GS vs STA: She’s Turning 12 and Hunting Good Books

Good Shit vs Shit to AvoidI received this letter from Barbara, who is looking for books to share with her daughter: 

Hi! I vividly remember my first romance book experience — I swiped one of my mother's Harlequin romances shortly before I turned 12 and there was no holding me back from the genre after that glorious and eye-opening introduction to Greek millionaires and the shy British virgins they woo, etc! Now my daughter will be turning 12 in a few months (gasp! how did THAT happen?) and I'm trying to figure out what to gently suggest to her to bring her over to the romance-reading side of things…

She reads at a high school level (at least that is what her teachers tell me) but she's not ready for anything too explicit sex-wise as she's still rather mortified by the whole idea. I give her another year until that becomes a compelling factor in reading choices…she loves mysteries, history and mythology. She is not a huge fan of the vampire genre (holy crap is there a lot of vampire-y YA stuff out there!) and is more of a Buffy kind of gal versus Bella. She's also not quite to the age where lots of angst is appealing. We found the Goddess series by Aimee Carter from Harlequin Teen and she's devoured those…

So, I'm just wondering if anyone might have any other suggestions for her?

Thanks so much.

I confess, I'm completely at a loss, here. Not too much angst and more Buffy and asskicking than doormat and Bella. Ok: I had just typed up a whole list of ideas and then realized they were all too old for this reader in terms of age and comfort. DAMMIT. My recommendation-fu deserts me at this time! 

Do you have ideas? I'm going to keep hitting my head with my laptop until I can come up with something. Or you'll post the idea that's flying around the outside of my brain that I can't grab and I'll start yelling. 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Tam B. says:

    I would suggest Jennifer Estep’s Mythos Academy series.  The heroine is 16 (I think) but whilst sex is mentioned, she’s not doing it.  Gwen does have a romantic interest with some (but not huge amounts) of angst.  As you’ve mentioned mythology is an interest – this series uses it completely so it might be of interest for that alone.

    I’d also recommend to put on the list (for perhaps a future read) Pushing the Limits (Katie McGarry).  I just finished it and believe it’s a brilliant book for you both to read and discuss.  (I think it was a SBTB book club choice recently but am not sure.)

    An non YA read that might also fit your daughter’s interests might be Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series.  There are some fairly descriptive fight scenes that you might want to pre-read first.  (I don’t recall anything too graphic but it’s been a while since I’ve read one.) There are vampires (but not in the “usual” manner), magic, shifters and every books usually draws on some form of history, mythology and has a mystery to solve.

    I hope this helps.

  2. 2
    Tam B. says:

    Just remembered some more.

    Tamora Pierce.  I started with her Song of the Lioness series (first book Alanna) which is set in a medieval time in a land called Tortall.  We follow a young girl (Alanna) as she trains (in disguise) to become a knight and beyond.  She has to deal with all the usual growing up girl issues but in a male environment.

    This series also has a later one based on Alanna’s daughter (with some typical mother/daughter issues) – Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen.  They are at heart about growing up and finding your place / what you are meant to do.

  3. 3
    Brigid says:

    Sounds to me she might like Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series. The books are actually really well written. The characters are way more on the buffy side than bella, no doormats for certain. The characters do have sex, but nothing graphic. It might help to introduce her into the actual romance genre.

  4. 4
    KatieCan says:

    I think Kate Daniels has some sex scenes in later books….

    Glass series by Maria V. Snyder?
    Obernewtyn series?
    Though all these might be more action less romance!
    I think there is romance in the glass series though…

    Y’all remember the “Sunfire” series?? I loved these books!
    A teen girl always had two boys to choose from during some important moment in history!…

  5. 5
    poisonedbypirates says:

    She might like the Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner (The Thief, The Queen’s Thief, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings). The first book is definitely beneath her reading level – it’s a Newbery Honor book, so it’s really probably ideal for kids around ten years old. Until the last thirty pages or so the first book is a bit slow, but the rest of the series is much more complex, fast paced, and really fun to read. I read them when I was in my late teens, finished the series, and immediately went back and read them all again.

    The later books are definitely YA. The first book doesn’t really have any romance, but the next ones do, and although it’s not the focus of any of the books it’s still a strong thread throughout them. The main couple is one of my favorite duos of all time and there are a few of the great romance genre cliches (secret identities! royalty! kidnapping!), they’re just mixed in with quite a bit of plot. The setting is a fictional land that’s based on Ancient Greece, so there’s quite of bit of world-building with regards to gods and mythology that she may enjoy. Fair warning though, even reading the back jackets of the later books can spoil earlier books. It’s better to go in completely blind and be surprised by all the twists and turns.

  6. 6
    Mel Scott says:

    Kate Daniels has some fairly gory bits so it will depend on her level of comfort with that (though if she likes Buffy….) and there is definitely sex in the later books but not really graphic.
    Some of Diana Wynne Jones adult/older teen books have romance threads and she does a good kickbutt heroine. Fire and Hemlock, Deep Secret, Hexwood. Robin McKinley also good (though Deerskin has a heroine who is abused by her Dad so maybe not that one for a 12 year old…also Sunshine is fairly adult). I loved David Eddings at that age (the Belgariad series)  Main protagonist is a 16 year old boy but there’s his love interest is a spoiled princess who eventually leads an army).
    If she likes history, maybe the Amelia Peabody series (Egyptian mystery with an ongoing romance/marriage but definitely no explicit sex scenes) or even try her on some classic romance like Austen or Heyer? Or Anne of Green Gables.
    Another fantasy series is Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series which have a younger hero at the start and a lovely different romance through them. There’s a bit of violence but not too much and set in an alternate ancient Greece sort of world with a bit of magic in the form of Gods who intervene.
    Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan for a different take on vampires. Romance but nothing graphic that I can remember. Or Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan is good too.
    Meg Cabot’s YA has good funny voice and generally not angsty.


  7. 7
    Mel Scott says:

    Thought of a couple more…Mary Stewart for sort of gothic mysteries with romance. I don’t remember them being explicit and I’d be surprised given the time they were written but someone might correct me.
    Eva Ibbotson also has a few lovely romances younger heroines. A Countess Below stairs (aka The Secret Countess), A Company of Swans…the heroine does sleep with the hero in that from memory but closed door) and Magic Flutes. All post World War 1 era I think.
    Also Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books.  There’s not really a romance until the last one but Tiffany (a thirteen year old trainee witch in the first one) is a great heroine.

  8. 8
    Faellie says:

    As she likes history and needs non-explicit, try Georgette Heyer.  There are a couple with notable younger characters in them – The Grand Sophy and Frederica – and several with a “mystery” element to them – The Toll Gate, The Reluctant Widow, These Old Shades, The Talisman Ring.

  9. 9
    Katrina says:

    Too bad she doesn’t like vampires, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series is one of my absolute favorites.

    I guess I’d suggest The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (YA dystopian), or Angelfall by Susan Ee (YA Angel Dystopian). The Sweep series by Cate Tiernan (YA witch) is also good. All of them have romance in them but romance is not the central part of the story.

  10. 10
    FairyKat says:

    I remember reading the Song of the Lioness (though I’d forgotten the title!) when I was about 11, and remember them being really good. (I had a high reading age, but a low squick threshold—so they should be safe for sex and violence, but gripping). Thanks for the reminder!

  11. 11
    Claire123c says:

    ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ is a great historical children’s/YA book. I loved it although obviously it is sad tale.. it’s a book I still remember from my childhood.

    Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy is a FANTASTIC read. I read it at university and would have loved it when I was younger. The first book has a film adaptation ‘The Golden Compass’ which was not the best….. but the books are a different matter.

    Hilary McKay’s ‘The Exiles’ is a very funny children’s/YA book. Likewise the ‘Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging’ series (unsure of the exact target age of this, it may be a bit too old for a 12 year old! I read these when I was older and they were hilarious.)

    The Hunger Games trilogy is another thought.

    Hope these help,


  12. 12
    Mirandaflynn says:

    Jane Eyre. Jane kicked ass…not literally (except to John Reed :D), but she didn’t take crap from anyone.

    The Robin McKinley books, particularly The Blue Sword, and The Hero and the Crown, and Beauty.

    Sorcery and Cecelia by Patrica C. Wrede.

  13. 13
    Kbum says:

    Joan Aiken – well written and interesting stories, eg

    Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Blackhearts at Battersea etc
    The Ligthening Tree

    Marion Zimmer Bradley – mists of Avalon series

    Juliet Marillier – Wildwood Dancing, Shadowfell

    Anne McCaffrey books (The Rowan is easy to start with)

    Rosemary Sutcliffe

  14. 14
    Kbum says:

    ps. above – all YA , with historical romantic theme. so No full-on graphic stuff.

    Rosemary Stutcliff meant to say she did roman historical fiction well, but covered medieval to Tudor age also.

    my kids liked the Suzane Collins books too

  15. 15
    GHN says:

    Patricia Wrede! I’ve recently finished her Frontier Magic trilogy, and it was a very enjoyable read! The romancey element is very minor, though. Also Sorcery and Cecilia which was recently featured here on this site, and the Magic and Malice duo (Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward)

    I second the suggestion about Tamora Pierce, but as for McKinley’s Deerskin, you should definitely read it through first – the protagonist is raped by her father early in the book. The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown are great books, though, and your daughter will hopefully love those.

    In a year or two you might consider introducing your daughter to Lois McMaster Bujold. Several of her books have romantic elements, but as far as I remember, aren’t explicit. These books are fairly mature in other, non-sexxytimes, ways, so you might look them over yourself first – I’m sure you’ll enjoy them!

  16. 16
    Wifeshee says:

    At 12yo I used to read Pearl Buck, and gothic romance by Victoria Holt. 

  17. 17

    I recommend Cora Harrison’s historical series set in 16th-century Ireland, a time when women were judges, lawyers, and doctors. The first is My Lady Judge.

    I second Georgette Heyer, Kristin Cashore,
    and Marion Zimmer Bradley.

    I’ve been having a lot of fun lately with Mercedes Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms series that turns Traditional fairy stories on their heads and shakes them up a bit. Lots of humor, and all of them have the HEA we love, nothing explicit.

    Has she read Little Women? Louisa Mae Alcott knows that women want to get married, but resists the obvious pairing of Jo and Laurie, giving them more appropriate spouses instead. Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys are great, but my favorites are Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom.

    Judith Merkle Riley has sweet love stories at the heart of her historical fiction, especially the Visions of Light series: Margaret Ashbury, Master of All Desires, and In Pursuit of the Green Lion, but the standalone Serpent Garden is my favorite.

    D.E. Stevenson’s romances are starting to come back into print and Kindle. Very old-fashioned and sweet but not silly, nothing explicit. Music in the Hills and Shoulder the Sky might be in your local library. My favorite is The English Air. No HEA as it was written during WWII, and the outcome was still in question, but a good love story in the face of war.

    Dorothy Sayers has a lstrong ove story at the heart of Strong Poison, Gaudy Night, and Busman’s Honeymoon.

    *Very* old-fashioned, but I loved them at her age: Gene Stratton Porter’s love stories Freckles and The Girl of the Limberlost.

    Or . . . you could forbid her to read romances and let her swipe one from your shelves. That’s what your mom did, and it worked for you.

  18. 18
    Bram Harper says:

    I second the recommendation for the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner.  Start at the beginning with The Thief (winner of Newberry Award), and go from there.  It’s brilliant and each book gets better. 

    Also—Chime by Frances Billingsley is fantastic. 

    Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials—“The Golden Compass”, “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass” (I believe the protagonist Lyra is the same age as your daughter!)

    And for classic romance, there’s Georgette Heyer—“These Old Shades” and “Frederica” are my personal favorites. 

  19. 19
    smlundberg says:

    Cynthia Voigt has some great fantasy heroines (I’m thinking On Fortune’s Wheel) and romances that aren’t explicit sex-wise. She’s also got some great regular fiction with girl heroes (the Tillerman series and Bad Girls, for instance).

    Jane Yolen also has some great YA stuff with strong heroines and some romance – I’d start with White Jenna and then sample a few of the others, like Sister Light, Sister Dark and The One-Armed Queen. These are also fantasy-ish, they may discuss sex but they are age-appropriate and not at all explicit.

    Umm…Let me think on this a while. I was a huge fan of romances (in many genres) growing up – including, yes, swiping romances off my mom’s shelf, too! – so I should be able to come up with some recommendations for you.


  20. 20
    RJ says:

    I also want to second (ok, third, since I’m a little late) Tamora Pierce’s song of the lioness series starting with Alanna.  I first read these books when I was 12 and glomned them up;  twenty one books read in something like 25 days.  These are the books that brought me back to reading after a relative got me a gameboy.  I also recommend Hero and the crown and blue sword.  As for something that hasn’t been recommend yet, Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel, originally published as two books, Crown Duel and Court Duel.  This is historical fantasy set in a European-esque land.  The heroine is very go-and-get-em; the romance doesn’t start until the second half, but it is a secret admirer.

  21. 21
    smlundberg says:

    Another few thoughts: Sarah Dessen offers some well-written YA romance with layered characters; I would browse through them first because it’s been a while since I read any, but I vaguely remember some mild angst and possibly some non-explicit sex.

    I keep seeing Lauren Oliver pop up in recs, but I’ve never read her stuff, so I can’t recommend either way, just thought I’d mention her in case someone else can vouch for the author.

  22. 22
    RJ says:

    I also,want to recommend Heyer’s Bath Tangle.  I read this when I was 14 and it is because of this book that I read other regency era books and eventually studied British history at university.

  23. 23
    smlundberg says:

    One more! I googled YA Romance to jog my own memory and actually came across this post from SBTB from 2009, which has a lot of lovely recs for YA romance if you’re interested in going back and browsing:


  24. 24
    Guest says:

    I probably shouldn’t admit it, but heck, this is the Internet. At that age I LOVED Barbara Cartland novels in all their glorious awfulness, and they were definitely my entry into the romance genre.

    Pluses: No explicit sex. When characters do (only after a proper marriage, of course) engage in the sexxxy-times, it is the purplest prose that ever purpled and if you can figure out what actual anatomical action is going on, you are much cleverer than 12 yo me. Pretty dresses. Varied historical settings (at the time, most of the non-explicit romance was Regency based. I don’t recall her ever doing a medieval or Tudor, but there was plenty of later 19th c. stuff.). Weird names for the heroines.

    Minuses: The heroes do tend to be very alpha, not in the rapey way, but in the “I’ll protect you, helpless one” way, and the heroines are mostly quite young, to the point that even as a preteen, the age gap seemed a little on the large side. And, you know, the prose.

    Wandering a bit from the original request, but boy were they fun at the time.

  25. 25
    Sarah L. says:

    Yes to Tamora Pierce, Mythos Academy, Patricia Wrede, Vampire Academy

    Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs is another good one for a lover of mythology; the romance subplot is small, but I imagine it will continue throughout sequels.

    Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton (haven’t had a chance to read the sequels yet). Involves quite a bit of language, but no explicit sex IIRC. Starts out like your standard paranormal “things that go bump in the night” and takes a sharp left turn into mythology.

    How does she feel about werewolves? Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ Raised by Wolves series (also a Sizzling Book Club pick) is very well done. Don’t think there’s any explicit sex in the first two books, but I don’t remember about the third. Maybe save that one for later.

    Mercedes Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms books are excellent. Her Valdemar books are also very good, but I’d start with the Mage Winds trilogy or the Owl Mage trilogy. In the Heralds of Valdemar series, the main character is captured by the bad guys and raped. It’s not explicit, but it is there. I also recommend her Elemental Mages series; stories based on fairy/folk tales, set in the Victorian Era.

    Shanna Swendson’s Katie Chandler series is completely appropriate for teens and has an ordinary heroine who kicks butt in a realistic way.

    Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater was recently released. It’s the first in a series. The main character knows that her true love will die if she kisses him, so that kind of puts a damper on any other activities.

    Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (I literally just finished this last night) has a very Buffy-esque feel, with the kind of jokes the main character is always cracking. Nothing explicit, although some characters do discuss sex (the heroine makes fun of another character saying “I’ve decided to give myself to him.”

  26. 26
    Brianne says:

    While not specifically ‘romance’ –

    Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments was very good.  There is some angst and lots of action.  There are relationships, both straight and gay, but I don’t remember there being any sex, at least in the first three novels. (book 1 is coming out as a movie in March, I think)

    I also really liked the the Maximum Ride Series by James Patterson.  It’s set a little in the future and has dystopian elements and relationships.  I think sex is alluded too in the later books among the 17 year old characters, but I know many kids her age were reading the books in middle school

  27. 27
    Caz963 says:

    My daughter is 13 and she’s not into the whole vampire genre either.  She loves historical fiction though and is just venturing into some fantasy reads by Meg Cabot – “Abandon” and “Underworld” – the third book in that trilogy is due out later this year.

    “The Nostradamus Prophecy” by Teresa Breslin is one of her all time favourites, as is “I, Coriander” by Sally Gardiner.

    Mary Hooper’s historicals – “At the House of the Magician”, “Velvet”, “Fallen Grace” – and more

    Eve Edwards’ “The Other Countess” Trilogy

    Eva Ibbotsen – “Countess Below Stairs”, “Company of Swans” etc.

    Pauline Francis – “Raven Queen” and “Traitor’s Kiss”

    She’s currently reading the Leland Sisters trilogy by Marissa Doyle.  Other authors you could check out – Suzanne Dunlap, Rose Melikan, Ruth Warburton, Carol Dines, Donna Jo Napoli

    Also, at that age, I was avidly devouring historical fiction by Jean Plaidy, which my daughter also likes.

    Hope that helps.

  28. 28
    Hillary Wade says:

    I read Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Perilous Gard every couple of years. It is definitely YA and beautifuly written and super evocative. It’s based loosely on the Tam Lin myth and is set during the time that Mary was queen of England and not Elizabeth. The heroine’s strength lies in her intelligence and wisdom, although she’s not afraid to get up and do things when the time is right. I also love The Sherwood Ring by the same author. Perilous Gard is a Newberry Honor book if that’s important :) Another that I love that I never hear about is The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery. It stands alone and is not part of a series like her Anne or Emily books, but it’s wonderful. Although the characters are older, so that might not appeal so much. There’s not really any mythology, but there is a Bluebeard’s room kind of mystery. Happy reading! Oh, and let her read anything Agatha Christie, and the Cadfael mysteries too, which also have fantastic love stories as secondary plots.

  29. 29
    Mirandaflynn says:

    Possibly Elizabeth Peter’s Amelia Peabody series. They’re light, and there’s no graphic sex descriptions.


  30. 30
    Shawny Jean says:

    Ditto on Robin McKinley. There’s a rape in Deerskin if you can still find it anywhere, but all her stuff is excellent. She’s got about 3 versions of Beauty and the Beast and a Sleeping Beauty too.
    Also ditto on Vampire Academy. I read that stuff compulsively about 2 years ago and I would imagine it would be even more amazing if I weren’t in my 30s.
    At 12 I read a lot of high fantasy – David Eddings, Mercedes Lackey etc. There’s probably a tonne of new stuff that features good female heroines. Just wander the Fantasy section at your local B&N or wherever and see what you can find.

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