Brave women. Villainous women. Misunderstood women. Smart women. Swashbuckling women. LGTBQ women. Women of color. Historical women. And women of the future. The novels in this list represent the many shades of women we encounter in our reading. While these stories focus on one sect of the population, the themes of resilience, friendship and family are universal.
The minute I finished CIRCE (weeping, in a crowded Starbucks) I needed to talk to someone about it and have not stopped since. This is a gorgeously written, deeply feminist retelling of the myth of Circe, who you may remember as the witch who turned men into pigs in THE ODYSSEY (for good reason, as you’ll find out). It’s too rare to read a book where every single female character has such incredible depth and nuance and is just beautifully, painfully real, but this book does that and more. In Circe’s words, “Would I be skimmed milk or a harpy? A foolish gull or a villainous monster? Those could not still be the only choices.” In this book, they’re not, and Miller’s complex, empowering story is exactly what I need to be reading in 2019.
MANHATTAN BEACH’s standout main character, Anna, is a young, independent woman who works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II. Through her cunning and will, Anna becomes the first and only female civilian diver and manages to convince a gangster to reveal her missing father’s fate. Anna values her independence and is confident enough to know that she has every right to occupy a space as anyone else. In the end, this willpower and wit enable her to hold on to her independence and live the life she chooses instead of a life of unhappy domesticity.
All Mitza Maric wanted was to be taken seriously for the skilled mathematician that she was. She enters school as one of the first and only females in her math department and instantly begins to show up the other pupils with her quick skill and decisive thinking. When a young classmate with wild hair and a love of classical music begins to call on her, Mitza is flattered but remains focused on her education. After much time, she succumbs to the flirtations of Albert Einstein and not long after the two are wed. While Einstein continues to tinker with his Theory of Relativity, Marie Benedict paints a picture of the woman behind the man. Adding her layers to the theory papers, Mitza provides much of the backup that would shape the now-famous think piece. When the paper is published, her name is glaringly missing from the acknowledgments. It is an omission that will test Mitza’s resolve, character, and ultimately the strength of her marriage. Benedict writes a succinct yet enthralling novel that begs the question: Where on Earth would he be without her?
After her mother's death, Poornima cares for her siblings and awaits an arrangement of marriage. And then Savitha enters their home and Savitha is independent, fun, and everything a woman is traditionally not. When Savitha leaves suddenly, Poornima sets out to find her friends and leave this claustrophobic life behind.
Colson Whitehead received copious attention for his 2016 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel set in the antebellum South, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD. We follow Cora, a third-generation slave on a Georgia cotton plantation who has been abandoned by her mother. When Cora meets Caesar, a new arrival from Virginia, and he tells her of a free North, they hatch a plan to escape together.
Taking place over the course of three days, the book is at once tightly, anxiously focused on the arrival of the Führer and the tensions that will come to a head with his visit, and yet has an epic sprawl, covering three generations of experience. Powerful, utterly mesmerizing, and deeply personal, Werner’s perspective on World War II is a complicated one, which is what makes it all the more important.
For readers of THE MOTHERS and AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE, Anissa Gray’s debut novel will challenge your beliefs about the relationships between mothers and daughters. When Althea, the eldest of three sisters, is unexpectedly arrested along with her husband, the once highly esteemed family is disgraced in their community. Amid this scandal and familial turmoil, Althea’s younger sisters must come together in the house they grew up to care for Althea’s teen daughters.
Eilis Lacey is a young woman who abandons small-town Ireland and the comfort of her mother’s home for the anonymous shores of New York City. In Brooklyn, she finds a city in flux—a city where immigrants from Ireland and Poland live amongst Jewish and black communities. Just as she is beginning to fall in love with a young man, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her new life.
Acclaimed character actress Saoirse Ronan takes center stage as Eilis Lacey, a young woman who abandons small-town Ireland and the comfort of her mother's home for the anonymous shores of New York City. In Brooklyn, she finds a city in flux—a city where immigrants from Ireland and Poland live amongst Jewish and black communities—and just as she is beginning to fall in love with a young man, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her new life.
Release Date: November 6, 2015
This modern classic eloquently explores the story of the early Israelites from the perspective of a minor figure in Genesis—Dinah, the daughter of Jacob. With lyrical prose and unforgettable characterization, THE RED TENT effortlessly illustrates what it meant to be a woman in biblical times.
Hoffman waves her wand over the pages to cast a spell of love, loss, family, coming-of-age, forgiveness, and redemption. The extraordinary way in which she crafts character, her keen eye for detail around New York City, and her undeniable gift for modern-day fairy tales make her a surefire bet in the industry. You always know you will get a great story out of her. But what makes this book stand out from the crowd is the subtle calls to action (Hoffman unleashes her passion for animal rights and animal adoption), the open-hearted way the characters learn to love themselves in times of insecurity, and the undeniable promise to every lonely soul out there that you are not alone. No matter what you’ve done, your past will not define you.
After a terrible accident leaves her best friend in a coma, Shelby drops out of her life in suburban Long Island and moves to New York City. What follows is a tale, sprinkled with Hoffman’s signature magical realism, of a girl struggling to find her way in the world. With the help of her new chosen family, a series of anonymous postcards, and a mysterious guardian angel, Shelby finds herself moving forward, toward love and joy in her life.
Equal parts gripping, tragic, empowering, and gorgeously plotted, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS between two powerful voices, representing vibrant youth and tiresome womanhood, the privileged and oppressed, the educated and uneducated, the loved and love-starved. It brilliantly illustrates how two women of vastly different upbringings find themselves in the same unyielding circumstances in war-torn Afghanistan. Mariam is only 15 when her mother commits suicide and she is married off to 40-year-old Rasheed. Twenty years later, Mariam, having endured an abusive marriage, must share her husband with his new wife, 14-year-old Laila—orphaned when stray bombs kill her parents. The resilience of these women and how they come to know each other is like magic on the page.
I loved this book. It shows the complexity of relationships, the societal pressure to conform, and the inner conflicts we face. It is a book of friendship and love, of community and acceptance, of faith. Alderman gently exposes the traditions of the Orthodox community and weaves prayers, blessings, and Torah passages throughout the story. It’s a compelling story about love in all its forms.
THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS is a moving literary debut. It weaves together the stories of two heroic girls who experience similar harrowing journeys centuries apart through North Africa and the Middle East as they battle and overcome forces bigger than themselves. Bound together by undaunted courage on their course to find home, this stunning, lyrical, and timely coming-of-age novel urges readers to focus on the devastating reality of Syrian refugees.
HOMEGOING follows two half sisters, Effia and Esi, born in different villages in Ghana in the eighteenth century. Effia is quickly married off to an Englishman and moves to a castle on the Gold Coast while, unbeknownst to her, Esi is sold into slavery and held captive in the same castle before she boards a slave ship for the United States. With each chapter, the reader discovers a new generation of each of the sisters’ descendants.
Two half-sisters are separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. HOMEGOING traces the descendants who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and 300 years of history, each life indelibly drawn.