You could say it all started with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but I think readers really started to be captivated by books with "girl" in the title when Gone Girl took hold of a global readership at once. Gillian Flynn's twisty, turning thriller spawned years of "readalikes," but none that quite hit the same resonance. That is, until Paula Hawkin's equally thrilling The Girl on the Train— and then, books with "girl" in the title truly became a crushing wave of a trend, trying to hit the same notes these two must-read, worldwide bestselling, blockbuster hit novels did.
Of course, not all "girl" books could capture that same attention. But even some of those that didn't, or some those that were published before using "girl" titles were all the rage, are absolute must-reads. Don't get cynical; not all books with "girl" in the title are trying to recapture the singular magic of Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. Some of these "girl" books are unique and thoughtful and funny and smart in their own ways, and they're not just Gone Girl wannabes. In fact, many of the books included on this list are ones you need to read. And hey, to give credit where credit is due, some of these books with "girl" in the title are thrillers in the vein of The Girl on the Train, and while they weren't blockbuster hits, they were totally chilling stories you actually need to read.
1. Girl at War by Sara Nović
Girl at War is Sara Nović's stunning coming-of-age story about 10-year-old Ana Jurić who grew up at the outset of war-torn Croatia. After 10 years, when Ana is studying in New York City, she decides she has to move back to her home and confront her and her family's ghosts and pasts and see what she can salvage from the place that was once her whole world.
2. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
I mean, duh; Mary Kubica is a thriller queen and The Good Girl is her debut novel that made us fall in love with her. Mia Dennett was abducted by Colin Thatcher and kept in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota. In the story's present day, Mia is free, safe after being trapped for months, but suffering from amnesia from the ordeal. Instead, readers hear Mia's story via three voices, jumping from past to present: Colin, her abductor; Eve, her wealthy mother; and Detective Gabe Hoffman, who was assigned to her case. This psychological thriller heats up as the story unravels about not only what happened to Mia, but the complex family relationships that surround it the incident.
3. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Yes, this book is YA (maybe even veering into MG), but everyone must read it. Brown Girl Dreaming is Woodson's memoir in verse about growing up black during the 1960s, from South Carolina to New York. It's truly beautiful and moving, but if that doesn't convince you, just check out the insanely crowded cover with all its literary awards.
4. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
If any novel had the reputation to stand up with Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train as blockbuster "Girl" title books, Luckiest Girl Alive would be it. Reese Witherspoon is already on board to produce the movie, and the buzz and dream casting is already going deep. In this dark, twisty thriller, Ani FaNelli has reinvented herself after a public humiliation. Now, she's wealthy, successful, and engaged, but her past secrets start to bubble up into present day. I won't say much more because this novel has some truly shocking twists, and it has a lot to say about our excess-driven culture.
5. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
Heidi W. Durrow's novel is a beautiful meditation on race, beauty, and economic class centering on a biracial girl growing up in the 1980s. After her Danish mother and black G.I. father pass away, Rachel moves in with her black grandmother to a predominantly black neighborhood. With her lighter brown skin, Rachel confronts her own feelings about her biracial identity in her new community.
6. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
If you haven't yet heard of Caitlin Moran, get in the know. Marie Claire once referred to the writer as "“the UK’s answer to Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, and Lena Dunham all rolled into one,” and How to Build a Girl is Moran's semi-autobiographical, fictional coming-of-age tale set in 1990. After a public shaming, 14-year-old Johanna Morrigan decides to reinvent herself as the freewheeling Dolly Wilde. By the time she's 16, "Dolly" is working writing music reviews, drinking, and sexually experimenting — she's just the girl Johanna wanted to build for herself, but is it enough?
7. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, the 2014 Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction winner, is intense and raw and moving and even funny at times. It will grab hold of you and won't let you go, even after you turn the final page. Eimear McBride's debut story delves into the brain of our narrator to explore her history as a survivor of abuse and the lingering effects her brother's brain tumor has on her life.