Fifteen Books With Heroines Who Are Passionate About What Brings Them Joy

Top Ten Tuesday is a regular feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which I count down my top ten choices on a particular theme. This weekly event is hosted by Jamie at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is: Fifteen Books With Heroines Who Are Passionate About What Brings Them Joy.

For today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic, which was an open-ended prompt about fictional characters in general, I decided to talk a little about something I personally like to see in the books I read – Heroines who are passionate about and unashamed of things that bring them joy. Society has conditioned women to believe that many of the things that make them happy – romance novels, fashion, makeup, etc – are silly and frivolous as a means of undermining their voice, their choices and their agency. So, to see female characters unapologetically and unashamedly embracing what brings them joy, whether that be any of the aforementioned or otherwise (woman contain multitudes, after all!), is nothing short of revolutionary and empowering, particularly for young readers. Today, I’ve decided to share fifteen books that feature heroines who know what makes them happy and aren’t afraid to pursue and embrace it, no matter what others might think about it.

Today’s selection of books have been listed in no particular order.

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When her best friend, Hope Weaver, moves away from Pineville, New Jersey, hyperobservant sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling is devastated. A fish out of water at school and a stranger at home, Jessica feels more lost than ever now that the only person with whom she could really communicate has gone. How is she supposed to deal with the boy- and shopping-crazy girls at school, her dad’s obsession with her track meets, her mother salivating over big sister Bethany’s lavish wedding, and her nonexistent love life?

A fresh, funny, utterly compelling novel, Sloppy Firsts is an insightful, true-to-life look at Jessica’s predicament as she embarks on another year of teenage torment. From the dark days of Hope’s departure through her months as a type-A personality turned insomniac to her completely mixed-up feelings about Marcus Flutie, the intelligent and mysterious “Dreg” who works his way into her heart, this poignant, hilarious novel is sure to appeal to readers who are still going through it, as well as those who are grateful that they don’t have to go back and grow up all over again.




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Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him — wherein he’ll have to woo her — he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.




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When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural.

Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers set Julia up with a one-way ticket to a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and not even Banksy himself could convince her to give that up.

Out in the ’burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off—and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war.

Told with wit and grit by debut author Whitney Gardner, who also provides gorgeous interior illustrations of Julia’s graffiti tags, You’re Welcome, Universe introduces audiences to a one-of-a-kind protagonist who is unabashedly herself no matter what life throws in her way.




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Meet Gladys Gatsby: New York’s toughest restaurant critic. (Just don’t tell anyone that she’s in sixth grade.)

Gladys Gatsby has been cooking gourmet dishes since the age of seven, only her fast-food-loving parents have no idea! Now she’s eleven, and after a crème brûlée accident (just a small fire), Gladys is cut off from the kitchen (and her allowance). She’s devastated but soon finds just the right opportunity to pay her parents back when she’s mistakenly contacted to write a restaurant review for one of the largest newspapers in the world. But in order to meet her deadline and keep her dream job, Gladys must cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy and sneak into New York City — all while keeping her identity a secret! Easy as pie, right?




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Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up.

Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.

Told in a refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice, Leila Sales’ This Song Will Save Your Life powerful young adult coming of age novel is an exuberant story about identity, friendship, and the power of music to bring people together.




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After being entrusted with her brother’s Los Angeles apartment for the summer as a graduation gift, Emi Price isn’t sure how to fulfill his one condition: that something great take place there while he’s gone. Emi may be a talented young production designer, already beginning to thrive in the competitive film industry, but she still feels like an average teen, floundering when it comes to romance.

But when she and her best friend, Charlotte, discover a mysterious letter at the estate sale of a Hollywood film legend, Emi must move beyond the walls of her carefully crafted world to chase down the loose ends of a movie icon’s hidden life, leading her to uncover a decades’ old secret and the potential for something truly epic: love.




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Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby’s been happy to focus on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a great internship at her favorite boutique, she’s thrilled to take the first step toward her dream career. Then she falls for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Hard. And now she’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win the coveted paid job at the end of the internship.

But really, nothing this summer is going as planned. She’s also unwittingly become friends with Jax, a lacrosse-playing bro-type who wants her help finding the best burger in LA; she’s struggling to prove to her mother ― the city’s celebrity health nut ― that she’s perfectly content with who she is; and she’s desperately trying to remain behind the scenes and off-camera where she feels she belongs, when she hangs out with Jordi, who documents her entire life in photographs.

Though crazy, summer’s been fun, and just as Abby starts to feel like she?s no longer the sidekick in her own life anymore, Jordi’s photography surprisingly puts her in the spotlight for the first time, and it feels more like a betrayal rather than a starring role. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?




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What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once?

Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.




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Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words…And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?




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Gena and Finn would have never met but for their mutual love for the popular show Up Below. Regardless of their differences — Gena is a recent high school graduate whose social life largely takes place online, while Finn is in her early twenties, job hunting and contemplating marriage with her longtime boyfriend — the two girls realize that the bond between them transcends fanfiction. When disaster strikes and Gena’s world turns upside down, only Finn can save her, and that, too, comes with a price. Told through emails, text messages, journal entries, and blog posts, Gena/Finn is a story of friendship and love in the digital age.




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Cameron’s cosplay creations are finally starting to earn her attention – attention she hopes to use to get into the CalArts costume design department for college. But after she wins a major competition, she inadvertently sets off a firestorm of angry comments from male fans online.

When Cameron’s family moves the summer before her senior year, she hopes to complete her costume portfolio in peace and quiet away from the abuse.

Unfortunately, the only comic shop in town – her main destination for character reference – is staffed by a dudebro owner who challenges every woman who comes into the shop.

At her twin brother’s suggestion, Cameron borrows a set of his clothes and uses her costuming expertise to waltz into the shop as Boy Cameron, where she’s shocked at how easily she’s accepted into the nerd inner sanctum. Soon, Cameron finds herself drafted into a D&D campaign alongside the jerky shop-owner Brody, friendly (almost flirtatiously so) clerk Wyatt, handsome Lincoln, and her brother Cooper, dragged along for good measure.

But as her “secret identity” gets more and more entrenched, Cameron’s portfolio falls by the wayside–and her feelings for Lincoln threaten to make a complicated situation even more precarious in this geek girl anthem from You’re Welcome, Universe author Whitney Gardner, complete with fully illustrated comic pages inked by Gardner herself.




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Kat and Meg couldn’t be more different.

Kat’s anxiety makes it hard for her to talk to new people. The only place she feels safe is in front of her computer, playing her favorite video game.

Meg hates being alone, but her ADHD keeps pushing people away. Friends. Her boyfriend. Even the stepfather who raised her.

But when the two girls are thrown together for a year-long science project, they discover they do have one thing in common: their obsession with the online gaming star LumberLegs and his hilarious videos.

Meg’s pretty sure this is fate. Kat doesn’t know how to deal with someone who talks faster than she thinks. But if they can stick together and stay out of their heads, they might figure out how to help each other – and build the kind of friendship Kat never knew she wanted and Meg never believed she’d find.




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Piper Perish inhales air and exhales art. The sooner she and her best friends Enzo and Kit can get out of Houston and get into art school in New York City, the better. It’s been Piper’s dream her whole life, and now that senior year is halfway over, she’s never felt more ready.

But in the final months before graduation, life’s got Piper a little more breathless. Things are weird with Kit and awful with Enzo; art school is looking increasingly impossible; three different guys have each claimed a different piece of Piper’s heart; and Piper’s sister’s tyrannical mental state seems to thwart every attempt at happiness for the Perish family. Piper’s art just might be enough to get her out. But is she strong enough — and brave enough — to seize that power, even if it means giving up what she’s always known?




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Grown-up Meg, tomboyish Jo, timid Beth, and precocious Amy. The four March sisters couldn’t be more different. But with their father away at war, and their mother working to support the family, they have to rely on one another. Whether they’re putting on a play, forming a secret society, or celebrating Christmas, there’s one thing they can’t help wondering: Will Father return home safely?




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Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year — threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications – she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.

In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Jordan finds herself enmeshed in a precarious juggling act: making friends, alienating friends, crushing on a guy, crushing on a girl, and navigating decades-old rivalries. With her secret growing heavier every day, Jordan pushes beyond gender norms to confront what it means to be a girl (and a guy) in a male-dominated society, and -most importantly — what it means to be herself.




Now it’s YOUR turn! What are some hobbies or interests you’re passionate about? Are there any books that feature characters that love this interest as much as you do? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!

7 responses to “Fifteen Books With Heroines Who Are Passionate About What Brings Them Joy”

  1. As always, what a lovely list, Jen!
    Shelumiel @ Bookish and Awesome recently posted…Thirteen YA Books That Feature POC Leads Coming to You This 2018My Profile

  2. Gorgeous post! So many great books on here AND an incredible presentation. Thanks for sharing this list!

  3. Fantastic list! Very important and overlooked area. You have amazing ideas.

    I love how the list is so varied and different kinds of activities.

  4. Katie says:

    I really enjoy baking, so I guess I should really check all To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. Great list.

    Have a wonderful weekend.
    Katie recently posted…*Deja Revu* 25 September 2017My Profile

  5. OMG This is the BEST list I’ve read today!! I LOVE Fangirl but there are so many others I need to look up… I also LOVE Lara Jean (of course!) The street art book looks and sounds really good… <3 I did diverse characters TBR… http://wp.me/p3LRfZ-5Hj

  6. Sam@WLABB says:

    I love what you did with the topic! And there are so many good books on this list. I have read 6, and have 5 on my TBR already. I am really excited about Chaotic Good.
    Sam@WLABB recently posted…Can’t-Wait Wednesday: Foolish Hearts – Emma MillsMy Profile

  7. L says:

    There are quite a few books you mentioned that are on my TBR list! I love the topic you chose–very unique and interesting!

    Happy reading!

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