Hi, I’m Tessa and I love books. It seems, growing up, I spent almost all my time playing guitar and writing songs, or reading tons of books. As this is an article for Song Suffragettes, I chose books with strong female protagonists that were written by talented female authors. This list is only the tip of a very big iceberg, and it was hard to narrow it down, so keep in mind these are just a few of many amazing novels.
Here is, in no particular order or rank, “Tessa’s Fav Five Books for Female Empowerment”!
1. "The Handmaid’s Tale" by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel "The Handmaid’s Tale" is as amazing as it is heart wrenching. Set in the Republic of Gilead, a Christian theocracy and totalitarian government that has overthrown the United States, the novel follows the story of Offred and her fellow handmaids as they struggle to navigate a world in which women’s rights are obsolete. Atwood’s painting of Gilead seems frighteningly familiar at times as Offred’s role as a handmaid, forced to bear children for the country’s elite, calls into question the power of the state to dictate a woman’s control over her own body.
While the novel itself provides an enlightened narrative for female empowerment, Margaret Atwood is a bad ass woman who has won countless awards like the Booker Prize and the Governor General’s Award. She’s tough, smart and exceptionally funny.
2. "The Bell Jar" by Syliva Plath
Sylvia Plath’s only published novel, "The Bell Jar," is a searing semi-autobiographical story about mental illness and the constrictive gender roles of her time. Plath, who suffered from depression for most of her adult life, committed suicide shortly after the novel was published in 1963. Plath is then echoed in Esther Greenwood, the novel’s protagonist, as she falls into a depressive spiral and struggles to find power, control and identity in a patriarchal society. A true feminist classic, dealing with seemingly timeless issues, "The Bell Jar" is a must-read.
3. "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson
I feel that Young Adult (YA) books are so often unacknowledged in book lists and it really frustrates me. YA is usually dismissed as a fluffy, vampire-loving, long-lost princess genre and, while some books do fit the stereotype, there are many excellent novels tackling very different subjects. Laurie Halse Anderson’s "Speak" is one of those. Centered around the character of Melinda, a high school freshman who, after being raped by a male acquaintance at a party, struggles to tell people about the incident and live with the after-shocks. The novel’s title, "Speak," references Melinda’s loss of voice and self from the incident.
Anderson’s novel is a grim portrait of rape culture and the guilt, shame, and blame often placed on its victims. "Speak," is so important as its audience is mostly young and impressionable and, dealing with many of the social obstacles placed on the protagonist. As hard as it is to read, I highly recommend it.
4. "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen
If you know me, you know how much I love this novel and the epic woman behind it. Jane Austen’s famous story "Pride and Prejudice" isn’t just tea and biscuits, and Colin Firth in a top hat. Published in 1813, Austen wrote the novel during a time of strict social conduct as patriarchal constraints prevented the few working female writers from writing within “serious” genres. On the surface, "Pride and Prejudice" fits within these constraints as a well-written romantic comedy with a happy ending. However, a deeper look will find Austen’s feminism in her exploration and critique of social constructs. Elizabeth Bennett, the main character, is an intelligent, funny, independent and stubborn woman. Elizabeth is one of my favorite literary heroines as she seems to care less what people think of her and protects her independence fiercely. Give this one a read. (Or, if you’d prefer, my favorite Hollywood adaption is the 2005 version starring Keira Knightly. Of everything I love about that movie, I’m especially obsessed with the soundtrack)
5. "Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging" by Louise Rennison
I thought it’d be best to end this book-list with something funny and light, like my favorite little YA series of quirky, British novels. "Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging" is the first book in a series of ten, called "The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson" written by Louise Rennison. I first discovered these books at the local library when I was twelve and immediately fell in love with Georgia’s hilarious character voice, cheeky British slang and relatable teenage narrative. The novel, written in diary-form, charts the many highs and lows of Georgia Nicolson as she attempts to navigate her teenage years with boys, mean girls and embarrassing parents.
While this novel is certainly not at the forefront of feminist literature and female empowerment, I felt I needed to include it because of how personally empowering it was for me as a teenage girl. Georgia’s story is one of growing personal acceptance, romantic endeavors, friendship and many, many mistakes. Twelve-year-old me was so thankful for Georgia and her crazy experiences because it made me feel better about mine. If you’re a pre-teen or teenage girl, or just looking for something funny, I highly recommend this sweet book. (I also recommend watching the movie, re-titled Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, as it’s hilarious and also boasts a pretty killer soundtrack.)