Raise your hand if you’ve heard a reader complaining about a heroine being unlikable. Heroines are condemned as unlikable far more often than their male counterparts, and while some readers find likability to be necessary for maximum enjoyment, here at Bookish we love a well-written complex heroine. YA authors Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka agree with us! The protagonist of their latest novel, If I’m Being Honest, is considered unlikable by most of her high school classmates. In an effort to win back her boyfriend, Cameron decides to change her personality, only to meet someone who likes her just the way she is. To celebrate the book’s release, this writing duo shared a list of unlikable heroines who they adore.
“Unlikeable heroines” require quotation marks, because the fierce, uncompromising women in these novels we love don’t deserve to be disliked. They just ended up on the wrong end of expectations for women in fiction. We love them and, what’s more, found inspiration in them while we wrote the harsh heroine of our newly released YA novel If I’m Being Honest. We’re excited to recognize them here.
Not the Girls You’re Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi
When we meet the heroine of Safi’s outstanding YA debut, she’s pushing someone into a pool. It’s the perfect introduction for Lulu, who’s outspoken and determined, even when it causes problems within her close-knit friend group and her family. Which it does. Safi’s heroine evokes one of Jane Austen’s dropped into prep school, and her novel speaks eloquently to the messy wonder of imperfection.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
Gorgeous and determined, the heroine of Dao’s Chinese-inspired origin story for Snow White’s Evil Queen vows to become Empress of Feng Lu whatever the cost—whether it means rejecting friends and lovers, working with the sinister Serpent God, or even committing murder. What’s compelling is how impressive Xifeng’s resolve and unwavering confidence in herself remains, even while she descends deeper into evil.
Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan
What if the universe’s deadliest interstellar criminal was a 17-year-old girl? Ia, the “Blood Wolf of the Skies” in Milan’s epic new YA duology, has earned her reputation for ruthlessness, and when the Olympus Commonwealth forces her into military school, Ia keeps her guard up. Planning her escape from the compound, her cunning and combat-readiness become resources—though she’s becoming connected to her complicated flight instructor, her refugee roommate, and her classmates. Blunt and badass, Ia’s reminiscent of our favorite high-tech heroines.
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
Imagine a pricklier version of the BBC’s Sherlock, except featuring a teenage girl. Charlotte’s not easy for her boarding-school classmate Jamie Watson to befriend, partly because Charlotte, with her genius-level intellect and intense independence, doesn’t want to be friendly. But the closer they grow over Cavallaro’s four outstanding Charlotte Holmes novels, the more we come to understand Charlotte’s primness coexists with loyalty, compassion, and love.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Jude is what would happen if Sansa Stark grew into Cersei Lannister. One of the only humans in the faerie realm, Jude has forged the mistreatment she experiences from the Folk of the Air into gifts for manipulation and deception, which she exercises magnificently. We love watching Jude pretend she’s working with noble ends and knowing she really only wants one thing—power.
Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka met in high school and fell in love over a shared passion for Shakespeare. Austin went on to study English at Harvard so he could continue to impress Emily with his literary analysis, while Emily studied adolescent psychology at Princeton. They live in Los Angeles, where they’ve combined their interests and decided to write stories of high school, literature, and first love.