The best middle grade books about strong-willed girls making their place in the world

Who am I?

Growing up, I was especially drawn to stories with interesting female characters figuring out how to move through the world. I looked to those girls to help shape who I was and who I wanted to become. In the end, those influences played a part in the creation of Abbie Wu, the main character in my own book series, Frazzled. Like Abbie, many of the girls in the books on this list are in the process of finding themselves, and as readers, we get to join them on that journey and see who they become.

I wrote...

Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom

By Booki Vivat,

Book cover of Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom

What is my book about?

Abbie Wu is frazzled… and not just because she’s in middle school or because she’s stuck in a family that doesn’t quite get her or because everyone seems to have a thing except her. Abbie Wu is always frazzled.

Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom is the first in a fun series of heavily illustrated books that take readers into the mind of a hilariously frazzled middle school girl as she figures out who she is, where she belongs, and how to survive the everyday disasters of growing up.

The books I picked & why

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The First Rule of Punk

By Celia C. Pérez,

Book cover of The First Rule of Punk

Why this book?

With her punk rock style, music taste, and attitude, Malú is a kid who likes to live life out loud! As she navigates her time at a new school, she’s faced with big questions about her identity and what it means to be true to yourself. Alongside a (literal) band of misfits, she challenges the status quo and fights for the right of everyone to be who they want to be. The book itself is filled with cool collaged art pages of Malú’s zines, which help bring her world to life!

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

By Jessica Kim,

Book cover of Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

Why this book?

Yumi Chung may seem like a shy girl at school, but she actually dreams of becoming a comedian! Her parents want her to focus on her studies, but she’d rather work on perfecting her jokes. When an identity mix-up leads to her attending a comedy camp, she struggles to balance the expectations placed on her and the secrets she’s keeping inside. In the end, she finds the guts to stand up for what she wants and proves to everyone that she was meant to be a star! 

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

By Janae Marks,

Book cover of From the Desk of Zoe Washington

Why this book?

When Zoe Washington stumbles upon a letter from her incarcerated biological father and decides to write him back, it changes everything. As they connect through their letters and a shared love of music and food, Zoe also learns some startling revelations about his story that make her question what she knows to be true. How could an innocent man end up in prison? She plans to find out. Zoe grows into her own over the course of this book, developing a deep sense of determination, empathy, and justice.

Harriet the Spy

By Louise Fitzhugh,

Book cover of Harriet the Spy

Why this book?

I always wanted to be Harriet M. Welsch. She was fearless, honest, and most importantly, a writer. Harriet sees everything, or at least, she thinks she does. But when her notebook falls into the wrong hands and sends her world into chaos, it’s what she learns about herself and the people around her that really stuck with me. This book is a classic—and for good reason. Harriet the Spy shows readers the importance of seeing the world around you, telling the truth, and being unapologetically yourself.

Ella Enchanted

By Gail Carson Levine,

Book cover of Ella Enchanted

Why this book?

Ella Enchanted is a loose retelling of the classic Cinderella story, but Ella is not your typical fairytale damsel. She’s clumsy, stubborn, and very clever—not to mention cursed with the “gift” of obedience and determined to break it. As a young girl, this book introduced me to core ideas of how I wanted to move through the world. It showed me that adventures are not just for boys and that true power comes from believing in yourself rather than fitting into other people’s expectations.

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