ballet, and too big to be anorexic (despite the fact that she’s just learning how to not starve herself). When auditions are held for Brentwood, a theater academy in New York City, Etta sees a way out of Nebraska to a place where she can be accepted for who she is. With her new friend from her eating disorder therapy group, Bianca, also applying to Brentwood, it seems like the answers to all Etta’s problems are just a few really, really difficult auditions away.
Moskowitz keeps Etta’s voice strong and consistent throughout the novel — even when our protagonist doubts herself the most. Etta’s willingness to stand up for the little guy (or gal) and thumb her nose at anyone who tells her she should be different is inspiring, even if the reader is privy to her internal doubt. A delightful book that inverts stereotypes and then flips them back around again just to keep the reader guessing, Not Otherwise Specified is a book about giving the finger to what other people tell you to be and staying true to yourself.
Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
When Gabi begins her senior year of high school, her sex education has consisted primarily of a cautionary tale from her mother about Gabi’s own conception (out of wedlock, for which her grandmother beat the crap out of her mother) and her mother’s adage, “Keep your eyes open and your legs closed.” Of course, Gabi’s a self-proclaimed fat girl and doesn’t think she’ll need to worry about anyone trying to get between her legs anytime soon. Which is good, because she’s got plenty of things to worry about, like her friend Cindy’s pregnancy, her other friend Sebastian’s coming-out, and her father’s meth addiction.
Gabi chronicles the world through her diary; writing is the outlet that keeps her grounded among all the chaos. It’s also what holds the reader inside Gabi’s head — a place that’s smart, insightful, and funny. This vivid portrait of the in-between space that defines adolescence is told through a young woman whose commentary will linger long after the book is over.
All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Courtney Summers has a way of exposing rape culture so viscerally that you would cheer — if you didn’t also feel like you’d just been punched in the stomach.
Romy didn’t necessarily expect anyone to believe her when she was raped by Sheriff Turner’s golden-boy son, but she didn’t expect to be dumped by her friends and cruelly bullied, either. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens. Hoping to disappear where no one knows her past — working at a diner on the outskirts own town — Romy struggles with PTSD and a world that simply doesn’t want to believe that rape victims are telling the truth.
An important, dark read that reflects the dark, uncompromising aftermath of trauma.
Towelhead by Alicia Erian
This stunning novel is relegated to an honorable mention only because it’s not technically classified as YA. The novel’s protagonist, 13-year-old Jasira, is sent to live with her strict Lebanese father (in Texas, of all places) after the outbreak of the Gulf War. Exiled because her mother’s boyfriend lavished inappropriate attention on her, Jasira struggles to understand her own budding sexual desires as well as her deep, unrequited need to be loved.
In Texas, Jasira must quickly learn the rules of adulthood — despite the fact that none of the adults in her life play by the same set of rules. The exploitative, predatory relationship between Jasira and her racist Army vet neighbor is likely what keeps this out of traditional YA catalogs but it’s a magnificent book for readers ready for a complicated, uncomfortable narrative.
Up next: 5 Nonfiction Books For The Teenage Feminist!