International Women’s Day recommendations
March 8 marks International Women’s Day, a global celebration of social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. To celebrate it, we asked our library staff to choose their favourite books with strong female characters. We hope you enjoy this International Women’s Day book recommendations – they are all available to borrow from our libraries.
Starring in a Nickelodeon TV show as a young teen may have been many children’s dreams but not Jennette McCurdy, it was her Mom’s dream. This revealing autobiography is at times harrowing as Jennette charts her childhood and rise to stardom along with her struggles including grief, eating disorders and substance abuse. Equally interesting was the peak behind the curtain at child stardom and the processes in which actors go through to land roles which I found informative. I listened to the audiobook of this title, and it is read in a very determined and matter-of-fact manner, only once does her voice crack as she talks about some quite upsetting subjects. Despite not really knowing who Jennette McCurdy was and having never watched her Nickelodeon shows, the controversial title intrigued me and I’m glad to have read this interesting life story of a woman who has taken decisive action to prioritise her mental health. I devoured this audiobook in two days, I found it compelling, written and read in a very engaging way that I just had to keep listening.Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
In this debut novel we meet a middle-class mother of a two-year-old who while struggling with the day-to-day mundanity of childcare becomes aware that she is turning into a dog. As the reader I felt that I was never quite sure if she really was turning into a dog or if she was in fact suffering from some kind of delusion, other reviewers have taken the story at face value that she is turning into a dog but I think the ambiguousness of this is something that I liked about the story. It is an interesting, sad and often funny portrait of parenting in the modern era, discussing what some people have to give up and/or how they have to change to accept this new version of themselves when they become a parent.
What do you do when you don’t like who you are?
Moran’s semi-biographical story of a teenage girl from a council estate in Wolverhampton finding her way in the world of the London 90s music scene as a journalist is hilarious and at times shockingly frank it its exploration of teenage life. This book and its sequel ‘How to be famous’ explores class and feminism and both past and indirectly the present by asking the reader to look back and compare to today. Moran’s signature spiky style resonates through the story and makes this an extremely enjoyable and fast paced read, Johanna as the main protagonist is smart and loveable yet naïve and joining her on her journey into adulthood is a pleasure, a nostalgic romp through the 90s.
I had thought to review Pride and Prejudice and cite Elizabeth Bennett as a strong female character. However, I decided that there was another strong female character in that book that could easily be overlooked ie Charlotte Lucas.
Charlotte is quietly strong and has a good understanding of her position in society and thus makes a brave decision to marry the less than inspiring Mr Collins (despite his first choice, Elizabeth, turning him down). This would give her her own establishment to run and as is evidenced in the book Charlotte is very able to ensure that she has a comfortable life with Mr Collins in the way that she organises his time so well that they spend very little time together.
This choice could have resulted in Charlotte losing the friendship of her great friend, Elizabeth, but it was a decision made in the full knowledge that she was unlikely to receive any other offers of marriage and had she not engaged with Mr Collins she was deemed to be most likely to end by “dying an old maid”. Luckily both Elizabeth and Charlotte are strong enough in their friendship that it is not, in the end, harmed by the outcome.
The book is a good read.
If you want an author who can unflinchingly convey the full complexities of life’s various challenges with a lightness of touch and a generous ladle of humour, then look no further than Lissa Evans. Perhaps not surprisingly for someone whose background is in television comedy, (including Father Ted, for which she won a Bafta award), her books are peopled with wonderfully colourful but very humanly flawed characters.
Their individuality sings from the page and, in particular, her portrayal of women who are refreshingly imperfect but hugely resourceful and decidedly individual feels like a glorious celebration of womanhood as it exists in reality as opposed to the airbrushed perfection of today.
This well-deserved Booker winner contains a slew of strong women. The different voices and perspectives of the characters are so engaging that I retreated from real life for the weekend as I read it and was sad to have to part with friends I felt I was only beginning to know by the end. Evaristo distils the experiences of a wide group of women into a tightly bound narrative, reflecting how all our interactions are connected, and everyone we meet has a rich narrative of their own. This book has absolutely stayed with me and still gives me pause to think.
I was first drawn to this book after learning about the premise. In 1955, seemingly out of nowhere, hundreds of thousands of women stepped out of their skin and flew into the skies, transformed into dragons. But don’t let the fantastical elements put you off, this book is a deeply moving exploration of maternal and feminine love, as well as a blistering examination of the rage, defiance and rebellion that is so often simmering beneath the surface. This is a story about dragons, but also of love, libraries, science, and women; mothers, daughters and sisters whose power can no longer be contained.
Investigating murders is not what most people would expect from the average retired person, but then I suppose not every retirement village has a “Murder Club.” At Cooper’s Chase the Thursday Murder club, meets once a week to try their hand at solving cold cases. Joyce, Elizabeth, Ibrahim, and Ron, are a hilarious group of senior citizens, enjoying their retirement by putting their various skills to the test as amateur sleuths.
This is a quirky, refreshing crime novel full of bold but highly relatable characters that give you a feel for what it is like to work in law enforcement, dealing with the public poking their noses in and the trials of getting older. Elizabeth and Joyce are a startlingly contrasted pair. Elizabeth is all razor-sharp wit, willpower, eons of unspecified experience and a Mary Poppins bag of never-ending contacts and resources. Whilst Joyce is energetic, friendly, and big-hearted, yet also incredibly capable and observant. She loves to bake and tries to keep up with the times, including keeping the reader up to date through her sporadic diary entries. Donna De Freitas is a strong, ambitious young police constable, trying to figure out how to get her career to where she wants it. These three are brilliant examples of kick ass ladies of fiction, using their wit, intelligence and sheer will power, (along with a few other tricks) to aid their investigation and solve the Thursday Murder Club’s first live case.
The story reveals some of the struggles that come with age, talking about them blandly in some cases and with humour in others, but making them seen in a manageable and accessible way that is both enjoyable and enlightening. In this story being young, old, or female does not make you irrelevant but in some cases, it leads to you being seriously underestimated, and in the case of the members of the Thursday Murder Club they know exactly how to use that to their advantage.
This is a laugh out loud book about friendship as much as crime. A good old-fashioned whodunit full of unexpected powerhouse characters set in the charming Kent countryside. Easy to read but extremely hard not to enjoy.
Sil has one year left until the computer in her brain kills her. Before then, she wants to rescue as many agents as she can by controlling their minds and leading them to freedom. She’s had a perfect ten years of saving people, but when an important mission goes wrong, Sil must leave her home. To win back the trust of her employer, she decides to take down the enemy force, the Analog Army, from the inside. Mindwalker is a fast-paced sci-fi adventure story with excellent worldbuilding that draws you into the story. It’s perfect for Marvel and DC lovers, especially for fans of Black Widow.
Set in the Victorian era, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters is a historical crime novel that follows Susan Trinder, a petty thief – a fingersmith- as she gains employment as a maid to help her accomplice, The Gentleman, con the wealthy Maud Lilly out of her inheritance. However, all is not what it seems. This novel is a fantastic twist on the genre, with absolutely nothing as it seems. See also: The Handmaiden for a fantastic adaptation of the novel set-in occupied Korea.
In this classic coming of age story, Anne Shirley transforms from an insecure girl to a confident young woman. While she matures, she still keeps her passionate spirit and openly challenges the gender norms of the late 1800s. The Cuthberts were expecting to adopt a boy to help with the traditionally masculine farm work. However, Anne’s sensitive nature, vivid imagination, and ambition prove to be more valuable in their lives and those of the other townspeople. Montgomery creates a heart-warming story that has stood the test of time.
My personal favourite of Austen’s works, gender equality is a significant theme in Persuasion. It’s romantic heroine Anne Elliot being 27 years old would have been rare for its time, and her quiet strength carries the plot. She learns to become more assertive and make her own decisions regardless of her family’s disapproval. Both women and men debate and discuss gender roles throughout in a thought-provoking way. An eloquently written love story that critiques many areas of society, Persuasion is worth the read.
International Women’s Day book recommendations must include Electra! Jennifer Saint writes about ancient women like they are her contemporaries –with a great understanding of complexities of their motives and feelings. Electra lives her life in a shadow of her beloved father, and when her own mother kills him in revenge for the death of Iphigenia, Electra’s life is consumed but one and only task – to revenge her father. This is a story of obsession and despondency, the story of mother and daughter and other women whose lives were intricately linked by the violence of men and finickity of gods. Each of the female characters is used in the book, no one is safe to lead their lives the way they desire. Perhaps it is a perfect metaphor of our contemporary times, where women find themselves struggling to navigate the world which wasn’t built for them.
Beautifully written. Set in the 1960s, I loved the detail and observations of bohemian, chaotic but freeing Ladbroke Grove versus the security and order of suburban life we’re initially introduced to. These two contrasting environments ask many questions of the reader and our protagonist Phylllis about what love is, passion or stability, can love exist when responsibilities take precedence?
Set-in modern-day Japan, this a stunning compact book about Shibata who tells colleagues she’s pregnant. She’s now treated very differently, people notice her, speak to her, offer assistance. But what about all those women that don’t want children, can’t have children, or haven’t met the right person or feel financially stable. Are women only recognised when their bodies are producing offspring? It’s a brilliant, funny, quick read, just right for an evening relaxing in the bath.
How will Grace get to the party, will she make it, why is it such a struggle, what has happened to Grace? Fast paced day in a life book dissecting the trials and tribulations of a metropolitan woman, Motherland meets Falling Down.
Donna Tartt’’s beautifully evocative writing is a pleasure to behold. She made me feel as though I was in Mississippi, sharing in the long hot summer; I could feel the heat and the humidity and I could even smell the snakes which play quite a role in the story. The characterisation is superb, with many vivid and credible players, including Harriet, the main protagonist. Families, and familial relationships, are skilfully and convincingly portrayed.
One of the main strengths of The Little Friend is its depiction of a twelve-year-old girl delicately balanced on the sensitive cusp between childhood and adolescence. Against her will, Harriet is growing up. She is increasingly aware of, and troubled by, the racism and social inequality of which, as a child, she lived in blissful oblivion. We see Harriet bursting into tears for no apparent reason at her great-aunt Tat’s house, asking Tat if she loves her; Harriet is starting to experience emotions that she doesn’t understand, and while the simple pleasures of childhood no longer comfort her, she is yet to experience the balms of adulthood. Ever more aware of the limitations of Hely, her only childhood friend, she is becoming uneasily aware of the physical attraction of his older brother. It so happens that this particular summer, Harriet’s external world too changes enormously. Terribly upset by all this, she starts to perceive that Laurence of Arabia’s words in a movie she has seen are a good lesson for life, “The trick is not to mind that it hurts.”
At its best, Donna Tartt’s writing is untouchable!
First in a series of three books, “Nervous Conditions” follows a girl named Tambudzai from her homestead to early years of her education in Zimbabwe. The story Tambudzai tells is one of intersections between gender, race and colonial rule. Faced with the sure fact that she will go from her father’s house to her husband’s house when she grows up, Tambudzai struggles to secure a different kind of future for herself by pursuing an education. The book explores the social attitutes toward’s women and their place in society, as well as the impact of colonial rule of white men on relations between African men and women, and what self-determination really means.
Drive Your Plow... tells the story of an older woman named Janina Duszejko, who lives in a small and secluded village in the south of Poland. The protagonist of this book can definitely be described as eccentric – she enjoys astrology, translating William Blake poems with her former student, and her narration of people, places and events can be described as unusual and strange. Tokarczuk takes the reader on a positively twisted and somewhat magical journey as powerful men in the small village start turning up dead in mysterious and strange circumstances. Janina, her friends and neighbours follow these events, trying to get to the bottom of the mystery. As events unfold, it becomes more and more possible that it’s the animals of the area taking revenge on their hunters and persecutors. This book is a powerful read on equality of creatures great and small and treatment of women labelled weird or difficult, more unusual than the rest.
Perhaps not an obvious choice for International Women’s Day, but bear with me. Annihilation tells the story of the 12th expedition to venture into the mysterious and unexplainable Area X. The group is made up of four women: the anthropologist, the surveyor, the psychologist and the biologist, who is the novel’s narrator. Area X defies all logic and explanation, and the reader follows the biologist as she tries to make sense of it. The novel is suspensful and quickly addictive, a whirlpool of fantastical strangeness of landscape and weird scenery. As we progress on this journey with the biologist, events of her past and her personal reasons for volunteering for the expedition are uncovered. It is a wonderful read about destruction and creation, as well as the universal and human search for answers, as well as, strangely, about belonging, all set amongst one of the most wonderfully and mysteriously crafted wildernesses in fiction.
If you enjoyed these International Women’s Day book recommendations from Richmond Libraries staff, tell us your choices!