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

The Books I Picked & Why

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.


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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.


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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.


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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!


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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.


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