There has been a real push IRL (as they say) to get girls and young women into coding, spawning organizations like Girls Who Code, Google’s Made with Code project, and even games like GoldieBlox. The YA world has always had girls who code—gamer girls, hacker girls, and otherwise math/sciencey girls—and here’s a list of 6 favorites, featuring kickass STEM heroines.
The Square Root of Summer, by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
While coding is language, it’s also intrinsically tied with other areas of programming and mathematics, and the heroine of The Square Root of Summer is fluent in both math and physics. Gottie may not be someone who codes on the page, but the lens through which she views the world is definitely colored by her interests. A philosophical, contemplative work of magical realism, The Square Root of Summer is the story of a young girl dealing with loss and grief by traveling through time, space, and her own mind. And wormholes.
Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Illuminae is an incredible work of science fiction that combines elements of “found footage” ephemera, straight narrative, and fictionalized code. Fictionalized code, you say? Yes. Illuminae mostly takes place aboard two spaceships on the run from the a third. Our heroine, Kady Grant, is a talented hacker who uses her skills with code and computers to work with AIDAN, a sentient and self-aware artificial intelligence, to save the fleet from danger. AIDAN is code brought to life, and Kady is its interpreter, nemesis, and friend. Kady’s coding and hacking skills aren’t merely a hobby or character trait, but a real and integral part of who she is as a person, as well as the means by which she becomes the book’s hero. Illuminae is great at dramatizing how not all heroics are about winning physical battles, but mental ones, too.
In Real Life, by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
This graphic novel may at first seem like a charming story about a girl gamer learning to navigate and have confidence in a (still) male-dominated sphere, but it’s also a story about the economics of gaming and how what we do online has real-life ramifications. Anda is a young woman who loves to play Coarsegold Online, an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, similar to Warcraft), and who, through the game, meets a “gold farmer” in China. Gold farmers are players who obtain valuable objects in games and then illegally sell them to other gamers for real cash. It’s an interesting (if flawed) look at the ethics and economics of gaming, one worth examining.
Olivia Twisted, by Vivi Barnes
A retelling of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist with a female hacker lead? Sign me up. Foster kid Olivia’s skills have brought her to the attention of Z, who recruits her into a ragtag band of orphan vigilantes who hack into the bank accounts of rich people to try to build a better life for themselves. If a romance between the Artful Dodger and a female Oliver Twist sounds right up your alley, you should give this book a try.
Bluescreen, by Dan Wells
Bluescreen is a cyberthriller set in a near future in which everyone is fitted with a “djinni,” a smart chip implanted into the brain that gives you constant access to the internet. Marisa is our heroine, a Mexican American hacker. When Bluescreen, a software “drug” that causes safe, non-chemically induced highs is introduced to the market, it seems too good to be true—and it is. When one of her friends takes Bluescreen and deals with some serious repercussions, Mari and her friends must use their skills to figure out just what Bluescreen really is, and who might be behind it.
Legend and Warcross, by Marie Lu
This might be a bit of a stretch, but one of the protagonists of Marie Lu’s Legend is June Iparis, a child genius and prodigy. One of June’s skills is hacking into secure servers and tracing hidden messages implanted by her brother about the real secrets of the Republic in which they live. It’s clear Lu has a fondness for smart girls with computer skills, because the heroine of her forthcoming novel, Warcross, is a hacker/gamer/bounty hunter (yes!) hired by a mysterious billionaire to track down someone threatening to destroy everything he’s built. Warcross won’t be out until fall 2017, but it’s one title to look out for!