Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Summer Reading: Five Amazing Books for Amazing Girls

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Maya Smart

Staff Writer

Maya Payne Smart is an Austin-based book lover and reviewer. She’s thrilled to have a platform to recommend life-changing reads to world-changing women.  An active community volunteer, she works to increase access to books and inspire a community-wide love of reading by serving on the board of the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation and the UT Libraries Advisory Council. She muses about literacy, literature and more at Blog: Maya Smart Twitter: MayaSmart

Each year authors Meg Medina and Gigi Amateau launch the Girls of Summer List of “amazing books for amazing girls,” in partnership with the Richmond Public Library. The lovingly curated selection of titles–from picture books through young adult–all feature strong girl protagonists navigating incredible tests on their journeys to womanhood.

The summer’s list launches with a party at the library, which draws girls of all ages, ethnicities and identities to talk books–no worksheets, vocab tests or reports required.

The idea emerged five years ago as Amateau and Medina prepared to send daughters off to college.  “It came out of a very personal place for both of us,” Medina says.  “We were sort of in mourning. You look at your daughters and you feel like you’ve run out of time.  You want to tell them something else.  You want to give them some other piece of information or skill so that they can go out into the world and really be strong.  We just started to talk about how books helped us raise them.”

That discussion ultimately led them to pick 18 books for strong girls, one for every year of their daughters’ lives, and share them through a blog and public library event.

“It’s really something to be at a library and look out at these girls and know that what you’ve done has given them a reason to come to a library,” Medina says. “I feel like the conversation dignifies who they are and gives them practice in how you think about what you read, what you ingest, what you bring inside yourself as entertainment and as a reflection of who you are.”

As an adult and a mother, I can attest to the power of the list and its launch event to do just that.  We are, to a great extent, what we read, and each year I eagerly anticipate bolstering my and my young daughter’s strength through Girls of Summer selections.

Here are a few titles from this year’s list, and you can find the full list at

Written in The Stars by Aisha SaeedWritten in the Stars by Aisha Saeed
After her parents discover Naila’s secret plans to go to the prom, an enormous shame in their community, they spare themselves the gossip of their neighbors by returning her to Pakistan to be married against her will. “I loved this novel because I think Aisha was great at painting a Pakistani family in layers,” Medina says. “There are so many negative stereotypes about Muslim families, Pakistani families. Aisha draws them beautifully, but at the same time she doesn’t shy away from this really difficult aspect, which is forced marriages, which is different than arranged marriages in her mind. Aisha herself had an arranged marriage. Her parents introduced her to the man who is her husband today. I just think that it’s important to represent people as they are and I think Aisha did a beautiful job of that in Written in the Stars.”

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel QuinteroGabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

This debut novel, written in diary format, gives beautiful voice to the fear and fight of one young Latina, Gabi. “I love that book, oh my gosh,” Medina says.  “She’s a mess. Gabi is an overweight, Mexican-American girl who loves taquitos and boys. Her family’s a mess. Her father’s got drug problems. Her best friend has just been thrown out of the house for being a gay boy. Another friend finds out she’s pregnant. I mean, it’s every disaster in high school thrown at one girl at the same time. What’s amazing about ‘Gabi, A Girl in Pieces’ is that, first of all, Gabi is a poet and finds a way to use poetry to help her survive her experiences. She’s also funny. It’s a book that’s dead-on the voice of a Latina girl. Really facing down all of the contradictory and dual messages in American teen life and Mexican expectations. You can’t decide whether to laugh or cry, sometimes. I think Isabel did an amazing job.”

Revolution by Deborah WilesRevolution by Deborah Wiles

Set in 1964 Mississippi, this book shows one girl awakening to the discrimination all around her and learning how to respond. “I love the book because it’s historically dead-on,” Medina says. “Inside the pages, it’s a really fat book, but there are photocopies of pamphlets from the Freedom Schools and directions for some of the volunteers, like what happens if the police interact with you. There are KKK communiques, which are chilling. Newspaper articles of young men and women who disappeared during that Summer, presumably murdered by the KKK and other horrible groups. I think this is part documentary. It’s history and documents that kids can actually look at, and it’s story. I think that’s such an effective way to really connect the kids with history in an organic way. I love it.”

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows by Leslye WaltonThe Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

This story of an ominous family inheritance is as beautiful as it is devastating. “The language and the world that Leslye Walton has created in Ava Lavender is just unlike anything I have read in a very long time,” says Amateau.  “It’s a magical realism novel about a girl who is born with wings growing out of her shoulders. Her mother and her grandmother realize that the world is not really equipped to treat tenderly those creatures that are so different. They protect her, they shield her from the world. You can imagine how that goes, because every girl wants to get out and be a part of the world. It’s terrifying, but it is also really liberating and freeing, with the elements of magical realism, of course, with the wings. It’s just really one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.”

Catch Rider by Jennifer H. LyneCatch Rider by Jennifer Lyne

This moving novel set in Southern Virginia shows a grieving teen hold fast to her dream and summon the courage to pursue it despite grief, family drama and uncertainty. “I love the main character Sid,” says Amateau.  “She’s fourteen and she’s second guessing a lot about her life, except when she’s at the barn or on a horse. This book pits her against a group of girls of a higher class, with a lot more resources and a lot more money. It’s intimidating to her, at first, and she sort of loses herself, but then really comes back to the thing of her skills, and her experience, and just ultimately being herself. It’s both a horse book and a dig deep and find yourself book. That made me love it.”

What great books have you read featuring strong girl protagonists? Let me know in the comments!