The first of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels made its screen debut this month when My Brilliant Friend hit the airwaves as an HBO miniseries. If you can't get enough of Elena and Lila, but you've devoured both the HBO episodes and Ferrante's novels, I've got 15 books for you to read after My Brilliant Friend leaves you in the lurch.
Written by the mysterious, pseudonymous author Elena Ferrante, the Neapolitan novels center on Elena and Lila: two girls who form a lifelong friendship as children in 1950s Naples. The series concluded in 2015 with its fourth installment, The Story of the Lost Child, which brings Elena and Lila's relationship into the present day. My Brilliant Friend and the other Neapolitan novels deal with themes of growing up poor, girlhood, mid-20th century life and politics, automation, feminist awakenings, and sexuality.
The 15 books on the list below are perfect for My Brilliant Friend fans. Not only do they share thematic elements with the Neapolitan novels, but these books are also poignant, feminist reads that even readers who have never heard of Elena Ferrante may enjoy. Check out my recommendations below, and share your favorite My Brilliant Friend readalikes with me on Twitter!
'Ponti' by Sharlene Teo
This 50-year saga tells the story of Szu and Circe: two Singaporean teenagers who form an intense friendship in the orbit of Szu's mother Amisa, an actress turned medium. Nearly 20 years after they met, Circe finds herself falling back into her memories of Szu and Amisa when a work project ends up examining the latter's film career.
'Circe' by Madeline Miller
Best known for her (mis)treatment of Odysseus' crew in The Odyssey, the witch Circe comes to life in this biographical novel from Madeline Miller, which follows the magical woman from her birth among Titans to her banishment on Aeaea and beyond.
'Girls Burn Brighter' by Shobha Rao
After Poornima's mother dies, her father hires Savitha to work in the family clothing business, and the two girls bond over shared stories of tragedy and hardship. When Savitha runs away, Poornima abandons her responsibilities to chase after her friend, beginning a journey than spans multiple continents.
'Swimming to Elba' by Silvia Avallone
Thirteen-year-old Francesca is secretly in love with her best friend, Anna, but the other girl has eyes for Mattia, her older brother's twenty-something-year-old friend. Silvia Avallone's debut tracks the girls' friendship as they grow up, apart, and close again.
'The Darkest Child' by Delores Phillips
Recently reissued with a new introduction from An American Marriage author Tayari Jones, Delores Phillips' The Darkest Child centers on Tangy Mae Quinn: an ambitious, school-minded teenage girl growing up in an abusive, broken family in the Jim Crow South.
'The Mars Room' by Rachel Kushner
In 2003, young mother Romy Hall begins the first of her two consecutive life sentences in California's Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. On the inside, she meets a wide variety of women, some sentenced fairly, others not, who now find themselves at the mercies of their judges and jailers.
'Everything Here Is Beautiful' by Mira T. Lee
Following two Chinese-American sisters across years and miles of their lives, Mira T. Lee's Everything Here Is Beautiful tells the story of Miranda and Lucia, whose lives are upended when one begins to show signs of mental illness.
'If You Leave Me' by Crystal Hana Kim
When civil war in Korea forces her family to flee their home for a refugee camp, 16-year-old Haemi finds her own personal refuge in the arms of her childhood friend, Kyunghwan. But when she ultimately marries Kyunghwan's cousin, Jisoo, Haemi sets off a series of events that will impact their families for generations.
'Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad' by Krystal A. Sital
This memoir from Trinbagonian-American author Krystal A. Sital tells the stories of three women — the author, her mother, and grandmother — whose lives were impacted by the abusive and wealthy family patriarch.
'The Female Persuasion' by Meg Wolitzer
Meg Wolitzer's latest novel centers on Greer Kadetsky, an idealistic young woman who gets the opportunity of a lifetime when feminist leader Faith Frank, offers her a job with her foundation. As the years wear on, however, Greer finds herself becoming jaded as the life she thought she'd be living begins to slip away.
'Halsey Street' by Naima Coster
Moving back to Brooklyn to care for her father, Penelope recognizes little about her old neighborhood, which was the subject of intense gentrification while she was away in Pittsburgh. But when a letter from her estranged mother arrives, Penelope realizes that adjusting to Bed-Stuy's new face isn't the most difficult task she will face.
'Love War Stories' by Ivelisse Rodriguez
Focusing on the lives young Puerto Ricans, Ivelisse Rodriguez's Love War Stories follows a wide range of girls, women, and a few men, all of whom are searching for firm footing in the wake of the titular "love wars."
'Fruit of the Drunken Tree' by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Coming from a wealthy family in Bogotá, seven-year-old Chula has little knowledge of the political upheaval ravaging the country outside her gated neighborhood. A teenage maid, Petrona, becomes the object of Chula's fascinations, but the collision of their two, radically different Colombias forces them into difficult situations neither expected.
'Future Home of the Living God' by Louise Erdrich
Four months pregnant at 26, Cedar Hawk Songmaker is terrified of the possibilities her womb may hold. Women in the U.S. have been giving birth to children that resemble humans' ancient ancestors, and her white, adoptive parents can't provide her with the answers she needs. Determined to find her birth mother, Cedar sets off toward the Ojibwe reservation of her past, as the country around her confronts a terrible and violent future.
'The Parking Lot Attendant' by Nafkote Tamirat
The Ethiopian-American narrator of Nafkote Tamirat's The Parking Lot Attendant recalls the series of events that led her from Boston to an island commune, which involve her experiences with the eponymous Ayale, a charismatic schemer.