Reading used to be something that was required of us, but now as adults, we can read whatever we would like and whenever we damn well please. Which, honestly, makes it so much more enjoyable now than it was back in high school when we were skimming every page of Beloved before AP English class the next morning.
A book can take you to a different place in your mind and change your life through emotions. There are certain books that, as young women, we should all read. They speak to us through feminism, humor, love, and relationships and teach us lessons we may not otherwise learn. Even if reading isn’t your favorite (Netflix for life!), there has to be a classic you’ve missed that you would actually enjoy.
Every book on this list will (hopefully) entertain you, make you laugh, cry, or both, and will speak to you as a woman. Some of these may have been high school reading, others are books you’ve never heard of. All are literature that deserves your time.
1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
We’ve all seen the Keira Knightley movie version, but have you read the actual book? Pride and Prejudice is a classic novel that’s beautifully written with humor and a classic love story that left us all swooning for Mr. Darcy. This book is a must-read for any fan of classic literature. If it wasn’t good, it wouldn’t have so much buzz 200 hundred years later. There is a reason it is much loved and you need to find out.
2. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
Judy Blume is well known for her novels for preteens, but she also writes books for adults. Summer Sisters is a relatable story of two best friends, Caitlin and Vix, who grew up together spending summers at the beach, but now as adults have grown apart. We then learn their entire, complicated history starting in their youth, and involving their first relationships. We all know how deep, close, and complicated our female friendships can be, so this book will move you and parts will feel like they were pulled from your own diary.
3. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
The Red Tent tells the story of Delilah, a briefly mentioned character in The Bible. We learn about the traditions and relationships between four sisters and Joseph in biblical times. In this fictional, yet well researched, story, we learn of the woman’s time in the red tent when they’re on their periods. The book ~flows~ beautifully (sorry) and will leave you interested in what happens after, before and during Delilah’s life. You’ll also want to retreat to your own red tent with your besties to eat cake and drink beer since that is apparently what used to happen during that awful time of the month.
4. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath completed this semi-autobiographical novel just months before committing suicide making it even more chilling. It tells the story of Esther Greenwood, a young woman who wants to become a writer. She lands a summer internship in the city at a magazine and then slowly descends into her mental illness. It’s well written and gives readers a view into mental illness and the internal struggles of those suffering.
5. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
As always, the book is better than the movie, so give this one a chance even if you just learned it was a book. The British Bridget Jones’s Diary has all the humor and wit shown in the Renee Zellweger movie versions. This book will make you laugh out loud and you will cringe along with Bridget as she makes a mess of her life after sleeping with her boss and falling for a childhood friend.
6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montogomery
This book is not just for little girls so if you didn’t read it then, you should pick it up today. Anne of Green Gables tells the sweet and precocious story of a red-headed orphan named Anne Shirley who is accidentally adopted by an elderly brother and sister (it’s all explained better in the book).
Anne is dreamy, opinionated, and just what the small Canadian town of Avonlea needed. There she meets kindred spirit, Diana, future hottie Gilbert, and grows into herself. Prepare to be hooked because there are seven other Anne based novels as she matures, marries, and has children.
7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This dystopian novel explores a world where women have no rights except to do what they’re told. We meet Offred, who lives and works as a handmaiden. The handmaidens are the women used only for reproduction — having sex with men in front of their wives to bear children.
As the story progresses, we learn more about the handmaidens, how they got there, and how things are changing when Offred begins forbiddingly seeing a man she is only supposed to be in contact with for work. So, it’s a bit scandalous but in a good way. It’s now a critically acclaimed Hulu series so read the book then binge watch the show.
8. My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler
This is Chelsea Handler’s first hilarious book. It’s a collection of drunken sex stories that could only happen to thee Chelsea Handler. Every young woman should read this and prepare to laugh her ass off. It’s an easy weekend read and will make you feel better about any regrettable sexual escapades you’ve had.
9 The Color Purple by Alice Walker
This novel tells the story of Celie. Celie is a poor black woman living in the south in the 1930’s. She is married off young and settles into a sad life with her much older husband and his children. Her life only improves from the friendship she forms with her husband’s mistress. It’s a cruel reminder of the recent history of this country and it’s a story that needs to be heard and not forgotten.
10. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
The repressed Lisbon Sisters come of age in Michigan and become the fascination of the neighborhood boys. All the sisters are beautiful but are secluded by their religious parents which just leads to their intrigue even more. When the youngest sister commits suicide, the other four are even more isolated from the world.
The Lisbon family slowly falls apart as the boys and neighborhood watch. This book is moving and you’ll love the deep connections shared by the sisters and their captivating tale.
11. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Telling the story of four Chinese-American women in 1990’s San Francisco and their Chinese-born mothers, this book shows us the deep roots left by our families and the deep histories that we all have. The story alternates views between each modern woman, their mothers as young women in China, and the mothers in the present day. It’s wonderfully written and such a female-driven story. We all have mothers and this is one that will hopefully make you appreciate your own just a bit more.
12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
This is another classic novel that manages to be simply written yet meaningfully and intricately at the same time. If you didn’t read Little Women in junior high, you must get to it now. The four March sisters come of age in Civil War-era Massachusetts. They pal around with hottie neighborhood boy, Laurie, dealing with one another as well. If you have a sister especially, this is definitely a must read.
13. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This non-fiction book was written after Strayed hiked the Pacific Coast Trail by herself after a bad breakup. It’s hard to do and takes a lot of skill that Strayed didn’t even have when starting her trek. That said, she needed to find herself again after losing parts of her personality in a rollercoaster ride of a life. This book is well written but, just a warning — you just might want to hike the PCT after reading it.
It’s also been turned into a film featuring our girl, Reese Witherspoon, but read the book first!
14. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
You can’t have a must-read book list for women without a Bronte sister on the list. Jane Eyre tells the story of Jane, a young English girl in the 18th century, and follows her from a tough childhood to adulthood, where she works as a nanny. It really is a simple premise but those can be the most fascinating.
And of course, it’s a love story because that keeps it exciting.
15. BossyPants by Tina Fey
Fey is such a comedy queen that it’s no surprise her autobiographical novel. BossyPants is hilarious. It’s her account of life told in her sardonic and witty tone. Read it when you need to relax and decompress from the stresses of the world.
16. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
This one is truly a page turner. Life After Life introduces us to Ursula. She’s a woman born in England in 1909 who comes back as herself every time she dies. She eventually begins realizing that something is off and she’s been experiencing the same life over and over. Ursula sees some interesting stuff living through the London Blitz and the horrors WWII in Europe, but it’s a take we’ve never seen before. It’s like a cool history lesson and enthralling narrative wrapped up into one.
17. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
This book has been critically acclaimed since its publication in 1987. It tells alternating stories in various time periods that are all connected by the elderly Mrs. Threadgoode. She tells the story of her Aunt Idgie and her cafe in Whistle Stop, Alabama. We learn of the whole family as well as their tragedies, triumphs, and — of course — love stories. It’s simple storytelling at its very finest.
18. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
This coming of age novel tells the story of young Esperanza. We learn of her family and her fears that she may never leave Mango Street. It’s interesting and relatable to see the character grow from a little girl to a young woman. She makes mistakes and gets in trouble (don’t we all?), experiencing traumas that shape who she becomes. This novel will entertain and move you.
19. Harry Potter (All of them) by J.K Rowling
How has anyone not read any of the Harry Potter books by now?!?! Surely you have seen the movies, but the books always hold so much more detail and magic. Read all of these books right now and learn about Harry and his two friends, Ron and Hermione. Their journey to stop Voldemort is one that you may not directly relate to, but we feel fairly certain you’ll be able to draw parallels to your own life. Plus, you’ll gain the respect of so many of your friends who have been secretly judging you for not reading the books, TBH.
20. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
This British novel follows the lives of two old friends and their respective families. One man is English and the other Bangladeshi. Their families’ lives are intertwined in a side of London we don’t see often. The side of the immigrants and their struggles.
This book will move you and open your eyes to the real-life struggles of immigrants and people of color, as well as teach you how to cope with all the B.S. that life throws your way.
21. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
This Czech novel tells a simple story. It focuses on a husband, wife, the husband’s mistress, and the mistress’ lover. And a dog. It sounds complicated because it is. Yet, the story really is simple to understand because it’s about complicated relationships and feelings… things we probably know a thing or two about.