In trying times, books can have the power to serve as a great escape—and now, more than ever, that might be exactly what you need. As a source of inspiration, we have curated our favorite female-authored books of 2020 thus far. Whether it’s Adrienne Miller’s compelling recollection of breaking through the male-dominated literati of the ’90s in In The Land of Men, or Cho-Nam Joo’s trailblazing novel, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, which ignited Korea’s new feminist movement, let this frequently-updated list be a guide for your next read.
The Girl With The Louding Voice: A Novel
Abi Daré’s anticipated new novel, The Girl with the Louding Voice, follows 14-year-old Adunni as she escapes an arranged marriage in her Nigerian hometown, in the hopes of receiving an education. She soon finds, however, that her only option as a young girl is to become an indentured servant to a wealthy family. In spite of her bleak reality, Adunni is adamant to defy expectations and be a “louding voice” for herself and other girls to come.
Best-selling author Jenny Offill returns with her third book, Weather, a satirical look at a nation in crisis. The novel follows librarian-turned-therapist Lizzie Benson, who’s attempting to deal with personal family drama whilst navigating clients seeking guidance through various existential crises, ranging from climate change to the decline of western civilization.
In the Land of Men: A Memoir
Adrienne Miller, the first female literary editor of Esquire, recounts breaking through the male-dominated literati of the ’90s in her new memoir, In the Land of Men. One of the most anticipated books of the year, Miller’s memoir is a sharp—and fierce—recollection of being the only woman in a room.
The Watergate Girl: My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President
Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks shares her story of being the only woman on the team of lawyers helming Richard Nixon’s impeachment trial in her memoir, The Watergate Girl: My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President. The parallels between Nixon’s America and society today are uncanny, and Wine-Banks’ inside look is as inspirational as it is an important cautionary tale.
The Exhibition of Persephone Q
In the eerie aftermath of 9/11, protagonist Percy finds out she is pregnant but feels instantly reluctant to share the news with anyone, including her husband. Percy’s feelings turn into isolation when she unexpectedly receives a package with a catalog of photos of a woman that only she can see is herself. Accoladed by Vogue and Wall Street Journal as one of the Most Anticipated Books of 2020, Jessie Jezewska Stevens’ The Exhibition of Persephone Q is a witty satire that explores the question of owning our own image in the digital age.
My Dark Vanessa
My Dark Vanessa is another highly anticipated novel, by Kate Elizabeth Russell. The year is 2000 and 15-year old Vanessa falls in love, and consequently, has an affair with her then-teacher, 42-year-old Jacob Strane. Seventeen years later, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, a fellow former student reaches out to Vanessa announcing that Strane has been accused of sexual abuse. The news forces Vanessa to reconsider her teenage relationship and reevaluate whether her first love was actually far different from what she thought.
A story about class, race, and the terrifying world of medical experimentation, this thrilling debut novel by Megan Giddings is a raw reflection of the damage that has historically been administered on society’s most vulnerable people, and the sacrifices people make for their loved ones. If you’re a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale and the movie Get Out, this should be on your reading list.
Andrea Bartz’s latest thrilling novel, The Herd, is centered on an elite women-only coworking space founded by the affluent Eleanor Walsh. On the day of the company’s momentous press conference, Eleanor mysteriously vanishes, and what’s left in her wake are details that slowly disassemble the seemingly perfect, yet secretive, life of the flawless female founder. The twisty plot and unexpected ending will have you racing through pages tackling female ambition, friendship, and jealousy.
The Beauty of Your Face
In Sahar Mustafah’s The Beauty of Your Face, Palestinian-American Afaf Rahman is the principal of a Muslim school in suburban Chicago that finds itself under attack by a radicalized alt-right shooter. Standing face-to-face with the attacker, Afaf revisits her relation to faith, family, and hate in this moving debut novel that “navigates a country growing ever more divided.”
In the wake of her husband’s death, immigrant writer Antonia Vega is forced to navigate the disappearance of her unstable sister with the sudden arrival of a pregnant, undocumented teenager on her doorstep. A captivating story about immigration, family, love, and loss, Afterlife is Julia Alvarez’s first adult novel in almost 15 years (following her critically acclaimed In the Time of Butterflies and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents).
This is Big
Part-memoir and part-biography, Marisa Meltzer’s This is Big is a candid examination of the author’s life-long struggle with weight—and personal relationship to dieting—paralleled with Weight Watchers founder Jean Nidetch’s entrepreneurial journey and own decades-long weight-loss story. The moving retelling of two women’s lives is an insightful reflection of our society’s collective obsession with thinness.
Kim Ji-young, Born 1982
Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 is the feminist novel that took South Korea by storm, selling nearly 300,000 copies in just 10 months. It follows Kim, a young woman dealing with the psychological consequences of Korea’s systemic misogyny, who recounts her injustice-riddled life to a psychiatrist. The novel, which touches on gender discrimination at home and at work, has been credited as influential to Korea’s new feminist movement, and it’s finally being translated into 18 languages, including English.
Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America
Becoming a U.S. citizen might serve as literal evidence you’ve joined the nation, but it may not, in reality, overcome the figurative border of becoming part of the country’s fabric. In Conditional Citizens, author and Moroccon immigrant to the U.S. Laila Lalami discusses the often overlooked, yet incredibly important, meaning of what it means to be an American—and what it takes to be seen and valued as an equal.
All Adults Here
In the wake of witnessing a fatal school bus accident, Astrid Strick—a mother to three now-grown children—finds herself questioning her parenting style decades prior. As she decides to confess her flaws to her children and apologize for the past, she realizes that they each have their own issues to contend with. All Adults Here is a heartfelt novel by The New York Times bestselling author Emma Straub; her relatable depiction of messy, yet loving, familial relationships will captivate you ‘till the end.
My Mother’s House
A dark, unsettling novel that explores the complex topics of race, class, and systematic violence, My Mother’s House is a story told from the point of view of Lucien, a Haitian immigrant, his wife Marie-Ang, and their house called La Kay (“My Mother’s House”). Although initially intended to be a place of peace and support for fellow immigrants, La Kay soon becomes the backdrop and witness to Lucien’s unsettling evils exerted on his wife and daughters. As gruesome as it is powerful, Haitian-born Francesca Momplaisir’s debut novel depicts the darkness of “the immigrant experience amid toxic male dominance.”
Rodham: A Novel
In this riveting fictional novel, we enter an alternate universe where Hillary Rodham, rather than pursuing her marriage with Bill Clinton (which she was famously wishy-washy about, turning him down a few times), carries on to carve her path as a successful politician. Curtis Sittenfeld (American Wife) skillfully plays off the “what if” idea—what if Hillary never made compromises for her political aspirations?—to analyze the trade-offs women often make in building a “fulfilling” life.
This literary thriller of female empowerment parallels the year 1999, when 12 sex workers were murdered, with the year 2014, where several sex workers are being killed in the same manner, in the same Los Angeles neighborhood. With neglectful police spending little time investigating the similarities, These Women is a harrowing mystery from award-winning author Ivy Pochoda, giving a much-needed voice to those who have historically been reduced to “getting what they deserve.”
Stray: A Memoir
Following the debut of her bestselling novel Sweetbitter in 2016, Stephanie Danler confronts difficulties from her childhood in a new memoir that takes us through familial dysfunction. From her mother’s struggles with alcoholism to getting abandoned by her meth-addicted father, Stray has plenty of heartbreaking moments, but Danler ultimately surprises her readers with a hopeful ending in learning how to let go of one’s past.
All My Mother’s Lovers
Following her mother’s death, Maggie discovers five sealed envelopes—each one addressed to a mysterious man and signed by her mother, Iris. Determined to unveil the truth, Maggie hand-delivers the letters only to discover Iris’ hidden life, making her question her parents’ seemingly loving relationship and her mother’s discomfort with Maggie’s sexuality. Deemed a “queer tour-de-force” and one of Harper’s Bazaar’s and O Magazine’s Most Anticipated LGBTQ Books of 2020, Ilana Masad’s tender story explores love and grief, as well as the everlasting connections between mothers and their children.
The Vanishing Half
Brit Bennett’s latest novel (deemed one of the most anticipated books of 2020 by Oprah Magazine, The Washington Post, and more) follows the Vignes twin sisters who grow up in a close-knit Southern and predominantly black community in the 1960s. They run away together at age 16, but as one sister returns to their childhood home and marries a black man, the other decides to lead a life elsewhere where she can pass as white. A beautifully moving story about race, identity, and family, The Vanishing Half is impossible to put down.
An electrifying debut novel by Megha Majumdar, A Burning follows the interlaced fates of three individuals in India. Jivan is a Muslim girl living in the slums and dreaming of a life in the middle class, but after she leaves a Facebook comment criticizing the government’s handling of a recent train bombing in Bengal, the consequences are catastrophic. PT Sir, a Physical Education teacher longing for power in a right-wing political party, finds that his ascent to power is linked to Jivan’s fall, and Lovely, an outcast who wants fame on the silver screen, finds herself sitting on the answers needed to set Jivan free—but unveiling the truth will cost her everything she cares about.
This Is What I Know About Art
The Pocket Change Collective is a small collection of nonfiction, pocket-sized books by some of our times’ most influential activists and artists. In this installment, Kimberly Drew (aka Museum Mammy), an acclaimed curator of “black art and experiences,” shares how art and activism are inherently intertwined, and why the art world is no longer a space exclusively for the elite.
Our Time Is Now
Bestselling author and politician Stacey Abrams’ latest book is an urgent call to action that outlines how to end voter suppression. Described as a “must-read for anyone who wants to see our democracy reflect the will of all people, and not just the will of America’s most privileged,” Our Time Is Now presents personal anecdotes intertwined with concrete advice, making an irrefutable argument for why we all need to become advocates in order to implement much-needed change.
You Exist Too Much
In Zaina Arafat’s provocative debut You Exist Too Much, the narrator—a queer Palestinian-American girl—oscillates between her conservative and religious childhood in Bethlehem and her current life as a sought-after DJ and writer in Brooklyn. As she tries to find herself through “reckless romantic encounters and obsessions with other people,” the novel navigates contrasting cultures, religions, and sexual identities with the desire to satisfy two of life’s most intense longings: love and a place to call home.
The End of White Politics
Why has the United States only had one non-white president? This is the question MSNBC political analyst Zerlina Maxwell sets out to answer in her new book, The End of White Politics. From her experience working on both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, Maxwell’s first-hand insight into the inner workings of the liberal left enables her to expose the flaws that led to Donald Trump’s Presidential win, and masterfully present how giving women and communities of color a seat at the table will benefit us all.
Notes on a Silencing
When author Lacy Crawford was a freshman at an elite New England boarding school, she was sexually assaulted by two seniors—neither of whom received punishment for their crime. It is years later, after several additional sexual assault cases are reported, that her case is reopened and Crawford learns of the extreme lengths the faculty, doctors, and priests went to bury stories like hers. A shocking memoir that exposes the institutional silencing in America’s elite from someone who was a first-hand witness to the power that gender and privilege grants.
Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close
Shedding light on the joys and difficulties of their own friendship, this hilarious memoir by the co-hosts of the popular podcast Call Your Girlfriend, Aminatou Sow and Ann Freidman, tells a larger story about the importance of “society’s most under-appreciated relationship.”
Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women’s Intimate Lives in the Arab World
In this sharp examination of Moroccan women and their complex relationship to sex in a country where adultery, abortion, homosexuality, and sex outside marriage are punishable by law, Leila Slimani interweaves intimate testimonies of women’s deepest secrets with compelling discussions about women’s sexual revolution in the Arab world. A gripping, must-read book for fans of Lisa Taddeo’s bestseller, Three Women.
Fear Is Just a Four-Letter Word
From the first female real estate broker on Million Dollar Listing LA comes Fear Is Just a Four-Letter Word—a candid guide on how to “analyze big egos, deflect power plays, and take control of any room.” Offering concrete advice along with anecdotes that unveil the misogynist and cutthroat world of real estate, this book is a great read for the woman who wants “to win her next business confrontation before she even walks into the room.”
The Lie That Binds
In their new book, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue and Research Director Ellie Langford present a compelling case for how abortion rights went from being a non-partisan issue to becoming “the sharp point of the spear for a much larger movement bent on maintaining control in a changing world.” Offering a persuasive analysis of the Radical Right’s true motivations, The Lie That Binds is an essential read that exposes the untold history of the anti-choice movement.
Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Natasha Tretheway shares the harrowing story of the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her former stepfather in her new book, Memorial Drive. Tretheway, who was just 19 at the time, looks at the “enduring ripple effects of white racism and domestic abuse” through her own experience entering adulthood in the wake of the traumatic loss of her mother, while beautifully examining how her path to healing helped shape the poet she is today.