If you ask your average citizen to name famous women in STEM fields, you’ll be lucky if they can identify more than one. Despite the fact that a large number of women have accomplished amazing things in science, technology, engineering, and math, Marie Curie still dominates the conversation as the one female scientist we can recall. Well, it’s 2015, and it’s time to change that conversation. We can, of course, do that by learning about real leading ladies of science (like Mary Sherman Morgan and Hedy Lamarr), but we can also do it by bringing more girls into STEM fields every day. To help with that, here are 7 young adult novels, ranging from contemporary to historical to hard sci-fi, starring smart girls who change the world by dropping hot STEM knowledge.
Higher Geometry, by Sharelle Byars Moranville
This 1950s-set story is about a girl who eschews her parents’ traditional, small-town American values in favor of something more—namely, going to college and studying mathematics. Anna is a math genius, not a particularly desired trait for a woman at the time, and must constantly struggle to fulfill her potential. Her romantic interests coexist happily with her desire to learn—in fact, her relationship with Mike allows her to dream of more. This is a fascinating story that serves as a stark reminder of a time when girls weren’t invited to push against expectations and follow their dreams.
A Girl Named Digit, by Annabel Monaghan
Farrah (aka Digit) might be your average math whiz, but she’s embarrassed by her brilliance and does something about it: she pretends to be “regular” so that she can fit in with the popular crowd. Unfortunately for her (but fortunately for everyone else), her plans go awry when she cracks a terrorist group’s code and gets involved with the FBI. Now she’s on the run from the ecoterrorists with a super hot young FBI agent, who’s obviously impressed with Digit’s mad math skills, because who wouldn’t be? Digit is smart and witty and awesome, and anyone who has ever struggled with their identity will relate to her. Digit’s story reads like a high-speed chase with exciting math problems and code cracking and FBI romance. Basically, it’s the YA version of TV show Numbers.
Virals, by Brendan Reichs
As the grandniece of world-famous forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (aka Bones), it’s really not surprising Tory is one smart lady. When she relocates to South Carolina to live with her father—himself a research scientist—she spends her time exploring a research island with her self-described nerd friends. But soon they’re exposed to an experimental virus, endowing them with wolf-like pack attributes and enhanced physical and mental powers. But it’s not all about the superpowers: there’s lots of cool science, research, and tech, which the teens use to investigate a murder mystery and a uncover a scientific conspiracy.
3:59, by Gretchen McNeil
Josie is basically a physics boss, who examines the hypothesis that objects can exist in more than one space at the same time for her AP physics project. But her personal life is crashing down around her: after an unexplained event in which she briefly lost track of time at 3:59 p.m., she starts having dreams at the same time every night—3:59—about her mirror image doppelgänger, a girl named Jo whose life is everything she wants. Jo is popular, with happy parents and loving boyfriend. Josie jumps at the chance to change places with Jo, but discovers her life isn’t nearly as perfect as she thought. Trapped in a dimension full of terrifying creatures and scary asylums. Josie must team up up with other teens to find a way back to her own dimension.
Deadly, by Julie Chibbaro
This historical-medical thriller set in 1906 shows that girls have always wanted to study science—they just haven’t always been given a chance. Prudence is a scientist fascinated by the way the human body works, and she doesn’t care that no one wants her to be. She’s stuck at a finishing school for girls, until luck lands her a position in a lab. There she helps Mr. Soper investigate a suspected carrier of typhoid, in an effort to uncover what causes death and how a disease spreads. Full of early forensic science and the struggle for women’s rights, this is a fascinating look at the clash between popular opinion and rational science.
Find Me, by Romily Bernard
I’m a total sucker for an amazing hacker, which is exactly what we have in this thriller about a girl named Wicket Tate. She can basically hack her way into anything, but she’s got a messed-up family life—even if she has found herself and her sister a stable foster family, the police are still after her drug-dealing father, whose partner is after Wick to work for him. When her childhood friend commits suicide and her diary winds up in Wick’s hands with a note reading “Find me,” Wick stumbles into a mystery concerning the safety of her sister. With no other options, Wick puts her hacking skills to the test in this fun and creepy mystery.
The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau
In a dystopian future, only those chosen for The Testing can hope to attend the University, which Cia is desperate to do. She’s super smart, so of course she gets chosen—just like her father before her, who seems to remember the traumatic experience only in his nightmares. The tests are a cruel process, including a life-threatening wilderness trek final. In order to survive, Cia relies on her wits and her mechanical abilities. Girl has skills in engineering, and she constantly proves her worth. The story expertly combines an incredibly competent teen girl with dystopian thrills and a touch of romance.