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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC Riverside chapter.

It is officially Women’s History Month, which means it’s a great time to be reading things focusing on women and their amazing stories. Here are several of my favorite nonfiction novels that highlight the resilience, strength, and grace of women throughout both history and the modern day. 

1. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

The Radium Girls focuses on the dark history of America’s watch painting factories in the early 20th century, and the valiant women that spoke out against the atrocious practices of these companies. At this time, the beautifully glowing radium was heavily coveted as the new “wonder drug,” the essential necessity for any new makeup look, and the paint needed to make all jewelry extra gorgeous, such as watches. As watch dials were quite small and a delicate hand was needed to make sure that they were perfect, women were often hired over men to create these precious items.

Though these jobs gave women everything they wanted— an exclusive job and access to the elusive radium— it also came with a price: their health. After many years, many girls started dying mysteriously at young ages and no one knew why. It wasn’t until a small group of women, led by Grace Fryer, were able to uncover the truth about radium and started to speak up against the harm that the dial painting factories had unconseunally exposed them too. This story is filled with both triumphs and tragedies. It’s a story we should all be aware of and these are women we should be grateful for their willingness to speak up despite all the barriers against them and the sacrifices they made for us to have many of the workers’ protection and compensation laws that we have today. 

2. Madame Restell: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Old New York’s Most Fabulous, Fearless, and Infamous Abortionist

This novel revolves around the larger than life figure, Madame Restell, who was one of the few women who performed abortions in pre-Gilded age New York City. More specifically, this story focuses on how she built her business and gained the trust of her patients, many of whom were afraid due to the pre existing laws and attitudes towards abortion during this time period.

The novel also spends time detailing how the foundations of many pro-life ideologies come from the desires of male doctors to “lower the competition” they faced from women like Madame Restell in order to protect their own interests. One thing that really stood out to me, other than the events themselves, is the narrative structure of the novel. There is a mix of both non-fiction fact telling along with narrative storytelling which is reminiscent of many of Taylor Jenkin Read’s novels, like Daisy Jones and the Sixes/The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I truly recommend this novel more than ever, especially because many of the issues discussed here are pertinent now more than ever. 

3. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

This feminist novel took South Korea by storm in 2016, and for a very good reason. This novel focuses on the life of “Kim Jiyoung,” (aka one of the most common names for a woman living in Korea in the 80s), a woman whose life is a representation of the lives that many common women in Korea are living in the modern day. From the beginning of her life, Kim Jiyoung goes through instances of mistreatment because she is a woman: in her family, her brother is favored over her and her father blames her for going out at night instead of blaming the men that harass her. She is denied promotions at work because “men need the promotion and money more than she does.” And then, after she gets married, she is forced to give up everything that she had built for herself, because she needs to stay at home to help raise her kids.

The structure of this novel is quite unique as it also provides readers with informative research studies and facts backing up the events of the novel as you read the “fictional” story. This is a really insightful read, and I truly believe that it is an essential novel to read especially this month. 

And these are some of my favorite “non-fiction” (Kim Jiyoung is not technically a non-fiction novel but if you read it, you will definitely think otherwise) novels to read this month. I hope these recommendations will be able to show you a small glimpse of the richness of many “her-stories.”

Brinda Kalita

UC Riverside '24

4th year history major with opinions on anything and everything