5 Nonfiction Books For The Feminist Teenager In Your Life

Non-fiction for the young feminist.

Non-fiction for the young feminist.

In the same way that bell hooks’s Feminism Is For Everybody is a slim, powerful work that’s virtually impossible for the thinking person to disagree with, Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists is the fundamentals of feminism at their most... well, fundamental.

One of the greatest pleasures of my librarian life is being able to introduce teenagers to books that broaden their worldview and strengthen their sense of self. While most of the heavy lifting in this area is done by the books and how the teens respond to their content, it’s an absolute privilege and pleasure to help a young reader find the perfect book. 

It’s been my experience that teenagers, regardless of gender, are intrigued by the notion of feminism. Like so many other things, the media, their families, friends, and larger communities often offer conflicting narratives about what being a feminist means.

Fortunately, there are myriad excellent books on the subject — far too many to list here (shout out to Rookie and anything by Jessica Valenti). So if you have a budding feminist in your life, get them one of these books, a subscription to Shameless Magazine, and know that you’re helping the future be a little bit brighter. 

In the same way that bell hooks’s Feminism is for Everybody is a slim, powerful work that’s virtually impossible for the thinking person to disagree with, Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists is the fundamentals of feminism at their most... well, fundamental.

What began as a 30-minute Ted Talk is transcribed in this slim paperback that outlines why gender equality can and should be at the fore of our human rights discussions. It’s difficult to say it any better than Adichie does, so I’ll offer a quote from the book: “Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. I am angry. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change. But I am also hopeful, because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to remake themselves for the better.” 

Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, And The Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards

This primer offers a brief history of the feminist movement (up to 2010, when the book was most recently updated) as well as answers essential questions like, “What is feminism?" with clean, contextual explanations, and a focus on the young feminist.

Several years ago, I recommended the book to one of the teens I was working with, and she loved it so much she emailed one of the authors (I can’t remember which one) with a question about how to reconcile her Catholic upbringing with feminist ideals. She received a thoughtful email response that both inspired and comforted my student. Is it any surprise that the authors of this book created dope appendices like  “A Young Woman’s Guide To The Revolution"?

Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives To Suicide For Teens, Freaks, And Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein

This isn’t just a book about alternatives to suicide, though there are plenty (101 to be exact) of those. It’s clear that the legendary Kate Bornstein, author of My Gender Workbook: How To Become A Real Man, A Real Woman, The Real You, or Something Else Entirely and Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women And The Rest Of Us knows the most fundamental rules for communicating with teens: respect, an open mind, compassion, and humor.

Not one to fall into the trap of infantilizing teens and devaluing their feelings, Kate knows that the angst of adolescence — while inevitable — is not to be taken lightly. Their book is a treatise on dealing with the highs and lows of self-discovery and how to be a truer version of oneself. 

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay 

If you know only five things about me, one of the things you probably know is that I am truly, madly, deeply in love with Roxane Gay. Her brain is brilliant, creative, and funny as hell. Somehow, she manages to translate her wisdom on to the page with a conversational style that never once dulls her incisive thoughts. I love this collection of essays so much that I keep giving it away and having to re-buy it.

Part of Gay’s brilliance is her critique of pop culture — she enjoys the Hunger Games, reality TV, and Channing Tatum, all while being able to offer a feminist critique of it. Sure, her views don’t always align with being a “good” feminist (whatever that means), but that duality is something to be explored and appreciated, too. A smart, funny, relatable treatise on why feminism matters and why there’s no such thing as a perfect feminist. (Spoiler alert: there’s no such thing as a perfect human. Feminists are human, ergo...) 

A Little F’ed Up by Julie Zeilinger

When she was 16 years old, Julie Zeilinger created The F-Bomb, a “feminist blog and community for teens and young adults who care about their rights and want to be heard.” It didn’t take long for the blog to take off and a dedicated community of readers to start discussing everything from reproductive rights, global gender inequality, and the portrayal of women in the media. A Little F’ed Up tackles some of the same subjects with sections like, “The Feminist Solution To Hating Your Body” and “Getting Involved: Where Activism Meets Imperialism.” 

While Manifesta has the tone of a teen’s wise older sisters, A Little F’ed Up is the voice of that badass girl in high school (maybe you?) who (rightfully) worshipped at the altar of Kathleen Hannah and called the algebra teacher sexist for implying that boys are better at math.  For the feminist on their way to college? Zeilinger is also the author of College 101: A Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year. 


Something to look forward to: Jazz Jennings, the 15-year-old trans activist and author, will be releasing their memoir Being Jazz: My Life As A (Transgender) Teen in June. The star of TLC’s 11-part reality show Being Jazz has a huge following of teens (and adults!). It’s nothing but wonderful that her already-significant platform will be further broadened with this book. 

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