I’ve always been drawn to characters who stand apart from “normal” people—the swordsman who studied every aspect of sword fighting for twenty years, the book nerd who saves the day with her knowledge, the enthusiastic inventor who spends more time with his inventions than people, and the FBI agent obsessed with the alien and unexplained.
Many of us can relate to the character who doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of society, and with Petra Wade, the protagonist of The Brass Giant, I knew I wanted her to be different, to stand out, perhaps even suffer social estrangement because of her passions. She’s an outcast for loving machines instead of embroidery, obsessed with learning everything she can about clockwork and mechanical engineering so that she might one day be able to join the Guild of Engineers.
In reality, most of us have something we geek out about, whether it’s dressing up as our favorite fictional characters at every possible opportunity, being able to quote the entirety of The Princess Bride, learning Dothraki, or painting hordes of miniatures in our garage. We like stuff. And sometimes, we have unusual skills as a result. So it only makes sense that book characters would too.
Here are five young characters who take their geekery to the next level, solving their problems on their own and sometimes saving the world in the process (some vague spoilers below).
Violet Baudelaire, Inventor
Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events
With an enemy like Count Olaf and his goons to outsmart, Violet has to think fast and smart to escape his maniacal clutches. Tying her hair back with a ribbon to think, she invents the most MacGyveresque contraptions to get her and her siblings out of trouble—a grappling hook made out of metal rods, a photo frame wire, and some torn clothing; an escape device made entirely out of rubber bands; and a staple-making device using only a small crab, a potato, metal rods, creamed spinach, and a fork. Clearly, physics work differently in her world, but you still have to give her credit for ingenuity.
Jaxter Grimjinx, Herbalist
Brian Farrey’s Vengekeep Prophecies trilogy
Born into a family of renowned thieves, Jaxter is supposed to carry on the family legacy, but there’s only one problem—he’s a rotten thief. He can’t pick a lock to save his life and his clumsiness thwarts the stealthiest of operations, but he still finds ways to aid his criminal family in their endeavors. Devoting his life to the study of magic-resistant plants, he can get himself—and his family and friends—out of almost any magical situation. And as it turns out, he may be the only one who can save them when certain destruction looms over his hometown of Vengekeep.
Linh Cinder, Mechanic
Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series
Mechanic by necessity, Linh Cinder operates a repair booth in the New Beijing Market, repairing androids and whatever other electrical and mechanical objects that might need fixing—including her own cyborg parts. Her skill with a screwdriver and her knowledge of computers and machines help her escape scientists and sovereigns alike in her quest to discover the truth about who she really is and why she ended up a cyborg in the first place.
Leo Valdez, Inventor and Mechanic
Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series
Demigod Leo Valdez (perhaps my favorite character in the sequel series to Percy Jackson & The Olympians) is a son of Hephaestus, the Greek god of forges, blacksmiths, craftsmen, metals, and fire, which means that he has an innate talent for crafting machines and a dangerous pyrotechnic ability. He can understand and even sense machinery and has the ability to operate and repair anything mechanical. The prankster of the group of demigods, he mostly uses his skills to comedic effect, but when the need arises, he utilizes a magical tool belt to create and repair whatever machines or devices might help the heroes on their journey, repairs the broken Bronze Dragon of Camp Half-Blood, who becomes his companion throughout the series, and even builds an airship and cracks the Archimedes Sphere. Pretty brilliant for a sarcastic joker.
Hermione Granger, Book-nerd and Accomplished Witch
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
Never underestimate the power of a girl with a book. Without Hermione, both Harry and Ron would have been dead a dozen times over the course of the seven-book series, and she was usually the first to discover—or remember—some crucial piece of information to solve whatever problem Harry was too thick to figure out. She memorized all her first-year spellbooks before the beginning of the school year, and she was, in fact, so bookish that she was granted a time-traveling device at thirteen so that she could attend more classes. And after Hogwarts, she eventually went on to become the leading activist for house-elf rights at the Ministry of Magic. Intelligent, inspiring, and fiercely loyal, Hermione was a formidable young lady who showed everyone that books and reading had true value.
Originally published May 2015.
Brooke Johnson is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving writer. She is the author of The Brass Giant, the first novel in the Chroniker City steampunk series for young adults from Harper Voyager Impulse.