25 Books Every Woman Should Read

fiction books

Not all women are white, straight, married, or pining. But books with multifaceted, well-developed female characters can be harder to find than companies with women at the top — even including some of our most celebrated novels.

When it comes to addressing the complexity of womanhood and gender, everyone knows the literary heavyweights: The Bell Jar, The Awakening, The Handmaid’s Tale, Beloved. Building off those dynamic characters, here are 25 other novels featuring women who don’t just bend the rules — they snap them.

Read on.

Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson

After two sisters tragically lose their mother, their batty aunt arrives to take care of them.

Get the book.

Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

A unnamed female narrator in Brooklyn discovers her husband has been having an affair.

Get the book.

Summer Crossing, by Truman Capote

Summer Crossing, by Truman Capote

In the summer of 1954, a privileged teenager is left to her own devices in New York City after her parents go to Europe. Shenanigans (in dresses) ensue.

Get the book.

Adam, by Ariel Schrag

Adam, by Ariel Schrag

In 2006, a teenage boy lives with his lesbian sister for a summer in New York City and learns a lot about queer identity, transgender identity, and lady politics.

Get the book.

 

 

This post was originally published on December 9, 2014.

The Days of Abandonment, by Elena Ferrante

The Days of Abandonment, by Elena Ferrante

After 15 years of marriage and two kids, Olga’s husband tells her he’s leaving. And that’s just the beginning.

Get the book.

The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud

The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud

Entitled rich kids have trouble getting out from behind their parents’ shadows — even in their thirties.

Get the book.

The Violet Hour, by Katherine Hill

The Violet Hour, by Katherine Hill

A husband and wife have an intense fight on a boat and nothing is ever the same again.

Get the book.

The Wife, by Meg Wolitzer

The Wife, by Meg Wolitzer

A devoted wife of a renowned novelist decides that she is leaving him.

Get the book.

The Silent Wife, by A. S. A. Harrison

The Silent Wife, by A. S. A. Harrison

Gone Girl, but better.

 

Get the book.

Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann

Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann

Three friends claw their way to the top of the entertainment industry circa 1945 through the 1960s. Pure lady ambition.

Get the book.

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore

An ephemeral 1960s teenage girl friendship, punctuated by abortion.

Get the book.

On Beauty, by Zadie Smith

On Beauty, by Zadie Smith

An interracial family of super-intellectual academics has to deal with infidelity — and a lot more.

Get the book.

Fear of Flying, by Erica Jong

Fear of Flying, by Erica Jong

Judaism. A dysfunctional marriage. Sex. Infidelity. Go.

Get the book.

Chocolates for Breakfast, by Pamela Moore

Chocolates for Breakfast, by Pamela Moore

A 15-year-old girl gets a crush on her female tutor, dates an older bisexual man, and drinks cocktails with her mom.

Get the book.

The Patron Saint of Liars, by Ann Patchett

The Patron Saint of Liars, by Ann Patchett

A married and pregnant mother decides to take off and live in a home for unwed mothers.

Get the book.

Faces in the Crowd, by Valeria Luiselli

Faces in the Crowd, by Valeria Luiselli

A mother in Mexico City starts writing a novel, and then the novel sort of becomes her life. (Pair with strong coffee.)

Get the book.

Caucasia, by Danzy Senna

Caucasia, by Danzy Senna

A white mother starts a new life after the end of her marriage and asks her biracial daughter to pass for white.

 

Get the book.

On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan

On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan

In the 1960s, a young, newly married couple spend their honeymoon on a beach — and they’re both virgins.

 

Get the book.

Stone Butch Blues, by Leslie Feinberg

Stone Butch Blues, by Leslie Feinberg

Jess Goldberg, a butch lesbian in the 1950s, decides to pass as a man for safety and then learns that he’s transgender.

Get the book.

Passing, by Nella Larsen

Passing, by Nella Larsen

During the Harlem Renaissance, two childhood friends bump into one another. But one of them is now passing as white.

Get the book.

Bastard Out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison

Bastard Out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison

A little girl named Bone struggles against her “white trash” label and abusive stepfather.

Get the book.

Music for Torching, by A.M. Homes

Music for Torching, by A.M. Homes

A picture-perfect suburban couple decide to burn down their house.

Get the book.

The Fifth Child, by Doris Lessing

The Fifth Child, by Doris Lessing

In 1960s England, a happy couple with four kids has a fifth child, who promptly ruins their entire lives.

Get the book.

We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver

After their son murders seven high-school classmates, his mother writes letters to her estranged husband. The ultimate contemplation of nature vs. nurture.

Get the book.

The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith

The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith

A young woman who works in a department store falls for an older, nearly divorced woman, and the two of them take a road trip. Best part? It was published in 1952.

 

Get the book.

 

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