Sometimes, reading about women who have their lives together and the patience of a saint isn’t what you’re looking for. Sometimes, it’s more comforting to read about an angry, downcast woman who can hold a grudge – a b*tch.
The “female malaise,” as it has been deemed by Goodreads voters, is a genre of literature that features “sad, strange, miserable” women. These “sad girl” reads (or “hot sad girl” reads) have taken over #BookTok and been making waves on #BookTwt. Even Barnes & Noble has displays dedicated to books from these platforms. There’s no denying the influence of young readers. For some reason, the current trend involves some terrible and wildly entertaining stories of female empowerment. And if you have yet to dip your toe into the not-so-happily-ever-after pool, don’t worry; I’ll break down some of the best b*tches in books from way back when (shoutout to Jane Austen) and today (all hail Ottessa Moshfegh).
If you haven’t given a chance to a truly unlikeable narrator, take this as your sign to try it. All of these women below have redeeming qualities that you can find within their stories, but that doesn’t make them any less of a b*tch. (And I mean that in sad-and-bad-b*tch-typa way.)
- woman, Eating by Claire Kodha
Lydia is hungry. But not for the food you or I crave. She needs blood, preferably human. Unfortunately, she has some pesky morals that get in the way of easy access to fresh flesh. But maybe it’s time to put that behind her. Humans are her natural prey, and the men that lurk in shadows to attack unsuspecting women at night can’t be worthy of their lives. So, in between tackling her mixed-race identity, her relationship with her mom, and figuring out if she can have sex without opening her lovers’ artery for a snack — Lydia must figure out what to eat. The gray area in Woman, Eating happens to be more paranormal than most sad girl books.
- Boy Parts by Eliza Clark
Described as a mix of American Psycho and My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Boy Parts shows us what a femcel looks like. Irina convinces average-looking men to pose for her camera. She praises their modeling skills, even though they have never modeled before, and invites them back to her place for an innocent night in. Our protagonist is the villain and you’ll read about Irina spilling blood more times than you can count before the story comes to an end. The female rage she expresses comes out violently, but in her mind, readers might find her thoughts all-too-agreeable. That’s what makes it so compelling: You can understand her logic, but cringe at her follow-through.
- Emma by Jane Austen
Don’t knock it until you try it; there’s a reason Jane Austen was brought up in every English class you ever took. Emma centers on Emma Woodhouse, who’s as bright as she is clueless. While Emma has vast wealth and a high position in society, all those books she reads haven’t done anything to help her learn common sense. Emma’s misplaced confidence in herself and her skills create a self-centered, nosy woman that firmly believes she knows what’s best for everyone in her life. At least she’s endearing. If murder isn’t your speed, take a trip to the classics aisle and check out Emma’s misadventures.
- Black Swans by Eve Babitz
This collection of stories takes place in the ‘80s and ‘90s. You’ll learn to dance, go to Hollywood premieres, and read about dresses that could put Marilyn Monroe’s to shame. Through all the sex, partying, and networking, readers will meet a cast of female characters with dreams they’ll do anything to fullfill. Jealousy drives every storyline and a little bit of sabotage is in order if our leads want to climb to the top. And they will climb.
- Nightb*tch by Rachel Yoder
This mother has a problem. She’s not sure she likes her son, or her husband for that matter. Her baby stole her livelihood and now all she has to look forward to is night-nights and read-alongs at the library. Then a transformation interrupts her monotonous life. She might be crazy, but she’s pretty sure she’s becoming a dog. You know, the kind with four legs that bark? But, before she can fret too much, the mother realizes her new canine instincts could be an advantage in everyday life.
- My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is the pioneer of the sad girl genre and has reigned as the sad girl poster child since its publication in 2018. The novel is narrated by an unnamed woman. She’s skinny, blonde, gorgeous, and disgustingly rich. She’s also a horrid b*tch by her own admission. However, she does want to change. First she tries to be nicer to her best friend, Reva. Then she tries to reconnect with old flames. When nothing can spark any emotion inside of her except for anger, sadness, or frustration, she starts upping her use of prescription pills in an effort to sleep for an entire year.
- Galatea by Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles and Circe are two #BookTok faves and chances are you’ve read them if you’re a bookworm. But did you know about Galatea? This short story from Madeline Miller takes a much different approach than her other novels. Galatea follows a statue who became a woman. And, as a gift to her creator, she would be his wife. Soon the husband becomes obsessive over his wife’s looks. He locks her in the house and trains her to be the picture of obedience. But, Galatea is smarter than she looks. She’s just biding her time, waiting to strike when the iron’s hot.
- The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
The definition of enemies-to-lovers, The Cruel Prince lets us see life through Jude’s eyes as she navigates the treacherous fae court. Her arch-nemesis, Cardan, is genuinely savage and Jude is prepared to match his barbaric actions if it means winning the respect of her peers. Jude will cross any line to make sure she has the high ground. And she will burn down the castle with her family in it if that’s what it takes to get back at Cardan. (Also, she has the most lavish, braided hairstyle of any book character I’ve read, behind only Daenerys Targaryen.)
- The New Me by Halle Butler
Butler describes her novel best: It’s “a biting satire of the false promise of reinvention.” The New Me stars 30-year-old Millie who feels anything but special. Stuck in a dead-end temp job, Millie spends her days mildly delirious concocting wild fantasies where she’s offered a full time job and moves from her lonely apartment into a grand mansion with her imaginary lover. Consumer culture looms in the background as Millie has to slowly come to terms with her dreary reality. Reading The New Me is not for the lighthearted. If you need a happy ending with happy characters, I’d recommend looking somewhere else.
- Animal by Lisa Taddeo
Men abuse Joan. It’s what she was made to be — a punching bag. She’s been OK with it for most of her life, since she’s used to it. But then, one tormentor shocks her back to reality by committing such a heinous act of violence in front of her that she’s compelled to kill. After she kills one man in an act of vengeance, Joan realizes that killing bad men makes her feel really good. Despite her traumatic past that makes her character sympathetic and her relatable inner-monologue, Joan soon has to face the consequences of her murderous actions.
These books are the embodiment of the Cool Girl monologue we all know and love. And they show us the uglier side of female healing and empowerment: the rage that comes with it. Next time you want to hit something, sit down with one of these books and live vicariously through these baddies who can do the damage for you.