Books for Middle School (and older) Feminist Readers

There are so many great reads for young feminists, it’s hard to know where to start.  We both have our favorite classics, but decided to focus on those we’ve seen really connecting with the tweens and teens in our lives who tell us what we should be reading right now.  Some books are very new, some older–but we agree:  these are great recommendations for today’s young women.

Estella’s Quinceanera by Malin Alegria

Estrella Alvera is a fourteen-year-old girl moving between two cultures. In this funny, touching, and moving novel, she makes sense of her own role in a complicated world where culture and class cast shadows on daily experiences.  She is embarrassed when her family begins plans for her special 15-year birthday celebration, imagining a big tacky celebration.  Some of her childhood friends from the barrio resent her scholarship to an elite private school, so she feels torn between her friends.  To complicate her life even further, she falls for Speedy, a classmate from her elementary school days (and a genuinely nice guy) –but is forbidden to see him.  Girls of all background will connect with Estrella’s story–and love her sarcastic wit–and sometimes surly responses to her loving family. Author Alegria writes from her own Mexican-American experience, and kindly provides a glossary of Spanish terms for readers who might need it.

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Flygirl by Sherri Smith

We love the heroine of this book!  Ida Mae is a teen-aged  Louisiana country girl whose father introduced her to crop-dusting at an early age.  She  loves to fly and is a great pilot and wants to join World War II as a non-combat flyer.   The problem?  She is African-American in a country which still uses race to deny opportunities to its citizens–and as a woman, she isn’t eligible for a pilot license (except for the war effort).  Ida Mae makes the difficult decision to pass as white to get into the program.  She takes us into her conflict as she wrestles with her  emotions about her family, and the ways she is denying her heritage.  We learn about her relationships with friends and family, and her courage learning to be herself.  A terrific historical novel.

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The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

A good old-fashioned adventure story on the high seas:  a tale of mutiny, accusations of murder, –and a 13-year -old swashbuckling mate.  Who happens to be a girl.  It’s 1832, and on her long and difficult passage from England to Rhode Island, our heroine undergoes a huge transformation from the proper schoolgirl who boarded the ship.  The journal she keeps on the trip shows the reader the thinking of this brave, intelligent, and strong young woman.  It’s easy to see why this fast-paced and well-written historical novel won the Newbery Medal.

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Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar

Fourteen-year-old Nazia is growing up in a working class neighborhood in contemporary Pakistan–she’s a dutiful daughter, who loves school and her friends, and is preparing for her future marriage to a cousin.  When her father has an accident at work and is unable to work, the family’s life starts to come apart. . .her dowry is stolen, she must drop out of school to work hard as a live-in maid in a wealthy suburb, and she experiences wrenching circumstances.  But Nazia is a courageous  and compassionate young woman, and makes inspiring decisions. ( No spoilers here!)  A first novel by a Muslim Indian-American–we hope to read more of her books!

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