Wily Young Women

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Wily Young Women

Teen protagonists who live by their wits

There's plenty of fun, smart, brave, or just plain good female heroes to root for in teen fiction, but I'm most drawn to the young women who use guile, cunning, and necessary subterfuge to live, survive, and even thrive. These heroines lead interesting lives that are sometimes tragic, sometimes exhilarating, and sometimes life-threateningly dangerous. But through it all, they use their wits to find adventure, (temporary) safety, joy, and success, secretly defying those who would thwart them or harm them. 

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Get the tissues ready for this thrilling, harrowing, and deeply emotional story of two English friends set during WWII. Queenie and Maddie are working for the war effort when Queenie is captured as a spy by Nazis in France. As the story of their friendship and daring work during the war unfolds, devastating plot twists will keep you guessing as you try to unravel the truth and parse out the lies from what the characters strategically reveal and artfully conceal. 

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Sophronia is a headstrong young lady who's been selected to go to a very special finishing school in a steampunk alternate version of Victorian England. In addition to manners, protocol, and comportment, she'll be studying the fine art of espionage and be trained to be a spy or assassin while moving seamlessly through high society. It'll take all of Sophronia's stealth and wiles and a healthy sense of humor to successfully navigate the world of vampire, werewolf, and human politics and intrigue, as well as the social minefield of a boarding school full of spycraft-trained teenage girls.

Heist Society by Ally Carter
Kat's the teenage daughter of a notorious art thief who's given up that life of stealing and secrets ... by lying her way into enrolling as a student at an elite boarding school. Her normal schoolgirl stint is short-lived, however, since she's pulled back into the criminal world when her father becomes the prime suspect in the burglary of five paintings from a formidable Italian mobster. With the help of friends and her family criminal connections, Kat sets out to mastermind a heist worthy of Danny Ocean that'll prove her father innocent and recover the paintings.  

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller 
Kiki Strike, a mysterious teen with shocking white hair, founds the Irregulars, a group of similarly precociously talented 12-year-old girls. (Specialties include poisons, disguises, and forgery). The Irregulars explore the Shadow City that lies beneath NYC's subway system, which leads to their discovering a possible planned attack on the city that they must foil. If that's not enough to keep them busy, they also have to contend with deadly royal intrigue all while keeping their extracurricular adventures a secret from their families and their school. 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Another WWII story that's beautifully written and immensely moving. Life usually doesn't go well for characters in WWII Germany books, especially when the narrator is Death himself. Liesel, a young German girl, has far too many encounters with Death in her young life, but still manages to steal some moments of beauty and love, especially through her relationships with friends and her foster parents. The twin secrets of the books she steals and the guest she must help hide in her home push her life along a dangerous trajectory, but they're also responsible for bringing her great joy. If you decide you haven't cried enough after reading the book, it's also been adapted into a lovely movie well worth watching.