10 Female-Led Novels That Tween Boys (and Girls) Love

by Kari Ness Riedel

As I considered which books to use this year in my afterschool book club program for third, fourth, and fifth graders, I told a colleague that I wanted to make sure I included enough “boy books” in the mix. She reprimanded me kindly but firmly, saying, “There’s no such thing.” Without fully realizing it, I had been expressing a common bias that boys would be more likely to enjoy books with male protagonists than they would books with female protagonists. After reflecting on the reactions to over 40 different books I’ve shared with my tween book clubs, I realized that whether boys truly enjoyed the book or not had a lot more to do with their engagement in the plot and belief in the character development than the gender of the main character.

This conversation made me want to make sure I exposed both my boy and girl readers to a strong set of heroines as well as heroes. Here are ten books with strong female heroines that tween boys in Bookopolis Book Clubs love just as much as tween girls do.

  • Amal Unbound

    by Aisha Saeed

    Amal is a bright, young Pakistani girl who loves school and dreams of being a teacher one day. Her dreams are shattered when she is forced to become an indentured servant to a local, wealthy family. This is a highly engaging story with wonderful characters and important themes of resilience, loyalty, and tenacity.

  • Book Scavenger series

    by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

    Emily consistently demonstrates her intelligence and logical decoding skills in this puzzle-filled mystery series. She rallies her best friend, James, and her brother, Matthew, to embark on new adventures and solve new mysteries in every book. This is a great pick for young readers who love cracking codes and piecing together clues as they race to figure out the ending.

  • Fish in a Tree

    by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    Ally has been called “dumb” and “loser” by her fellow students and considered a troublemaker by her teachers. She’s great at math and art and has tons of common sense, but she’s never let anyone know her darkest secret: She can’t read. Everything changes when she gets a new teacher and befriends two other misfits at school. An emotional and uplifting story about celebrating the uniqueness in everyone and not letting labels like dyslexia define you.

  • Keeper of the Lost Cities

    by Shannon Messenger

    When Sophie Foster learns that she is really part of the elven world, she leaves her human family to explore her newfound magical home. She is a clever risk-taker with more talents than any other known elf. This is an adventure-filled fantasy series that I highly recommend to readers who are sad after finishing book seven of Harry Potter.

  • Short

    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The astute and witty Julia starts summer vacation in a slump — until the unexpected experience of being cast as a Munchkin in the town musical helps her to see that her size is not what defines her. A tender and funny story about self-discovery and the value of role models who help us find our best selves.

  • Out of My Mind

    by Sharon Draper

    Melody can’t speak or move due to cerebral palsy but her high IQ and photographic memory make her brain work better than almost any other kid in her school. She defies all stereotypes of someone with a disability as she moves from her school’s Special Education class to being a member of the Quiz Team. Empathy fills the reader’s heart as they race through this story full of page-turning school and family drama.

  • Three Times Lucky

    by Shelia Turnage

    This Newbery Honor winner is a classic whodunit mystery with the plucky, whip smart, and loyal heroine, Moses LoBeau, as the lead detective. When the police come to investigate a murder in her small town, she puts her skills and intellect to good use and will not rest until she figures out the truth.

  • Patina

    by Jason Reynolds

    The second book in the Track series about four kids from diverse backgrounds that end up on an elite track team that changes each of their lives. This installment dives deeper into the backstory of strong and speedy Patina and why she doesn’t live with her birth mother, why she goes to such a fancy school, and what really motivates her to run so fast. A highly engaging, character-driven story that is accessible for reluctant readers and compelling for bookworms.

  • The War That Saved My Life

    by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

    Ada, a young girl with a clubfoot living in poverty in England during World War II, recounts the adventures and life changes that she and her brother experience after fleeing the city to live with a wealthy, educated woman in the country. This is a gripping historical fiction book that stimulates rich discussion and provides a window into a different world.

  • Wish

    by Barbara O’Connor

    Charlie is a spitfire with an incarcerated dad and a mom who suffers from depression. When she is forced to move to a rural town in North Carolina to live with an aunt and uncle that she doesn’t know, she must make a choice about who she wants to be. With the help of a new and loyal friend, Howard, and a runaway dog named Wishbone, she just might realize her one true wish. This story is both heartbreaking and heartwarming with the perfect amount of humor and adventure.