There are countless books that feature strong, heroic, inspirational, and fearless girls and women. I cannot possibly know them all nor do I claim to. The list I am providing only includes the books I am familiar with personally or ones that have been recommended to me by trusted sources. I must make this clear because I am far from an authority on this topic. But I do want to commend and recommend these incredible works that feature black women and girls as heroes and role models.
Black women have contributed so much to the societies of the world, but their achievements are often ignored unjustifiably. Malcom X once famously said that the most disrespected person in America is the black woman. Despite how difficult and heartbreaking it may be to admit this, it may very well still be true. In general, women are held to unreasonably high standards in all aspects of society, but it’s even worse for black women. Respectability politics in particular shackle women of color from expressing the full range of their humanity.
This mentality that is rooted in misogyny and anti-blackness must be eradicated from the world because black women are amazing and inspiring. Just follow the #BlackWomenDidThat hashtag on Twitter if you ever need reminder of all the incredible achievements women have made and continue to make every day.
The women in the reading list below are fearless literary heroines and role models. They shatter stereotypes, break down barriers, and prove they are worthy of anything and everything, especially respect and admiration. I hope you all read these women’s stories and allow yourself to be inspired.
(Each title is linked to either a book review on my blog or the book’s Goodreads page.)
The Fifth Season – by N.K. Jemisin
Essun’s strength, willpower, and love for her children will astound you. She is a woman who has seen and experienced unspeakable horrors but must not allow her spirit to break. If she does, Essun will never see her daughter again, who was kidnapped. The Fifth Season is not a happy story. It is gruesome and haunting, but amidst that horror Essun emerges as force to be reckoned with.
Half of a Yellow Sun – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This family saga spans decades and tells the story of two beautiful, intelligent, and resourceful women in Nigeria — Olanna and Kainene. These women are the epitome of grace, wit, and prosperity but their peace is shattered irrevocably by the onset of a civil war that tears the sisters apart.
The Book of Negroes – by Lawrence Hill
Aminata Diallo is one of the most incredible women in literature you will ever meet. In The Book of Negroes we meet her when she is only a child abducted from her home village and sold into slavery in New England. Her life is one of many trials and achievements. She is proved to be incredibly smart and adept with languages at an early age, which proved to be a both a blessing and a curse throughout her life. But her innate skill and intelligence allowed her to thrive even in the most oppressive environment imaginable.
Falling in Love With Hominids – Nalo Hopkinson
This brilliant short story collection has several stories with black women and girls as leads. These girls and women defend their village from invading European conquerors, have divine powers of creation, and overall epitomize Black Girl Magic, sometimes literally!
Ascension – by Jacqueline Koyanagi
Alana Quick is a complete badass who you must meet. She’s a heroine you can root for and sympathize with. She loves ships and is one of the best “sky surgeons” around — she understands how ships work and especially how to fix them. Her relationships with her sister and the woman she falls for, Tev, are rendered with nuance and respect.
Binti – by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti is one of the most brilliant young women on Earth. She is so talented in fact, that she was offered a coveted spot at one of the most prestigious universities in the galaxy, Oomza Uni. During her trip to the university, her ship is attacked by a hostile jellyfish-like species of people who terrorize space. Thankfully, Binti is around to save the day. Read all her books for more amazing heroines.
Kindred – by Octavia Butler + her entire bibliography
Americanah – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Brown Girl, Brownstones – by Paule Marshall
Young Adult Fiction
A Wish After Midnight – by Zetta Elliott
Genna is smart, resourceful, and resilient. This young woman is sent back in time from the 21st century to 1863 and must quickly adapt to the harsh and cruel world that is 19th century America. Her ability to adapt to a hostile environment in order to survive is admirable, yet despite all she endures, her resolve remains steadfast.
The Jumbies – by Tracey Baptiste
Corinne La Mer is a bold and brave girl who isn’t afraid of anything and must prove this when her town and the people she loves are in danger. Corinne will have to draw upon a power and magic she didn’t know she had in order to save her island from a mysterious and powerful woman.
Tankborn – by Karen Sandler
This dystopian novel follows Kayla and Mishalla, who are Genetically Engineered Non-Humans (GENs) in their society, which means they are at the very bottom of the social hierarchy. There is a sinister conspiracy involving the disappearance of children, but Kayla and Mishalla team up to solve this mystery.
Taking Flight – by Michaela DePrince
This memoir tells the story of the remarkable Michaela DePrince, a young woman who escaped her war-torn country and finds a new life full of success in American ballet. She is one of ballet’s most exciting young stars and is a role model for girls all over the world.
Shadowshaper – by Daniel Jose Older
You will fall in love with Sierra Santiago only a few chapters after meeting her. She’s a talented artist who is fiercely smart and loyal to her friends and family. In Shadowshaper she kicks so much ass that you’ll become her biggest fan and wish you had a friend as cool as her when you were a teenager.
Flygirl – by Sherri L. Smith
This is the inspiring story of Ida Mae Jones, a biracial woman who passes for white and pretends to be so in order to be accepted into the Women Airforce Service Pilots program. All Ida dreams of is flying like her father once did and she will stop at nothing to achieve her dream because she’s a damn good pilot and white people telling her black women are forbidden from flying planes isn’t going to stop her.
Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson
The Summer Prince – by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Chaos – by Nalo Hopkinson + her entire bibliography
The Marauder’s Island – by Tristan J. Tarwater
What are some of your favorite books starring strong and inspiring black women and girls?
Let me know in the comments. You know I’m always looking for more books to read.
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