16 Books From The Past Decade That Every Woman Needs To Read
While there is no doubt that women’s stories and women writers — and particularly women writers of color — have been underrepresented in literature since before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press (that’s pre-1440 for anyone who doesn’t keep obscure historical facts filed away in their brain at all times) there’s also no doubt that women’s literary representation has increased significantly in recent years. Organizations like VIDA and their annual VIDA Count, an inventory of how many women writers are published or have had their books reviewed by notable literary magazines, as compared to men (and one that has recently been expanded to take into account race and ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, and ability) have gone a long way in holding the publishing community accountable for sexual bias, and have helped pave the way for women writers to publish more widely, and with greater visibility.
While women writers have always put exceptionally well written and powerful work out into the world, the last decade of publishing has seen an especially notable number of books written by women, that all women should read. (At least as evidenced by the fact that my TBR pile will not stop falling over.) Check out these 16 books from the last decade that every woman should read.
1‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Not only is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie an outspoken, feminist advocate of powerful women everywhere, she’s also an entirely mesmerizing writer — one who creates characters on the page so real you’ll feel as though you know them in your own life. Published in 2013, her multiple award-winning novel, Americanah, tells the story of the Nigerian-born Ifemelu: a complex and thoughtful woman who leaves her home to study in the United States. Once in the U.S., Ifemelu finds herself confronted head-on by issues of race and class that she’d never thought of before — and her journey, both internal and external, will make you think differently about race and womanhood too.
2‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay is a writer who never stops inspiring me, challenging me, and making me reconsider my own preconceived notions about the world and my place in it. She has also been making major headlines of late — in literature, in current politics, on Twitter, and beyond. Her 2014 essay collection, Bad Feminist, was a Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Nonfiction, and explores everything from reality television and competitive Scrabble to gender violence in popular culture and the racism inherent to U.S. culture and politics. Gay’s writing is straightforward, blunt, intelligent, funny, illuminating, and relatable — making you think more deeply about your own assumptions, experiences, and occasionally-bad feminism.
3‘The Age of Miracles’ by Karen Thompson Walker
Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles is a 2012 debut YA novel that blends science fiction with fantasy with a coming-of-age story — told in haunting, lyrical, and gorgeously spare prose. The Age of Miracles meets readers on an unremarkable Saturday morning in California, when the world suddenly realizes that the earth’s rotation has begun to slow. Eleven-year-old Julia and her family are immediately forced to reckon with their personal disasters in the wake of a global, environmental one. This story demonstrates the persistence of the human spirit and foreshadows the natural disasters of a dying planet that may be terrifyingly closer to reality than we think.
4‘A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride
Eimear McBride’s 2013 debut novel A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is the kind of book that leaves you with more questions than answers, and that will change the way you think about (and read) literature. Written in meandering, cerebral, experimental prose, this award-winning novel tackles issues of mental illness and depression, sexual violence, and domestic abuse. By the end you feel inescapably locked in the characters’ thoughts and experiences, in that way that all great literature captures readers.
5‘Sex Object’ by Jessica Valenti
Author, columnist, and co-founder of Feministing.com, Jessica Valenti is kind of a feminist badass. Taking readers through some of the most informative sexual experiences in her life, Valenti’s 2016 memoir, Sex Object, uses both dark humor and pain to navigate female sexuality, coming-of-age challenges, and the experiences of sexism the permeate practically every corner of American life.
6‘The Book of Unknown Americans’ by Cristina Henriquez
Cristina Henríquez’s The Book of Unknown Americans is a 2014 debut novel that introduces readers to 16-year-old Maribel, a girl who has recently immigrated to the United States with her parents, who hope to find the resources Maribel needs to deal with a traumatic brain injury. Surrounding Maribel and her family is a community of moving and unforgettable characters: Fito Angelino, an immigrant from Paraguay whose young dreams of boxing led him instead to becoming a landlord in Delaware; Benny Quinto, a Nicaraguan aspiring priest-turned-drug dealer who now works at Burger King; Nelia Zafón, a Puerto Rican immigrant with dreams of Broadway; and so many more. This important novel gives voice to the immigrant experience in a way you won’t be able to forget.
7‘Brother, I'm Dying’ by Edwidge Danticat
Another title from the last decade that sheds light on the immigrant experience, Edwidge Danticat’s 2007 memoir, Brother, I’m Dying, tells Danticat’s story of being only four-years-old when her parents left for the United States, leaving their young daughter in her native Haiti for eight more years, until she was able to reunite with her family. As the situation in Haiti becomes more dangerous, Danticat is caught between building her new life in America and fearing for her remaining family back home. When her uncle Joseph makes his way to Miami — in a story that made headlines around the world — he was detained by U.S. Customs, held by the Department of Homeland Security, imprisoned, and died. This memoir tells an important and increasingly-timely story about the inhumane politics that inform U.S. immigration policy.
8‘Juliet Takes a Breath’ by Gabby Rivera
Juliet Takes a Breath is a 2016 debut novel by radical, creative writer Gabby Rivera that introduces readers to Juliet Milagros Palante, a queer young woman who is about to embark upon a summer internship that will change her life. Traveling from her home in the Bronx to the crunchier Portland, Juliet moves in with the author of her favorite book: the feminist, lesbian writer Harlowe Brisbane. Over the course of one beautiful, complicated, heartbreaking, eye-opening summer, Juliet learns more about herself, the world, and “this whole ‘Puerto Rican lesbian thing’” than she ever thought possible — and develops even more questions about herself, her community, and her own unique feminism along the way.
9‘The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks’ by E. Lockhart
A 2008 YA novel about gender politics, secret societies, and dismantling the patriarchy, E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks tells the story of prep school sophomore Frankie Landau-Banks, who is tired of being an outsider: as a young woman, as a Jew, and as someone more subversive and scheming than her peers; and she’s willing to risk expulsion, heartbreak, and ostracization in order to challenge her school’s administration and make a political statement against its patriarchal culture.
10‘Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail’ by Cheryl Strayed
Published in 2012 and catapulting author Cheryl Strayed to the ranks of literary superstardom, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is the writer’s memoir of her 1000-plus mile hike along California’s PCT in the wake of her mother’s death and the author's own divorce. The journey tested Strayed’s strength and reunited her with herself: the woman both she and her own mother always wanted her to be. This memoir changes the narrative of what young women are able to accomplish, in the world and on their own.
11‘Brown Girl Dreaming’ by Jacqueline Woodson
A poetic memoir that readers of any age will love, the award-winning Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming tells Woodson’s childhood story of growing up in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and 1970s, in a landscape still influenced by Jim Crow and increasingly informed by the emerging Civil Rights Movement. This collection of autobiographical poetry also charts the journey of a young writer finding her voice — both on the page and in the world around her — and it’s beautiful.
12‘The Girls’ by Emma Cline
A mesmerizing debut novel published last year, Emma Cline’s The Girls introduces readers to Evie Boyd, a 14-year-old girl who finds herself drawn into what turns out to be a cult, led by a disturbing, intriguing man named Russell. But while the mysterious girls of the cult — their supposed freedom and never-ending love — seem like appealing pursuits, Evie begins to realize she might have been pulled into something darker than she realizes. Inspired by the Manson murders of 1969, The Girls is a tale of being young and inexperienced, and how all the tiny decisions of girlhood can sometimes change your life forever. This debut is haunting and beautifully written, and you won’t be able to put it down.
13‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi
Yaa Gyasi’s 2016 debut novel Homegoing tells the story of Effia and Esi, two sisters born in different African villages at the same time. While the sisters share the same father, they are entirely unknown to one another. One will be sold into slavery, while the other is married to an Englishman and left to a life of relative freedom and comfort — though the sisters’ paths will cross in an unexpected way. From a civil war in 18th-century Ghana to 20th-century Harlem, this novel will take you around the world and back, into the lives of Effia and Esi, and those of their descendants, showing how two lives so very close together can grow so unimaginably apart.
14‘The Tiger's Wife’ by Téa Obreht
Téa Obreht’s 2011 debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife, transports readers to the Balkans, into the heart of a landscape marked by death and destruction, and asks how we, as humans, respond to the impermanence of life. One of the characters, Natalie, is traveling to the region as a physician on a mission trip to an orphanage, but she has her personal reasons for making the journey as well: solving the mystery of her grandfather’s death by reexamining the stories he told her as a child.
15‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng
Readers were obsessed with Celeste Ng’s literary debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, when it came out in 2014, and it instantly became must-read material. Chinese-American teenager Lydia Lee is the favorite child of her parents, Marilyn and James. She’s also beautiful, popular, and on an unwavering path to success. Except for one tiny detail: she’s also dead. And her family doesn’t know it yet. And once Lydia’s body is found in a local lake, it sends her entire family into a tailspin — one that threatens to reveal long-held secrets, expose the truth of Lydia’s life, and potentially tear the Lee family apart.
16‘God Help the Child’ by Toni Morrison
Last on this list, but hardly least, comes Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison’s first novel set in present times, the 2015 novel God Help the Child. The novel tells the painful and moving story of one girl: Bride, and how her loveless childhood relationship with her mother proved to be a defining element in the rest of her life. Not only does this novel feature the kind of writing you've come to know and love from Toni Morrison, but it will make you think differently about the complexities of race and racism, womanhood, female relationships, and love.