The best YA books about secret spy schools for girls

Kathleen Baldwin Author Of A School for Unusual Girls: A Stranje House Novel (Stranje House, 1)
By Kathleen Baldwin

Who am I?

Spy stories have always captivated me. This fascination grew after I learned that throughout history, many women worked behind the scenes as key spies. How cool is that? So, I decided to write a girls' spy school set in Jane Austen's world. Junior Library Guild said this about A School for Unusual Girls, “An outstanding alternative history series entry and a must-have for teen libraries.” Scholastic licensed the series for their school book fairs. Ian Bryce, the producer of Spiderman, Transformers, Saving Private Ryan, and other blockbusters, optioned it for film. To date, more than 600,000 copies of my award-winning historical novels are in the hands of readers around the globe.


I wrote...

A School for Unusual Girls: A Stranje House Novel (Stranje House, 1)

By Kathleen Baldwin,

Book cover of A School for Unusual Girls: A Stranje House Novel (Stranje House, 1)

What is my book about?

A secret spy school set amidst Jane Austen’s high society.

Stranje House is one of Regency England’s dark little secrets—daughters of the beau monde who don't fit society's constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young ladies. Or so their parents think. In truth, headmistress, Emma Stranje, has plans for these young ladies—plans that entangle the girls in the dangerous world of spies and diplomacy in the Napoleonic war.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Harriet the Spy

By Louise Fitzhugh,

Book cover of Harriet the Spy

Why this book?

Harriet the Spy was one of my favorite books as a child. Although Harriet wasn’t actually attending a spy school, she was training to be a spy so she could become a writer. She observed her neighbors and friends with brutal honesty. In the end, she learned that she needed to temper her observations with kindness. This story touched me deeply. For years, I ate tomato sandwiches in honor of my beloved Harriet, and I hauled that book around with me until my copy became so tattered and worn it was unreadable.

Harriet the Spy

By Louise Fitzhugh,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Harriet the Spy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1974, a title in which Harriet M. Welsch, aspiring author, keeps a secret journal in which she records her thoughts about strangers and friends alike, but when her friends find the notebook with all its revelations, Harriet becomes the victim of a hate campaign.

The Agency: A Spy in the House

By Y.S. Lee,

Book cover of The Agency: A Spy in the House

Why this book?

I absolutely loved this series! The heroine is a young woman struggling to survive the harsh streets of Victorian England. Caught stealing, Mary Quinn is convicted and sentenced to hang. However, the Agency rescues her from the noose and provides her with an education. In return, she trains to work as an investigative agent among the upper-class society of London. These books expose the realistic darker side of that world, but if you could handle Oliver Twist, you can handle these. Lee captured the mystery and intrigue so brilliantly I could not put them down.

The Agency: A Spy in the House

By Y.S. Lee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Agency as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A colourful, action-packed Victorian detective novel centred around the exploits of "agent" Mary Quinn.

At a young age, Mary is rescued from the gallows by a woman masquerading as a prison warden. She is taken to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. The school, Mary learns, is a front for a private investigation agency and, at 17, she is taken on as an agent. In her new role she is catapulted into the family home of the Thorolds to investigate the shady business dealings of Mr Thorold.

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

By Ally Carter,

Book cover of I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

Why this book?

This delightful series is so much fun it rates a 'must have' on my list of girls' spy schools. The spy school is housed in a charming old mansion, complete with secret passages and hidden elevators. It is attended by carefully-selected, super-smart young women who train to become the Gallagher girls—spies extraordinaire. Naturally, there is a counterpart boys’ spy school. With a touch of romantic angst, this series does not disappoint. The girls are each distinct, memorable, and tons of fun.

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

By Ally Carter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Gallagher Academy might claim to be a school for geniuses - but it's really a school for spies. Cammie Morgan is fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man in seven different ways (three of which involve a piece of uncooked spaghetti). But the one thing the Gallagher Academy hasn't prepared her for is what to do when she falls for an ordinary boy who thinks she's an ordinary girl.

Sure, she can tap his phone, hack into his computer, and track him through a mall without his ever being the wiser, but can Cammie have a normal…


Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I

By Robin Lafevers,

Book cover of Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I

Why this book?

Admittedly, this is more of a school for assassins, but they’re also spies training at a nunnery in ancient Brittany. The medieval setting feels authentic and fascinating. The plot is a little darker, especially in the beginning, but masterfully written. And I fell in love with the characters. Reading these books, I felt as if I was there, experiencing every scene, living through every action, and I can still remember years later. That’s great storytelling!

Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I

By Robin Lafevers,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Grave Mercy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
     Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high…


Etiquette & Espionage

By Gail Carriger,

Book cover of Etiquette & Espionage

Why this book?

I cannot resist Gail Carriger’s tongue-in-cheek writing style. If you enjoy quippy hilarious steampunk, don’t miss Etiquette & Espionage. It is a finishing school for young ladies set amid a Victorian world peopled with vampires, werewolves (some nice and some not so nice), cute cuddly mechanimals, and evil automatons. While these young ladies are being trained in the “art of dance, dress, and etiquette, they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage—in the politest possible ways, of course.” It is a hoot and a half! Carriger writes Victoriana as no one else can.

Etiquette & Espionage

By Gail Carriger,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Etiquette & Espionage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to finishing school.

Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners-and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in robots, orphans, and school?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about robots, orphans, and school.

Robots Explore 70 books about robots
Orphans Explore 122 books about orphans
School Explore 186 books about school

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Anne of Green Gables, True Grit, and The Phantom Tollbooth if you like this list.