Feminist Fiction We Need More Than Ever
by Charlotte Ahlin

Being a feminist was already exhausting. And then the American government decided to bring openly hating women, immigrants, and people of color back into vogue. I know it's tempting to crawl under the bed or scream senselessly into the void, but that (probably) isn't going to help. What you can do is drink water, get involved, and reward yourself with a new feminist novel every time you call your congressman without crying. Here are a few fiction books to read when you desperately need a dose of feminism.

Of course, you should read feminist theory, too. Read memoirs from real women, read essays critiquing feminism that fails to be intersectional, read whatever you can to survive the next four years. But don't forget about fiction. We're going to need fiction to pick us up after a long day of Facebook fights, fury, and horrifying news stories. And we're going to need openly feminist fiction to remind us that we are all real people deserving of human rights, even if our country's president doesn't think so.

So if you feel a little nauseous about the world in general right now, here are some beautiful, funny, and all-around brilliant books to read for that extra boost of feminism:


'Americanah' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

You might know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from her TED talk on feminism (or from Beyoncé sampling her TED talk in the song Flawless), so it should come as no surprise that Americanah is a gorgeous, sprawling, feminist novel. Americanah follows Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman, as she travels to America, falls in and out of love, and comes to terms with racism, sexism, and her own place in this imperfect world.

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'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar has a bit of a strange reputation. People assume that it's depressing, because the main plot deals with Esther Greenwood's suicide attempt. Or they think that it's pretentious or trite, because it's something that speaks to teenage girls. But in reality, The Bell Jar is a funny, raw, and honesty story about one woman's terrible internship, her mental breakdown, and her road to recovery. And boy is the sexism of the '50s still disturbingly relevant.

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'Seasons of Flight' by Manjushree Thapa

Seasons of Flight is a beautiful story about moving to a new country, finding love, and then realizing that romance with a man is not nearly as fulfilling as lepidopterology (the study of butterflies). Prema has traveled from Nepal to L.A. in search of a better life, but she's not quite sure that she's found it. That is, of course, until she rejects traditional gender roles and discovers her passion for insect science.

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'The Portable Dorothy Parker' by Dorothy Parker

Oh, Dorothy. She's exactly the person you'd want to have drunk brunch with after a bad break up. The Portable Dorothy Parker is filled with poems and short stories about witty women and the men who let them down. Pick it up when you're feeling especially bitter, and enjoy Dorothy's acerbic attitude towards all things gendered.

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'The Color Purple' by Alice Walker

Whether or not you read this one in high school, pick it up now. The Color Purple is not exactly a fun read, given the graphic portrayal of sexual abuse, but it is still one of the greatest feminist novels ever written. Celie suffers violence at the hands of the men in her life, but she finds strength and support in the women around her, and ultimately chooses to love herself.

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'Swing Time' by Zadie Smith

Even in our darkest hour, we have authors like Zadie Smith. Swing Time takes us from London to New York to West Africa as it tells the story of two women who dream of dancing—but only one has dancing talent. The other has flat feet and ideas. Friendships shift and identities change in Smith's thoughtful, newest novel.

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'The House of the Spirits' by Isabel Allende

Allende masterfully combines the personal with the political in The House of the Spirits. Over three generations of one family, we see forbidden love affairs, triumphs, tragedies, and revolutions. And, of course, we see three generations of women: the ethereal Clara, the infatuated Bianca, and the ambitious Alba, determined to forever change the status quo.

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'Parable of the Sower' by Octavia Butler

Is it just me, or is the post-apocalyptic genre just a little too on the nose these days? But if you're looking for fiercely feminist science fiction, then you can't do much better than Butler. In The Parable of the Sower, environmental and economic disaster have left young Lauren Olamina fighting to survive in the unprotected American landscape... but Lauren has the unique ability to feel other people's pain, which might somehow be the key to her survival.

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'Dykes to Watch Out For' by Alison Bechdel

Yes, this is the comic that gave us the famous Bechdel test. Alison Bechdel calls it, "half op-ed column and half endless serialized Victorian novel.” Dykes to Watch Out For is a beautiful, jumbled mess of high and low culture, postmodern theories on gender and awkward dates, and it is absolutely required reading for the modern feminist with a sense of humor.

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'The Song of the Lioness' by Tamora Pierce

Look. Sometimes you just want to read a swords and sorcery adventure story about a lady knight with purple eyes. Young Alanna disguises herself as her twin brother in order to train as a knight, while her goes off to learn the arts of magic in her place. But becoming a knight isn't easy. Alanna must prove herself, fight evil, have romantic adventures, and keep her true identity a secret if she wants to earn her title.

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'Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit' by Jeanette Winterson

Orphans. Oranges. Religion. Budding sexuality. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a strange, powerful novel about young Jeanette, an orphan being raised by a religious zealot. She's headed for the life of a missionary, until she finds herself falling for one of her converts... then she is faced with a choice between her fanatical mother or the woman she loves.

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