The best books with bad ass women in historical fiction

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer Author Of Bear Medicine
By G. Elizabeth Kretchmer

Who am I?

Landscape is always important in my writing, and Yellowstone, which I’ve visited numerous times, is such a special place, rich with geodiversity and teeming with danger, that it kind of demanded to be a setting for my novel. I’ve also always been kind of obsessed with bears, and Yellowstone is grizzly country. But I didn’t want to write the stereotypical “man against nature” book. I’m too much of a feminist for that. 

I wrote...

Bear Medicine

By G. Elizabeth Kretchmer,

Book cover of Bear Medicine

What is my book about?

When Brooke sets off on a trail in Yellowstone National Park to train for an upcoming marathon, she’s viciously attacked by a grizzly bear. One hundred forty years earlier, Anne accompanies her husband on a camping trip in the nation’s first national park and awakens one morning to find he’s been captured and hauled off by Nez Perce warriors. Both women, whose narratives ultimately converge, face a savage natural landscape and a complicated, male-dominated world. 

But both are bad ass. Alternating between contemporary and historical times, Bear Medicine is lush historical women’s fiction that revolves around survival, authenticity, and sacred friendship.

The books I picked & why

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The Giver of Stars

By Jojo Moyes,

Book cover of The Giver of Stars

Why this book?

This story, set in Depression-era Appalachia, depicts the brave women who brought literacy to rural America despite the many natural and human-caused obstacles thrown in their paths. As with a lot of good historical fiction, the strength of The Giver of Stars lies largely on its educational component. I, like many readers, had never heard of the Pack Horse Library Initiative in that period of time, and I found it fascinating. The other key reason I recommend this book is that it, like my novel, emphasizes how critically important friendship can be, especially when women are physically or psychologically threatened by the men in their lives.

The Obituary Writer

By Ann Hood,

Book cover of The Obituary Writer

Why this book?

I love how, as with my novel, the writer weaves together the stories of two women who lived in entirely different eras. I also appreciate how she brought real-world people and events, like JFK and the 1906 earthquake, into her fictional world. But what I found most evocative about The Obituary Writer were the author’s portrayal of the institution of marriage and how her “older” protagonist—the one dating further back in history—dedicated her life to helping others deal with grief and loss. This altruistic passion was similar to one that my historical protagonist discovered on her journey of personal growth.

Orphan Train

By Christina Baker Kline,

Book cover of Orphan Train

Why this book?

I love reading historical fiction to learn about nuanced aspects of society that we didn’t learn in history books, and Orphan Train is a novel that delivers along these lines. I had no idea that orphans or otherwise abandoned children were shipped west on trains during the latter part of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century, sometimes to be adopted by loving families but other times to be forced into what was essentially indentured servitude. I’d like to think that my novel also enlightens the reader about lesser-known events, such as the flight of the Nez Perce, who were chased through Yellowstone by the U.S. military in an attempt to round them up and relocate them to a reservation.

The Invention of Wings

By Sue Monk Kidd,

Book cover of The Invention of Wings

Why this book?

The Invention of Wings is set in the early 19th century and tells the story of a young white woman who helps her personal slave escape to freedom. It has several themes that are comparable to my novel: an unlikely, interracial, and sacred friendship; male domination; and the courage to chase a dream that will benefit others. Both books rely on alternating narratives: mine switches back and forth in time, and Kidd’s alternates between narrators. Both novels also invoke the power of spiritual lore. Kidd introduces the myth of the spirit tree while mine revolves around the grizzly bear as a spiritual force.

One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow

By Olivia Hawker,

Book cover of One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow

Why this book?

I recommend One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow for three reasons. First, it’s set in the same general time and place as my novel and depicts many of the hardships that frontier women faced in the second half of the 19th century. It also tells a story about an unlikely but necessary friendship, thematically akin to my novel. And finally, the prose is lovely and a joy to read.

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