There’s no shortage of nonfiction for young people highlighting the women and girls who’ve achieved remarkable things, alongside fiction with strong and accomplished girl protagonists. This is certainly something to be celebrated. Yet it doesn’t change the fact that sexism remains rampant; it’s something young people experience—and participate in—daily in both their face-to-face and online lives. How can young people reconcile girl-power messaging in books with the reality that girls are often still powerless?

The founders of Rise: A Feminist Book Project for Ages 0-18 (part of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association) addressed this issue by establishing clear and specific criteria for their mission of curating an annual book list of “well-written, well-illustrated books for young readers with significant feminist content.” Rise seeks to honor books that explicitly “explain that there is a gender issue; they don’t leave the reader to guess.” In fact, “a book with a strong female character that does not demonstrate that an inequality exists” might not be a fit for Rise.

As co-chair of the 2024 and 2025 Rise committees, I’m delighted to share a few YA highlights from our latest list.

I Kick and I Fly by Ruchira Gupta (Scholastic, 2023): This gripping novel by Gupta, a global activist who works to end sex trafficking, was inspired by her personal experiences with girls much like her 14-year-old protagonist. Growing up in a red-light district in India, Heera faces—and pushes back against—obstacles based on poverty, caste, and gender. Read our interview with Ruchira Gupta.

Inaugural Ballers: The True Story of the First U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball Team by Andrew Maraniss (Viking, 2022): This page-turning nonfiction work tells a triumphant story of dedication to teammates and the pursuit of athletic prowess. Often going unacknowledged and unsupported, the players and coaches who pushed for recognition and funding for women’s basketball faced both racism and misogyny on the long road to the Olympics.

Didn’t See That Coming by Jesse Q. Sutanto (Delacorte, 2023): Using laugh-out-loud humor to drive home trenchant observations of sexism in schools and the gaming world, Sutanto places her Jakarta high schoolers in situations that will resonate with teens worldwide. Kiki discovers that her online crush is cute classmate Liam—but will he understand why she hides behind the username Dudebro10?

16 & Pregnant by LaLa Thomas (MTV Books/Simon & Schuster, 2023): Two best friends navigate tremendous changes in this frank and affirming novel inspired by a reality TV show. Black teens Erykah and Kelly come from different socio-economic backgrounds; now, Erykah is pregnant—and keeping her baby—while Kelly looks ahead to college. Thomas explores friendship, medical racism, and more with great nuance.

Nigeria Jones by Ibi Zoboi (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2023): This remarkable work combines accessibility with sophisticated insight. The book follows a young woman growing up in a Black nationalist movement that’s both highly progressive and rigidly patriarchal. Nigeria grapples with identity, community, belonging, and self-expression as she ventures beyond her father’s tightly controlled sphere of influence.

Laura Simeon is a young readers’ editor.