Columns > Published on February 18th, 2015

Sneaking Around in YA: 6 Kickass Female Spies

Everybody loves a strong female lead, and thankfully there's quite a few clever, sneaky girls lurking around the Young Adult shelves. Whether they're fighting crime in the halls of the local high school, fending off the the bad guys in Cold-war Russia, or shaking things up in a steampunk setting, these girls know how to kick butt and take some names. Get acquainted with some kickass female spies in these six Young Adult novels. 

1. 'Model Spy' by Shannon Greenland

When sixteen-year-old computer genius Kelly James agrees to help her cute college RA uncover some top-secret information, she has no idea that she’ll land in hot water with the government. After all, he’s cute and it’s just the government. But when she is caught and taken into custody, it becomes clear that this isn’t just any arrest. To avoid the juvenile detention center, Kelly accepts a deal to change her name and enlist in a secret government spy agency that trains delinquent but brilliant teens like herself for undercover missions. When she arrives, she must train for her first mission, where she will pose as an undercover model to gain access to a certain dangerous Russian mogul with bad intentions.

With a clever premise and an original spin on teenage spies, Model Spy takes you into the underground world of modeling in an espionage caper sure to keep you on your toes. Kelly James knows how to get things done, and takes no prisoners along the way.

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2. 'Sekret' by Lindsay Smith

Surviving in Communist Russia is no easy feat, and Yulia knows she must control her thoughts and emotions. She knows she has skills beyond explanation as she manipulates black market traders in her struggle for survival, but finds they are worth much more when she is recruited by Russia’s powerful spy agency, the KGB. The KGB wants Yulia and other teens like her with mind-reading capabilities for their psychic espionage program. They will use any means necessary to make these young psychics cooperate with their goals of beating American capitalists, but Yulia is a fighter. She won’t allow anyone to control her as she fights becoming the next victim of a powerful American spy who can scrub her brain raw.

This book takes the teenage spy concept up a notch with a truly original idea and deft execution. These are no ordinary teens we’re talking about. These spies have unique and intriguing skill sets aimed at taking down the very worst in enemies, and as the stakes get increasingly higher, Yulia leads them all.

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3. 'Also Known As' by Robin Benway

Maggie Silver has always lived an unusual life. She’s traveled the world cracking safes for the world’s premier spy organization with her incredibly supportive parents and loves her extraordinary lifestyle. It never occurred to her that she might be missing out on high school with its bad lunches and ridiculous cliques. All that changes when Maggie gets her first solo assignment upon returning to New York City where she is set to attend a private academy as a student herself. Suddenly she is thrust into an academic life where she must navigate the hallways and try to make friends. Maggie’s assignment gets complicated when she must befriend the adorable son of a potential national security threat and she develops feelings that go beyond her mission.

With a wonderful, unique voice and nonstop witty dialogue, you’ll be rooting for Maggie to make friends and thwart the bad guys, all while falling in love.

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4. 'Etiquette and Espionage' by Gail Carriger

Sophronia is fourteen-years-old and trouble for her mother. Instead of being interested in proper etiquette and becoming a lady of elegance, she is enthralled by dismantling clocks and climbing trees — very unladylike behavior indeed. In hopes of turning Sophronia into a lady of means, her mother enrolls her into Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Little does she know that at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, young girls not only learn the finer arts of dance and etiquette, but also the even finer arts of deceit and espionage.

With a delightful steampunk setting and ingenious, unique characters, Gail Carriger has turned the teenage spy novel on its head and created a brand new world. This book is original and enthralling, chock full of everything espionage.

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5. 'I’d Tell You I Love you, But Then I’d Have to Kill You' by Ally Carter

The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is an all-girls school that not only breeds the finest in polished young ladies, but also sets them up for success with unusual subjects like advanced martial arts and chemical warfare in science. For students like Cammie Morgan, breaking CIA codes in class is cause for earning extra credit. Cammie has no problem mastering fourteen languages and running covert operations, but she’s baffled when she meets an ordinary boy who has no idea where she goes to school or what she’s really capable of. Cammie soon finds out that the most dangerous spy mission of all might just be falling in love.

This book is full of fascinating, realistic main characters and delicious plot lines that seamlessly weave together intriguing espionage and sweet teen romance.

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6. 'Perfect Cover' (The Squad #1) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

At first look, Bayport High looks like your typical high school in an affluent neighborhood, with the same social hierarchy and some really stellar athletic facilities. A closer examination proves that the high school is anything but ordinary. Toby Klein is a sophomore computer hacker with zero school spirit and a seriously bad attitude.  She’s the last person you’d ever expect to be invited as a walk-on to Bayport High’s premier cheerleading squad, also known as the God Squad. She realizes that Bayport High is more than what it appears as she discovers that the school’s hottest girls are threatening in more ways than one. The cheer squad is a cover for a highly trained group of underage government operatives. If Toby can handle the makeover, she’ll be set on a mission with some very dangerous girls.

You’ll never look at cheerleaders quite the same way again, knowing they might possibly be the most dangerous girls in school for more reasons than just social sabotage. These female spies are armed to the hilt and ready to take down evil one villain at a time.

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With main characters that girls can look up to, these six novels are great examples of the fun that’s in store with kickass female spies in young adult literature. Each one represents a clever, intriguing premise and a new spin on a familiar trope. There’s plenty of action, romance, and intrigue within these pages, all wrapped up in the exciting world of espionage. 

About the author

Riki has a long-standing love affair with all things books and writing. She indulged her love for all things literary with a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University and is currently studying at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Although she is well past her own teen years, Riki’s reading passion lies with Young Adult literature where she devours books that handle the “firsts” in life. When not reading and writing she can be found yelling at the television while watching sports.

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