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.
The Fourteenth Goldfish
Ellie misses her goldfish, her former best friend, and fifth grade. And then one day, a strange boy enters her life who looks eerily like Ellie’s grandpa, an accomplished scientist obsessed with immortality. Ellie believes in the power of science, but could this boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Jennifer Holm explores big questions about life, death, and possibility in this charming story.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl
Lucy Callahan couldn’t have predicted the lightning strike that would turn her into a math genius. Unfortunately, she also can’t predict what middle school will be like, or why she even needs to go. Her grandmother encourages her give it a try: make one friend, join one activity, and read one book that’s not about math. A deeply relatable read about self-discovery and friendship.
Love Double Dutch!
MaKayla is beyond bummed when her parents send her to North Carolina for the summer. For one thing, her parents are considering splitting up; for another, she’s poised for the National Jump-off with her double-Dutch team. She’s also not sure she likes the South — until, that is, she forms a new team of double-Dutching Southern Belles and revives her dream of nationals.
Beyond the Bright Sea
Twelve-year-old Crow has never asked questions about her origin story. She knows she’s an orphan, that she was set adrift in a small boat and landed in Elizabeth Islands, where she’s had exactly two companions: Osh and Miss Maggie. But a mysterious fire across the water spurs a suspenseful chain of events and discoveries that will absorb every sort of reader.
A Problematic Paradox
A sci-fi Harry Potter with an unforgettable heroine, this story kicks off when Nikola Kross is sent to an unusual school for geniuses that’s peopled by kids like her — and also some non-human students. She’s having trouble fitting in, especially because no one knows what to make of her extraordinary talents, which are about to put the whole school in a whole heap of danger.
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.
Fish in a Tree
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.
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.
Three Times Lucky
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.
The War That Saved My Life
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.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated in 2020.