Its breaking my heart that I can't introduce her to Tiffany Aching
March 6, 2012 11:53 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for YA books with a female main character, that will pass muster with very conservative Christian parents.

At work today I was discussing the Bechdel Test with a colleague, and he told me that his 13 year old daughter has read the same Brian Jacques book five times because its the only one with a female main character.

He asked if I could recommend anything she might like, with a caveat: she likes fantasy/adventure, but they're practicing Christians so she's not allowed to read anything with magic.

I came up with Coraline by Neil Gaiman, and the Hunger Games, then drew a complete blank. There have to be others, right?
posted by PercyByssheShelley to Media & Arts (60 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
What about Little Women?
posted by PinkMoose at 11:59 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle, if she has not already read it. A wonderful classic fantasy story with a female main character.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis (and the other books in the series)
Class fantasy story. Also has a female main character.

(I think these two authors were Christian, but that is incidental. However the parents may be happy about that. )

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katharine Paterson; one of the main characters is Christian but the book is really great on its own. (it's not fantasy though, it's about a girl who is in a lot of foster homes).

Dicey's SOng and Homecoming, Cynthia Voigt- both great books with a strong female character (the same one). Not fantasy but somewhat adventury. (esp. Homecoming).
posted by bearette at 12:00 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I meant *classic* fantasy story, and also, the other books in the Wrinkle in Time series are great as well.
posted by bearette at 12:01 AM on March 7, 2012

Delirium trilogy (second book just came out. Premise is a futuristic society that considers love to be a disease, and has discovered a cure for love which is administered to all at 18)

Matched trilogy (second book just came out. Premise is a Giver-esque society with arranged marriages)

Divergent trilogy (second book coming in May. Not exactly sure-- some type of dystopia-- but the reviews are really good)

older adventure, perhaps a bit easy for a 13yo: Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie of the Wolves
posted by acidic at 12:10 AM on March 7, 2012

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart is a great series. It's more of an adventure/mystery story. The "main" character is a boy, but he's in a team of four kids who all get a decent amount of focus. One of the team members is a girl-- a very inventive, athletic one.

Another good book would be Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet. There are two main characters and one is a smart bookish girl with a fairly strong personality. There's no magic, but theres a lot of really crazy coincidence in the story.

A Series of Unfortunate Events features a set of 3 orphan siblings, the eldest of which is a girl with a talent for inventing. The youngest sibling is also a girl whose talent is biting things.

I'm assuming the Brian Jacques book your friend's daughter has read over and over is Mariel of Redwall? Mariel stars in another book, though I can't remember the name. It might be The Bellmaker or something like that.

I also found this through Google. I can't vouch for the site but it seems to have compiled a pretty decent list:
posted by joyeuxamelie at 12:18 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

(it makes me sad too, OP, that I can't recommend some really great titles-- like the Kronos Chronicles, which is a *fantastic* fantasy/adventure series with a strong female protagonist. But there's magic all over that one.)
posted by joyeuxamelie at 12:21 AM on March 7, 2012

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is lovely, features some time travel but no magic and has great characters (including a female main). It even won a Newbery!
posted by charmedimsure at 12:24 AM on March 7, 2012

Ooh! And when I was 13 in a conservative Mormon household I could not have been more fascinated by Anne McCaffery's heroine Menolly in Dragonsong.

I am so sad that I can't suggest The Hero and The Crown, 13 is perfect for that.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:34 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

No magic? Hmmm.

Un Lon Dun has a magical world, but no magic users AFAIK...

The City of Ember has a fantastical, underground setting, but no REAL magic

Mousegaurd is like a comic book Redwall, but is a little violent

The True Meaning of Smekday has aliens, but no magic

The City, Not Long After is pretty amazing, and it's about the US after a plague. There's no "magic" in it, but the city of San Francisco rises up to defend itself against occupation by conservative forces. So I guess you could say there's ghosts? Sort of? But they might also just be everyday San Franciscans becoming heroes after a national apocalypse.
posted by spunweb at 12:42 AM on March 7, 2012

...and Scott Westerfield's apocalyptic/sci-fi Uglies series (which all my middle school students love) has a female main character, and is very page turn-y.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:48 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Princess Academy does not look like it has magic in it.

Catwings has flying cats in it, but AFAIK no magic.

There's also the Legends of Gahoole, which is a lot of owls, but no magic.
posted by spunweb at 12:50 AM on March 7, 2012

Oh! And the Spanish Gatekeeper series. They're about two Spanish kids from the turn of the century who walk through a gateway to an alternate universe where one of their ancestors is known as a wise statesmen. There's very fuzzy people (the Ulfair are wolflike aliens, and there are gnome-like creatures) but so far no magic, besides the gateway, which might be the aliens' science.

Anyways, it made me think of CS Lewis when I read it.
posted by spunweb at 12:54 AM on March 7, 2012

If she's okay with longer, there's also Always Coming Home by Ursula K. LeGuin.

The Wiki link makes it sound really boring, but it's actually really compelling. There's also no magic in it -- everything that Stone Telling sees that stuns her is actually the Condor people's stubborn adherence to the old ways.

An Afternoon of the Elves has fantastical elements but is really about a kid with an unwell mother...

Also, I highly rec checking out Francesca Lia Block. There're a lot of fantastical elements to her work as well, but very rarely are there magic users. However, she's a really LGBT-friendly, feminist author, so not all her characters are straight. If that would be a problem for this fam, I really rec looking up the summary of the book before giving it to them.
posted by spunweb at 1:08 AM on March 7, 2012

Oh my gosh. How could I forget this?

Ronia the Robber's Daughter. It's by the same woman who wrote Pippi Longstocking.

She might be a smidge too old tho? I'm recommending things I read when I was 13 and attended Catholic school (or could see being in the library there), and while I loved Ronia on Amazon it's shown as being for 8+.
posted by spunweb at 1:12 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anne of Green Gables should be safe enough... not as much of the action/adventure though it does pass muster for most conservative parents.

Maybe a search for christian young adult fiction and from there narrow down to female lead characters? I fail at most searches of that sort, but someone with better google-fu might have luck finding some acceptable titles.

CS Lewis was extremely Christian, so the Lion Witch & Wardrobe series might be allowed even though there's magic involved.
posted by myShanon at 1:15 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

The entire Pern series, but make sure to get the prequel to it, so they understand that they're science fiction dragons, not magic dragons.

A Wrinkle in Time does contain magic, but likewise, it's Christian magic. You can also start off with the standalone book that's super Christian, I'm blanking here but another Mefite may remember the title, so that once they're used to that, you can sneak in the others.

Julie of the Wolves, Eskimo girl runs away from arranged marriage and lives with wolves for a year.

Nancy Drew books, no magic, female is the best.

There's a lot of fictionalized accounts of Eleanor of Aquitaine, which are awesome and historical.

Joan of Arc books generally contain history and yet are totally totally Christian.

I will say it's not until I looked over my daughter's library how many of the female-main-characters are all in fantasy, which is /also/ heartbreaking.
posted by corb at 2:09 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

What about Honor Harrington? (The link goes to the full online text of the first book)

It is a space navy adventure!
posted by that girl at 2:21 AM on March 7, 2012

John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began series? [The film is utter crap, though - so disappointing!] There is mention of sex but no actual description of deeds. It's been a staple high school text in Australia since it was first published. John Marsden is/was an English teacher and wrote it to address the issue of no kick-ass female leads in YA fiction taught in [Australian] high schools.
posted by honey-barbara at 2:39 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

On Fortune's Wheel, also by Cynthia Voight is an amazing fantasy/adventure/love story (with no magic).
posted by Kronur at 2:44 AM on March 7, 2012

Also by L.M. Montgomery is the Emily series, also made into a TV series. Age 10 and up on Amazon.
posted by Yorrick at 2:50 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

So I found this list (PDF) of YA historical fiction, a number of which seem to have female main characters. I seem to recall reading Catherine, Called Birdie as a kid, but I don't remember much about it. Oh! What about The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle?
posted by hoyland at 4:57 AM on March 7, 2012

Hmm. What about the Animorphs series? It's about a group of middle school kids who fight an alien invasion by turning into aliens. They are able to do this because of another alien's technology. The books are from the viewpoints of each of the six main characters. There are two females, the beautiful, tough, brave Rachel and the smart, strong, kind Cassie. There are also background character females, like the brave, smart alien who befriends another alien that her alien race tells her to ignore.

As an adult, I recently started rereading the series, and am mildly surprised by how much I still like it!
posted by Night_owl at 5:00 AM on March 7, 2012

Catherine, Called Birdy is so good! It's historical fiction about a medieval girl who finds creative ways to get out of marrying various awful suitors. Karen Cushman also wrote The Midwife's Apprentice, another historical fiction work.
posted by brilliantine at 5:17 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Not fantasy, but has she tried The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, or Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson?
posted by easily confused at 5:34 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

they're practicing Christians so she's not allowed to read anything with magic.

You sure about that? Because there are lots of works by Christian authors that have magic in them. Like, say, The Chronicles of Narnia, not to mention The Lord of the Rings, both of which are considered absolute classics of modern Christian literature. And just literature, generally speaking. Indeed, a good chunk of Christian literature in the twentieth century involves magic of some sort or another: Lewis, Tolkien, L'Engle, Le Guin, etc. Because you're making recommendations to the dad, not giving the girl books directly, I think you can probably have a conversation about this one.

But here's the thing: the kind of family that's going to frown on Tolkien and L'Engle is probably going to frown not just on "magic" but on novels as a sort of frivolity. Or, at least, the two impulses are fairly closely related. So if this guy is content to let his daughter read adventure stories written by non-Christians just so long as they don't have "magic" in them, nevermind the fact that they likely contain ideology and morality which would be quite problematic from any kind of Christian perspective, it would seem quite strange for him to not let her read explicitly theological adventure stories written by orthodox Christians congruent with Christian values simply on the basis of some reference to "magic".

Thing is, it sounds to me like this guy really isn't thinking all that long or hard about his cultural consumption patterns. He's just working with a series of talking points someone gave him. He's worried about the prohibition against "witchcraft" in the Old Testament,* and equating any reference to "magic" with that. But he's missing the fact that a lot of "magic" in fantasy literature, particularly fantasy literature written by non-Christians, isn't really supernatural at all. It's just a different branch of physics. Harry Potter is a prime example: these people aren't doing anything particularly otherworldly, they're just manipulating natural forces as predictable and regular as gravity, friction, or inertia. Nothing mysterious about it. It's science is what it is. To the extent that I have qualms about letting my (hypothetical) kids read the HP books, bit's because 1) their ethics are actually kind of wonky in places, and 2) if anything, they actually do quite a bit to disenchant the world. "Magic" at Hogwarts is a very, very different thing than "magic" in Middle Earth, and the latter is fundamentally ethical and moral in ways that the former isn't.

So I would try to engage him in conversation about this, but you probably can't push too hard. And I'd definitely approach it not from a "Your values and concerns are wrong" standpoint as much as a "Are you being consistent about your values and concerns?"

*Nevermind the fact that the prohibition is less against the use of "magic" as such, the reality of which Scripture is kind of ambivalent about, and more against any attempt to try to see into the future, something which Scripture is quite clear is none of our business, thank you very much.
posted by valkyryn at 5:35 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

In the adventure direction, there are a lot of frontier/colonial/early American girls to read about, and as many of the women are Christian, there's a lot of Christianity undergirding many of the books. The degree of adventure varies. Christy is a Christian romance for teenagers, essentially, but it's good -- a young, wealthy Christian woman goes to be a teacher in an impoverished area to live out her values.

The Little House on the Prairie series, obviously, if she hasn't already read it. Lots of Christianness.

All of Lucy Maud Montgomery's books have female heroines (Anne and Emily being particularly strong) and a strong current of Christianity.

Little Women (although they're trancendentalist Christians, it must be pointed out), and others by Louisa May Alcott

Caddie Woodlawn

Mrs. Mike (about life on the Alaskan frontier, not as much Christianity as some of the others)

There are some other more random books in this vein -- I read a cute one called "Never Marry a Ranger!" that you can maybe find by starting from here.

valkyryn, you're inquiring so much farther into the question than a fundamentalist Christian will. They don't care how the magic in the books work; just that it's magic. And they generally don't read Lewis (or Tolkein) because they see it as "too Catholic" or "not the right sort of Christian." After some evangelical leaders came out in favor of the Narnia MOVIES, some changed their tunes on the Narnia BOOKS, but others concluded their leadership had been misled by Satan about the movies. Not even kidding. I had college students assure me in class that Harry Potter was evil because the spells in it were real and they WORKED and you could tell because they were in Latin (like the Catholic Mass! "no it isn't, at least not most of the time" "Yes it is." "No it ISN'T, I'm Catholic, I go there." "Yes it is, it's in Latin, they do magic."). I thought this was so ridiculous I actually laughed and invited everyone to have a spell-off in class. The students continued to insist the spells worked and even if they weren't working RIGHT, we were unleashing evil into the world by saying "Alohomora." ("It's not even real Latin, you know" "Yes it is." GAAAH.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:46 AM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

There are a lot of good Christian bookshops out there that will have a wide range of fiction for all age groups. While it may not be classic fiction like C.S. Lewis they can have some pretty OK authors. I've read a couple of Christian novels, I have a friend who likes to read, but will only read Christian books (avoids Harry Potter etc because of the "Magic" in it) so I read some of her books so we can talk about them. I would have sworn some of these books were fantasy novels but were considered OK as they were about the right sort of magic and based on the bible.

Anyway my point is you will be able to find some not too bad a books, from historical romance to fantasy style to modern fiction all for young adults there that will make the parents happy and at 13 I think encouraging a love of reading books is a great thing.

PS My heart hurts with you to not be able to introduce her to Tiffany Aching, I was using my niece as an excuse to buy those books while she was still on picture books.
posted by wwax at 6:13 AM on March 7, 2012

I'd just like to warn that some of the Anne McCaffrey Pern books and the later Honor Harrington series (and maybe others here) might not pass muster for a very Christian 13-year-old because they have lots of sex in them, and basically none of it of the marital variety, either. There may well be other issues the parents may not be comfortable dealing with, too, like rape.
posted by Andrhia at 6:16 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I came in to make the point that Andrhia made about Pern--lots of dragon-mating-induced sex, which includes homosexual sex. It's even there in the Menolly books, rather than the Rider books, so probably not a good choice for a conservative Christian household.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:52 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding Julie of the Wolves.

The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley, would be perfect but they mention kelar, a kind of magical intuition. But there are no wands or cauldrons, and the covers, if I recall correctly, just portray a female warrior on a horse. They are lovely books with strong heroines.
posted by clearlydemon at 7:03 AM on March 7, 2012

corb, are you thinking of Many Waters? I read that first without realizing that it was part of the Time Quintet. If the girl's parents might have a problem with the amount of sex in Pern, they might have an issue with some of the themes in this book as well....regardless of its Christian overtones.
posted by KoPi_42 at 7:12 AM on March 7, 2012

Kiki Strike features a group of girls in NYC. Lots of spy-type adventure, no magic. Only objectionable if they don't want the kid to learn how to pick locks, wear disguises, etc.
posted by mikepop at 7:31 AM on March 7, 2012

Sophie's World might be interesting.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:42 AM on March 7, 2012

Zilpha Keatly Snyder writes a ton of books with great female characters. Some are probably too "magical" for the father but many would fit. I'd recommend

And Condor's Danced
The Velvet Room
Cat Running
Libby on Wednesday

The first three are also period fiction, which is very appealing to young girls (or at least was to me).
posted by radioamy at 7:44 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is excellent. Mrs. Frisby is a female mouse, and she behaves heroically and is the protagonist. If you've seen the movie know that there is no magic in the book. If I ever meet Don Bluth I am going to have sternly worded conversation with him about that*.

*I don't have any problem with magic, per se, but in the book the way the rats solve their problems is with logic - they think their way out of problems. They are very smart rats. This both makes the book at least glancingly plausible and gives it a pretty good message. In the stupid movie, the way the rats solve their problems is partly by thinking, and partly by relying on some magical amulet, which makes no sense, compromises both the heart and brains of the movie, and basically screws everything up. Boy that makes me mad.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:00 AM on March 7, 2012

Is the daughter ok with Christian fiction? Because there are a few authors that aren't terrible (speaking as someone who was an avid consumer of Christian fiction at that age).

If so, Angela Elwell Hunt is pretty good. Not totally action-packed or fantasy, but much better than the average shlock that's put out. I devoured the "Heirs of Cahira O'Conner" series when I was 14. Book 1 is about a secretly educated woman in the 15th century taking on the church during the Reformation; Book 2 is about a woman who pretends to be a boy on a Dutch sailing ship during the 1600s and becomes a cartographer; Book 3 is set in the Civil War and is about a woman studying to be a doctor who disguises herself as a soldier; Book 4 is the weakest, but it ties up the threads from the original starting point of the 13th Century deathbed vow (so I guess there's an element of fantasy) and the modern-day investigative reporter.

I'll also nth Madeline L'Engle, particularly the Time Quintet. I also recommend her other stuff, even though the ones with a lead heroine aren't notably action-packed or fanciful (i.e. "Meet the Austins" and their sequels) and the others that are, often have a male lead (i.e. Arm of the Starfish). But I'm a little biased towards L'Engle because A Ring of Endless Light represents a battered and dog-eared moment in my 13-year-old coming-of-age history.
posted by paisley sheep at 8:02 AM on March 7, 2012

I loved the Mandie books too! Lots of mystery. Interesting historically too.
posted by greta simone at 8:04 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi. There's a strong female heroine, ships and adventure. I don't remember much of the plot, but I remember liking it a lot.

If she's too old for Island of the Blue Dolphins, she might like Sarah Bishop by the same author.
posted by psycheslamp at 8:59 AM on March 7, 2012

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a children's/YA alternate history tale set in England and featuring two young cousins, Bonnie and Sylvia. If she likes this one, the tale spins out into a whole series known as the "Wolves Chronicles" – though the focus shifts to other characters... principally, another young girl, adventurous "street urchin" Dido Twite. The first three books of the series are the best known.
posted by taz at 9:15 AM on March 7, 2012

Oh paisley sheep-- my copy of A Ring of Endless Light is also falling apart. I re-read it every few years when I'm feeling really low.

Nthing the Austins books, especially those spotlighting Vicky. Madeline L'Engle was a lifelong Christian, and her portrayal of Vicky's grandfather (a retired minister) and his beliefs is wonderful.

Nthing Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman. Hilarious.

Also: True Grit by Charles Portis.
posted by stompadour at 10:14 AM on March 7, 2012

On the off chance that alt-history novels would work, there are a couple by Harry Turtledove that seem to be appropriate

In High Places - the protagonist is a teenage girl in a world where the Moors won the battle of Tours, & so in 2100 they still rule Portugal, Spain, & southern France.

Gunpowder Empire - this is in a Europe where the Roman empire never fell. The protagonist is a teenage girl who has to take care of herself & her little brother in some stressful situations.

Both of the above are explicitly YA oriented fiction. HT has another book, Household Gods, in which the woman protagonist gets sent back to 2nd century Austria in the Roman empire, & has to overcome culture clash, sexism, etc. Then again, given the casual references to Greco-Roman gods, the parents may not like this one.
posted by AMSBoethius at 10:22 AM on March 7, 2012

Because there are lots of works by Christian authors that have magic in them.

I think the OP was using "Christian" as shorthand for "fairly legalistic Evangelical/Pentecostal Christian." The kind of people who don't want their kids to read Harry Potter because it has magic in it, or don't want their kids to watch Richard Attenborough documentaries because they talk about evolution "too much." C. S. Lewis's Anglicanism or Madeleine L'Engle's Episcopalianism (I think?) reflect a very different tradition from most Evangelical and Pentecostal communities.

If she likes Brian Jaques, The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt, should be right up her alley (a female cat and a male bloodhound become best friends; it's somewhat reminiscent of Watership Down but more for middle-schoolers). If she somehow missed Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert O' Brien, she might like it, though it would be a little young for her now.

Going back a ways, in this case to the turn of the century, Gene Stratton-Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost is about a desperately poor young teenage girl who lives in a wild bayou has both natural and economic adventures.

There are people who write specifically for the young adult Evangelical and Pentecostal communities. I hear good things about Elise Stokes's "Cassidy Jones" books, about a young girl with (scientifically explained) super-powers that she puts to use fighting crime--they're favorites in Christian Booksellers Association shops--but I've never read one.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:52 AM on March 7, 2012

Jane Ray's Wildlife Rescue Series is fantastic. However, I'm not sure if the most recent book (Crow Medicine) would be okay with these parents, because it does discuss Canadian aboriginal mythology. But the first two books should be fine and they could decide whether she should read the third.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:53 AM on March 7, 2012

The Girl Who Owned a City, the title of which AskMe once helped me remember. Apparently there's also a graphic novel version now.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 11:18 AM on March 7, 2012

I forgot! The Secret of Zoom is good adventure novel. No magic, just a fictional fuel source that is mined out of a mountain. It's actually kind of scifi-ish.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 11:29 AM on March 7, 2012

Response by poster: First and foremost- I love you all, and I want to read every book suggested here. I'm not going to mark any best answers, because I would be marking every single one and that makes the thread a lot harder to read.

Regarding the theology aspect- '[we're] practicing Christians so she's not allowed to read anything with magic' is a direct quote from her father. I don't know their denomination.

I agree that the rule is very rigid, but sitting down with him to discuss and question his beliefs is an open invitation to discuss and question my own. I really, really don't want that to happen, and the conversation would be inappropriate for work according to our employment contracts.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 11:48 AM on March 7, 2012

When I was a Christian, I used to love Karen Hancock's Arena.
Science fiction, not magic, involving apparently alien technologies. If I remember right, people do get hurt, suffer emotionally, and die on occasion.

Nevermind that this book eventually helped me towards atheism with all of its attempts at pulling back the metaphorical veil on the real world in an attempt to reveal spiritual truth and freedom in "giving yourself to God."
posted by DisreputableDog at 1:19 PM on March 7, 2012

A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones has time travel (based on plausible cutting edge science) but no magic.

Monica Hughes has written a lot of really cool adventure/science fiction for young adults, often featuring female protagonists. Some examples:
Invitation to the Game
The Isis trilogy

Continuing the theme of dystopic science fiction, there's also Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry
posted by dustyasymptotes at 3:22 PM on March 7, 2012

What about Roald Dahl? Maybe not The Witches or George's Marvellous Medicine, but James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are pretty fantastical.

Also, I second, third, fourth and fifth the Anne series and Emily trilogy by Lucy Maud Montomery. It's not fantasy/sci-fi, but our heroines are creative and headstrong Christian women. I also like the two Story Girl books by the same author--The Story Girl and The Golden Road. Just a bunch of young cousins running around the countryside with their imaginations and stories.
posted by peripathetic at 3:44 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

What about the Elizabeth Gail series? I loved that series, even though I am Jewish. Strong female characters, interesting plots...not fantasy but there were mysteries.
posted by SisterHavana at 3:48 PM on March 7, 2012

Nthing Madeleine L'Engle, ESPECIALLY the Austin family series. I didn't discover that L'Engle had written anything other than "A Wrinkle in Time" (which I LOVED) until high school and I ate those books up like cake. Strong female characters, adventure, kind & inclusive Christianity, and magic that's really more sciencey in nature than strictly magical. Vicky Austin was (and is!) such an important fictional character to me and I bet she could be to this young girl as well.

Susan Beth Pfeffer's Last Survivors series starting with "Life As We Knew It" is pretty awesome. A meteor hits the moon and knocks it closer to the Earth, causing all sorts of disasters. It might be scientifically dodgy (heh) but it's dramatically rich and I do recall some(very) mild religious overtones. Books one and three feature the same main female narrator and book two feature two female secondary characters.

The Matched trilogy by Ally Condie starting with "Matched" is also a possibility. It's not magical at all but set in a dystopian future with a female main character who slowly starts to kick some butt. I really enjoyed the first book!
posted by Aquifer at 6:44 PM on March 7, 2012

What about the Vesper Holly adventures? She's like a teenaged girl version of Indiana jones.
posted by spunweb at 1:09 AM on March 8, 2012

Oh and the west mark series by Lloyd Alexander has no magic... But it's very dark
posted by spunweb at 1:15 AM on March 8, 2012

Sorry to keep flooding your thread; I just have a lot of sympathy for her because I went to a Catholic school where they were fairly strict about what kinds of books were allowed in the library.

Something she may really dig is Pink Boots and a Machete. I have not read it, but it is the biography of research scientist/explorer/NFL cheerleader. From what I hear it's not salacious, and the YA book club I used to work with seemed to enjoy it.

The other thing you could do is see what books count for Girl Scout badges. If there's a council in your area, they should have a list prepared. Or you could ask a librarian. They LOVE questions like this
posted by spunweb at 10:53 AM on March 8, 2012

There's also Picnic on Paradise, by Joanna Russ. It's a collection of her Alyx stories. Alyx is an assassin/thief who becomes of interest to the Para Temporal Agency because of all her adventures. There's some brief sexuality (like Alyx falls in love on one of her adventures, and sleeps with her lover) but from what I recall it's really brief and not explicit. However, since each is a short story, you could maybe just track those down?
posted by spunweb at 3:52 PM on March 8, 2012

I mean, the collection will def have the one with the brief sexy-times, but the others won't, and you could see if they've been anthologized elsewhere.
posted by spunweb at 3:53 PM on March 8, 2012

Windhaven by Lisa Tuttle would be good as well.
posted by spunweb at 11:13 PM on March 8, 2012

Patricia C. Wrede's "Enchanted Forest Chronicles" would be great.
posted by tybstar at 11:30 PM on March 8, 2012

Sorry, I posted too quickly. Enchanted Forest Chronicles obviously has magic. :(
posted by tybstar at 11:33 PM on March 8, 2012

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