March is Women’s History Month! To mark the occasion, we wanted to recognize just a few of the many inspiring female characters that have made us feel immense admiration for the strength and grit that women display every single day. From the many challenges of domestic life to grand heroic exploits, the actions of these women perfectly demonstrate why these characters have us swelling with pride.
The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams
“A meticulously crafted suspense tale seething with feminist fury.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
At their newly founded school, Samuel Hood and his daughter, Caroline, promise a groundbreaking education for young women. When a mysterious flock of red birds descends on the town, Caroline alone seems to find them unsettling. But it’s not long before the assembled students begin to manifest bizarre symptoms: rashes, seizures, headaches, verbal tics, night wanderings. Fearing ruin for the school, Samuel overrules Caroline’s pleas to inform the girls’ parents and turns instead to a noted physician, a man whose sinister ministrations—based on a shocking historic treatment—horrify Caroline. As the men around her continue to dictate, disastrously, all terms of the girls’ experience, Caroline’s own body begins to betray her. To save herself and her young charges, she will have to defy every rule that has governed her life, her mind, her body, and her world.
“Atwood has the magic of turning the particular and the parochial into the universal.” —The Times (London)
Marian McAlpin is an “abnormally normal” young woman, according to her friends. A recent university graduate, she crafts consumer surveys for a market research firm, maintains an uneasy truce between her flighty roommate and their prudish landlady, and goes to parties with her solidly dependable boyfriend, Peter. But after Peter proposes marriage, things take a strange turn. Suddenly empathizing with the steak in a restaurant, Marian finds she is unable to eat meat. As the days go by, her feeling of solidarity extends to other categories of food, until there is almost nothing left that she can bring herself to consume. Those around her fail to notice Marian’s growing alienation—until it culminates in an act of resistance that is as startling as it is imaginative.
“Dazzling. . . . Funny and defiant, and simultaneously so wise. . . . Brilliant.” —San Francisco Chronicle
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success she is forced to grapple with what it means to be Black for the first time.
Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post–9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
“Amy, Beth, Meg, and Jo—who was probably why I became a writer—were my family and friends.” —Gloria Steinem
Little Women has long been one of the most enduringly beloved classics of children’s literature, as popular with adults as it is with young readers. Generations have been entranced by the adventures of the four March sisters, each with their distinct and realistic virtues and flaws: tomboyish, ambitious Jo; frail and sweet Beth; beautiful, confident Meg; and artistic, willful Amy. With their patient mother, Marmee, they survive the hardships of the Civil War and the dramas and tragedies of family life.
“Fabulous and smart.” —Emma Straub, The New York Times Book Review
Nora and Theresa Flynn are twenty-one and seventeen when they leave their small village in Ireland and journey to America. Nora is the responsible sister; she’s shy and serious and engaged to a man she isn’t sure that she loves. Theresa is gregarious; she is thrilled by their new life in Boston and besotted with the fashionable dresses and dance halls on Dudley Street. But when Theresa ends up pregnant, Nora is forced to come up with a plan—a decision with repercussions they are both far too young to understand. Fifty years later, Nora is the matriarch of a big Catholic family with four grown children. Estranged from her sister, Theresa is a cloistered nun, living in an abbey in rural Vermont. Until, after decades of silence, a sudden death forces Nora and Theresa to confront the choices they made so long ago.
“Winningly original. . . . Pithy, casually brilliant. . . . So fresh and intimate and mordantly funny that she feels less like fiction than a friend you’ve known forever.” —Entertainment Weekly
At first glance, the quirky, overworked narrator of Weike Wang’s debut novel seems to be on the cusp of a perfect life: she is studying for a prestigious PhD in chemistry that will make her Chinese parents proud (or at least satisfied), and her successful, supportive boyfriend has just proposed to her. But instead of feeling hopeful, she is wracked with ambivalence: the long, demanding hours at the lab have created an exquisite pressure cooker, and she doesn’t know how to answer the marriage question. When it all becomes too much and her life plan veers off course, she finds herself on a new path of discoveries about everything she thought she knew.