Growing up, my mother always told me I was "too clever for my own good". I was responsible for many of the 'adventures' that landed my friends and I in bad graces with adults in general. I got into trouble so often, I once thought I would just be permanently grounded. Unfortunately, grounding me never worked too well because I had a huge appetite for books and was content to read all day if I couldn't be outside ripping up my clothes and skinning my knees. I painted fences with Tom Sawyer, exercised my mind with Matilda, solved mysteries with the Boxcar Children, and found the secret garden.
However, the stories with polite or gentle girls never really sat right with me. They were good, but I didn't see myself in them. I wanted books that reflected my own personality a bit more.
I've discovered some good reads over the years that younger me was looking for, so here's my top suggestions for all the Clever Girls out there.
Genre: Paranormal Action with tastes of Mystery
Ghosts. Hauntings. Rapiers. Talking skulls. Unsupervised teenagers. What else do I need to say? London is bursting with ghosts, specters, and poltergeists that threaten the living every time the sun goes down. Specially trained agents work in the moonlight to keep the hauntings at bay - but only the young can see them. After Lucy’s fellow agents die in a horrible accident, she runs away to London where she works for the dynamic young Lockwood. There she discovers she has her own special gift that helps unlock the mystery of the hauntings.
It’s Scooby Doo meets MIB in this amazing ghost hunter adventure that I could not. put. down.
Genre: Fantasy Medieval Adventure
Ten year old Keladry is the first girl allowed to train to become a knight in centuries. The odds are stacked against her from the mean pranks of the other pages to the old fashioned quartermaster who thinks she has no place in his classes. When war threatens her country and children begin to go missing, Keladry is called to defend those who cannot defend themselves. Keladry proves her worth and her wits again and again as she becomes the protector of the small in a classic coming of age adventure.
ANY of Tamora's books are perfect for the adventurous girl, but this series is my personal favorite. It’s set in an established universe as the third series. But Keladry's courage and her determination to always do the right thing makes this adventure well worth the read.
Genre: Historical High Seas Fiction
When Orphan Mary's gang leader dies on the hard streets of 1790s London, she steals his clothes and takes on the name Jack to be a Royal Navy ship's boy. She navigates life on the seas fighting pirates and learning how to sail from the sailors while hiding her identity. Jack gets herself in and out of trouble as often as some people change clothes, but her quick thinking and charming wit makes her lovable and keeps readers coming back for more.
Over the course of the series you see her go from street orphan to pirate queen and it is GLORIOUS. If you can listen to the audio book DO IT because the voice actress sets the bar for all voice actors.
Content warning: there is a sexual assault attempt on the main character about halfway through the first book and several more attempts on her throughout the series.
Genre: Adventure Horror
Coraline is a clever and very bored young girl, upset by her family's recent move and uninspired in their new home. So when she discovered a little door that leads to a fantastical world where all her wants and wishes are granted, she learns that if something seems too good to be true…
I read this book as a child and thought it was a wonderful adventure, then watched the movie as an adult and couldn't believe it now seemed like a horror story. Still, in my head I am the young reader diving into the adventure right along with Coraline.
A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz
Genre: Historical Melodrama (Feels like a ghost story, but it's not. Feels like a mystery, but it's not...)
Ten year old Maud thinks it's too good to be true when she is adopted away from the awful orphanage by 3 elderly sisters who tell her she is to be their secret child. Maud swears to be good, an obedient and perfect child, so they’ll keep her. Soon Maud is caught up in a world of fake mediums and staged séances, when she is told she is to play the ghost of a drowned little girl.
Ghosts and intrigue are my bread and butter, but throw in a plucky clever young girl outwitting less than honorable adults? Gold.
Robin Lady of Legend by R.M. ArceJaeger
Genre: Historical fiction in episodic adventures with mistaken gender hijinks, romance
Robin Hood is the stuff of legends - an expert archer, outlaw to the crown, a hero to the poor, a defender of the forest, and actually a young maiden living under the guise of a man after running from her forced engagement to the Sheriff of Nottingham. This book is one adventure after another as Robin hides her true identity and the legend of the Hood grows around her, and readers can see where certain tales may have gotten... misunderstood.
Bound by Donna Jo Napoli
Genre: Chinese Historical retelling of Cinderella
After the death of her parents, Xing Xing is bound to her stepmother and half-sister as an unmarriageable girl and is forced to work as their only servant since they both have the painful but compulsory bound feet. Xing Xing finds solace in her poetry and calligraphy until her stepmother's desperation and greed to marry off her sister puts Xing Xing's memories of the past and her dreams of the future in jeopardy.
This was my very first fractured fairy tale before I knew what the name for it was. China is the perfect setting for Cinderella, and Xing Xing's determination and will makes a beautiful story.
And of course, there's plenty more adventures waiting out there on the library shelves. Maybe you'll find one I missed. Gather your wits, girls, and get to exploring.