As an avid reader and feminist, I’m always looking for books centered on powerful women with agency and great stories. Women’s History Month is an awesome time to reflect on girl bosses throughout history, real or fictional. With spring break approaching, these books are perfect whether you’re travelling or relaxing.
1. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (historical fiction)
Code Name Verity is set in World War II and told from two different points of view: Verity, a secret agent who is captured in enemy territory, and Maddie, a pilot who is Verity’s best friend. Her Nazi captors tell her she can either reveal her mission or be executed, and she must battle for her life while writing her confession. I wish this was the type of book I could’ve read in high school when learning about World War II. It’s unapologetically feminist and focuses on women’s struggles. The narrative is meticulous, and while fictional, acknowledges the hard work and sacrifices of women who fought. I can’t even imagine how much research went into this, but it definitely paid off.
— Maggie Stiefvater (@mstiefvater) February 19, 2019
2. Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson (historical fantasy)
Usually, I plan and research my reads, but I picked this off the library shelf due to the title and adored it. Told from three perspectives, Anderson weaves together the stories of three women during World War I in 1919, the Dust Bowl in 1934 and Kansas in 2065. Despite the futuristic setting, this is a story about history and how we come to be the people we are. Told through journals, letters and narrations, each woman’s story centers on relationships and self-knowledge. Overall, this book was beautiful. When I read, I take pictures of lines I love, and I picked up my phone to snap one every few pages. It had a few great twists, and by the end, I felt connected to every narrator.
3. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (historical fiction)
Sepetys specializes in historical fiction and is one of my favorite writers across all genres. Out of the Easy takes place in 1950 in New Orleans. Josie is the daughter of a prostitute and is fighting to find a path to an elite college in the north. When a suspicious death involves her in a city-wide scandal, she finds her plans, her loyalty and her feelings challenged. Josie’s struggle to be something more than what she is and achieve this facing extreme adversity is relatable, especially her money problems. Sepetys has a way of sweeping the reader into the narrative, and it worked on me. I read this quickly because I couldn’t put it down—something that not many historical fictions can achieve.
4. Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist (historical fantasy)
For all the Walking Dead fans out there, this is the book for you. In Glory, Texas, citizens are protected from people infected with a terrible disease that has never left a survivor and turns people into monsters called shakes. Willie, who lives in Glory and is raising her siblings, must venture outside the safety of her town to find her father after he steals a fortune that leaves her responsible for his debt. She goes into the desert to look for him with two shake-hunters and her brother. When disaster strikes, she fights for survival. At over 450 pages, I thought this book would drag, but it was fast-paced, cleanly written and eccentric, with just the right balance of action and emotion. Berquist managed to make the grittiness of the Wild West unique and create a great world. On the character side, Willie was fun and relatable, while managing to be a total girl boss.
5. All We Have Left by Wendy Mills (historical fiction)
In All We Have Left, Mills tackles important issues regarding September 11 and the impact it had on Americans and Muslims alike; I’ve never read another book quite like it. It’s told from two different perspectives in two different times: on September 11, 2001, Alia is trapped inside the Twin Towers with an unfamiliar boy when she tries to confront her father; in present-day, Jesse delves into her family’s history when she tries to learn the truth of how her brother died in the September 11 attacks. Eventually, the two stories intersect, which makes for an incredible story. I read this book in one go, because each chapter demanded me to continue on to the next one. In my opinion, Mills handled all the sensitive issues beautifully, and you can tell that she did a lot of research to write this.
6. Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough (historical fiction)
Trigger warning: sexual assault
This book, told in verse, is based on the true story of Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. At 17, she was a talented painter in Rome in 1610, even though her father took credit for her work. After she was sexually assaulted, Artemisia decided to take her rapist to trial, even though men often exerted absolute power over women. I was wary of the style, but it was spellbinding, and I was left in tears. It’s terrifying to see how relevant this story is, as well as how familiar and universal. Every woman who reads this book can probably identify an Artemisia in her own life, perhaps even herself. This is McCullough’s debut, and I’m excited to see what she produces in the future.
“I happened to read the book while travelling. In each city I visited, I picked flowers to place between the pages where Gentileschi deserved the love women so rarely find when telling violent truths.”—The New Yorker on @JMCwrites Blood Water Paint https://t.co/7OH1NIixeS
— andrewkarre (@andrewkarre) February 13, 2019
7. Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (historical fantasy)
is set in Prohibition-era Boston at a nightclub where people with “afflicted” blood can create illusions through magic and art. It follows two best friends, disillusioned heiress Corinne Wells and first-generation American Ada, who perform at the nightclub and pull off crimes together. When a job goes awry and Ada is imprisoned, only Corinne can save her, but the journey beyond that leads to deception and betrayal. When I read this book, it took me Iron Cast awhile to get into it, but I adored it once I did. Ada and Corinne are a great duo, which contributes to the magic. Soria breaks conventions and stereotypes, which makes Iron Cast one of my most memorable historical fantasy reads.
Many of these women have written other works beyond those listed. You can check the authors out on social media, or if you want to find more books, Goodreads is a great resource to connect with other readers and find more. Happy reading!