10 Extra-Exciting Action-Adventure Books with Girls at the Center

by Iva-Marie Palmer

From Nancy Drew to Pippi Longstocking, the legacy of adventurous girls in books is a rich one. If the young reader in your life is hooked on exciting quests, nail-biting danger, and encounters with characters whose motives aren’t always quite clear, these middle grade novels will deliver — and each one features a girl at the proverbial wheel, setting a course and often saving the day.

  • Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things

    by Simon Van Booy

    The 12-year-old titular character of Simon Van Booy's imaginative new series, Gertie Milk, continues the legacy of awesomely adventurous protagonists. Gertie Milk has lost all of her memory. She doesn’t know her name, much less how she ended up on the unfamiliar island of Skuldark, but she soon learns that she’s a Keeper, someone who is responsible for using a time machine to return lost objects to important historical figures at just the right time. And so begins Gertie’s time-traveling quest to alter the past and future — and to reveal her own identity.

  • The Castle in the Mist

    by Amy Ephron

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    Not every kid who’s bored on summer holiday would jump at the chance to visit a world that blurs the line between reality and imagination. Really, it takes someone brave and curious, like main character Tess in The Castle in the Mist, to do it. The magical land she discovers includes a castle, a carousel, a carnival paid for with wishes, and a mysterious boy her age. This quick read, great for younger middle grade fans, draws comparisons to The Secret Garden, and rates additional praise for the relationship between Tess and her younger brother Max.

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  • The Magic Mirror

    by Susan Hill Long

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    This award-winning read features Maggie, a girl whose greatest hardship, despite her crooked leg and crutch, is feeling lonely. One day, looking in a magic mirror meant to show a viewer’s deepest desire, she spies an imprisoned man and is sure it’s her father, so she sets off on a quest to find him. Along the way, she encounters nefarious criminals and kind fellow travelers, as well as a princess who looks just like her. At turns funny and heart-wrenching, this is a must for every kid.

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  • Furthermore and Whichwood

    by Tahereh Mafi

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    Mafi, author of the YA saga Shatter Me, has penned two different but equally worth-following-anywhere female protagonists in Furthermore and its companion novel, Whichwood. In the fast-paced and vividly imagined Furthermore, Alice Alexis Queensmeadow is on a mission — armed with nothing but a ruler and a friend to accompany her — to find her father three years after he disappeared. Whichwood follows a different character, Layla, who battles loneliness preparing the dead for the afterlife when she’s lured to a magical quest that’s ultimately a healing one.

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  • The Forbidden Library Series

    by Django Wexler

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    One thing any adventure-loving reader needs is … more adventure. This rich four-book series starring 12-year-old Alice will deliver on the kind of all-rainy-day-long or staying-up-past-bedtime page-turning feat that thrill-seeking readers can’t resist. Main character Alice is exactly that kind of reader herself and in the library of her Uncle Geryon (who has become her guardian following her father’s death), she learns that she has the power to enter worlds through the books she reads.

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  • The Hero and the Crown

    by Robin McKinley

    For a book with girl power to the fiercest degree, this classic is the right pick. As the only child of the King of Damar, Aerin should be the rightful heir. But the Damarians refuse to trust her because she’s the daughter of a witchwoman. Yet there are things she doesn’t know about her lineage, which she learns as she’s called to battle. This is actually the second book in the Damar series — its prequel, The Blue Sword, centers on an orphan girl named Harry Crewe.

  • The Mad Wolf’s Daughter

    by Diane Magras

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    Don’t we all wonder if, in the face of tragedy or turmoil, we’ll be able to rise to the occasion? Sheltered Drest, used to a calm life on a remote Scottish island, has her life upended one night when knights kidnap all of her family, leaving her behind. She takes off on a mission to find them, encountering (and facing head-on) the many terrors that lie beyond her homeland. Drest is winning raves for being not only brave and cunning, but also a kind and just heroine — someone worthy of becoming a legend.

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  • Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded

    by Sage Blackwood

    Chantel is something of a problem student at Miss Ellicott’s School for Magical Maidens — mostly because she can’t be bothered with all the curtsying. She wants to focus on magic. She gets her chance when Miss Ellicott and the rest of the city’s sorceresses disappear. Without magic protecting the city, Chantel and her friends have to save the kingdom, and Chantel taps into the powerful magic she’s long held.

  • The Secrets of Solace

    by Jaleigh Johnson

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    Lina Winterbock is an apprentice to the archivists of Solace, wise men and women whose job it is to catalog the odd objects that rain down from the sky. But now that the Iron War has started, those people no longer have time to train her, so instead she explores and finds a secret: an airship that she decides to restore. Lina’s capable ways are an inspiration, and readers can enjoy another Solace adventure helmed by another female protagonist in Johnson’s The Quest to the Uncharted Lands.

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  • The Voyage to Magical North

    by Claire Fayers

    Twelve-year-old Brine Seaborne is a girl with a past. The problem is she can’t remember it. She now is a housekeeper to a cranky magician and his annoying apprentice, Peter. But trouble finds Brine and Peter (or, they find it) and soon they’re on the pirate ship The Onion, in search of a legendary, and possibly non-existent, land called Magical North. This first entry in the Accidental Pirates series should delight and excite fans of Harry Potter and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”