The best books featuring quirky, funny female protagonists

Who am I?

I fell in love with quirky, funny, female protagonists early in my reading life, starting with Ramona Quimby and her unique way of seeing the world. As a kid, I always felt different, you know? I was sensitive, shy, and observant, and I delighted in finding characters in books who also bucked up against what I thought of as typical. As a writer, I love writing interesting, unconventional women, and I love using humor to elevate my characters’ voices. I think humor is one of the best ways to establish voice and also, paradoxically, to navigate tragedy. I hope to write many more quirky, funny female characters in future books.

I wrote...

The Baddest Girl on the Planet

By Heather Frese,

Book cover of The Baddest Girl on the Planet

What is my book about?

Evie Austin, native of Hatteras Island, NC, and baddest girl on the planet, has not lived her life in a straight line. There have been several detours—career snafus, bad romantic choices, a loved but unplanned child—not to mention her ill-advised lifelong obsession with boxer Mike Tyson. This is the story of what the baddest girl on the planet must find in herself when a bag of pastries, a new lover, or a quick trip to Vegas won’t fix anything, and when something more than casual haplessness is required.

The Baddest Girl on the Planet is inventive, sharp, witty, and poignant. The Baddest Girl on the Planet is the most recent winner of the Lee Smith Novel Prize.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Heather Frese Why did I love this book?

Bernadette Fox—certified genius, failed architect, reluctant Pacific Northwesterner, loving mother, PTA-dodger, and quite possibly the worst neighbor ever—is one of my favorite quirky protagonists. I love the structure of this book, laid out in epistolary form as Bernadette’s daughter Bee’s search for her mother when she disappears in Antarctica. (Yep, Antarctica. Trust me.) This is a funny, quirky read, but the book is also about creativity, mental illness, motherhood, and what happens to women who need to create and are stymied. I hit a big reading slump during my own entrance into motherhood—Bernadette lifted me out, reminding me of who I was outside of being a caretaker, what I loved to do, and the characters I love to read.

By Maria Semple,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Where'd You Go, Bernadette as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A misanthropic matriarch leaves her eccentric family in crisis when she mysteriously disappears in this "whip-smart and divinely funny" novel that inspired the movie starring Cate Blanchett (New York Times).

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect; and to 15-year-old Bee, she is her best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette vanishes. It all began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle --…

Book cover of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Heather Frese Why did I love this book?

A quirky loner, Eleanor Oliphant is the ultimate in unreliable narrators. Blissfully un-self-aware, Eleanor’s story unfolds through her own first-person point of view as we slowly come to understand the inner workings of her personality and her tragic backstory. Along the way, though, there are wild crushes, lots of vodka, and an unlikely friendship that blossoms into something more. Eleanor’s humor and heart captivated me from the beginning.

By Gail Honeyman,

Why should I read it?

24 authors picked Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick

"Beautifully written and incredibly funny, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is about the importance of friendship and human connection. I fell in love with Eleanor, an eccentric and regimented loner whose life beautifully unfolds after a chance encounter with a stranger; I think you will fall in love, too!" -Reese Witherspoon

No one's ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she's thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of…

Book cover of Bridget Jones's Diary

Heather Frese Why did I love this book?

Bridget Jones stands out in my mind as one of my favorite funny female narrators. You might have noticed that I’m a sucker for the epistolary form, and Bridget’s diary entries—self-deprecating, hilarious—really made me realize how much that form can hold. My other soft spot for Bridget is that she doesn’t quite understand just how resilient and wonderful she is, and we get to see her finally begin to come to that realization.

By Helen Fielding,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Bridget Jones's Diary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The multi-million copy number one Bestseller

A dazzlingly urban satire on modern relationships?
An ironic, tragic insight into the demise of the nuclear family?
Or the confused ramblings of a pissed thirty-something?

As Bridget documents her struggles through the social minefield of her thirties and tries to weigh up the eternal question (Daniel Cleaver or Mark Darcy?), she turns for support to four indispensable friends: Shazzer, Jude, Tom and a bottle of chardonnay.

Welcome to Bridget's first diary: mercilessly funny, endlessly touching and utterly addictive.

Helen Fielding's first Bridget Jones novel, Bridget Jones's Diary, sparked a phenomenon that has seen…

Book cover of Crackpots

Heather Frese Why did I love this book?

I laughed out loud reading Sara Pritchard’s Crackpots, the story of spunky Ruby Reese and her complicated coming-of-age. This book was a huge influence on the structure of my own novel. Pritchard plays with chronology and point of view in a way that made me think, wow, I didn’t know you could do that. And then, ooh, I want to do that. Lyrical, detailed, and hilarious, this ranks as one of my all-time faves.

By Sara Pritchard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Crackpots as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When we first meet Ruby Reese she’s a spunky kid in a cowgirl hat, tap dancing her way through a slightly off-kilter 1950s childhood. With an insomniac mother and a demolitions-expert father, her entire family is what the residents of her small town would call "a bunch of crackpots." Despite the dramas of her upbringing, Ruby matures into a creative, introspective, and wholly beguiling woman. But her adulthood is marked by complex relationships and romantic missteps -- three unsuitable marriages, dramatic crushes, the complicated love between siblings. As Sara Pritchard deftly guides us through Ruby's story, from the present to…

Book cover of Stop That Girl

Heather Frese Why did I love this book?

Original and funny, Stop That Girl chronicles the coming-of-age of Ann Ransom, an offbeat heroine navigating her equally unconventional family life and upbringing. I loved discovering this character and equally loved the novel-in-stories structure of the book. Fast-paced and quirky, this book illuminated a manner of storytelling that I thought fit the coming-of-age genre really well.

By Elizabeth McKenzie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stop That Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the start of Elizabeth McKenzie’s beguiling fiction debut, we are drawn into the offbeat worldview of sharp-eyed, intrepid Ann Ransom.Stop That Girl chronicles Ann’s colorful coming-of-age travails, from her childhood in a disjointed family through her tender adolescence and beyond. Along the way, she discovers the absurdities that lurk around every corner of a young woman’s life, by way of oafish neighbors, overzealous boyfriends, prurient vegetable salesmen, sour landlords, and an iconoclast grandmother, known even to her family as Dr. Frost. Keenly funny and highly original, Stop That Girl is a brilliant examination of the exigencies of love and…

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The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

Book cover of The Road from Belhaven

Margot Livesey Author Of The Road from Belhaven

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Secret orphan Professor Scottish Novelist

Margot's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Road from Belhaven is set in 1880s Scotland. Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small girl that she can see the future. But she soon realises that she must keep her gift a secret. While she can sometimes glimpse the future, she can never change it.

Nor can Lizzie change the feelings that come when a young man named Louis, visiting Belhaven for the harvest, begins to court her. Why have the adults around her never told her that the touch of a hand can change everything? When she follows Louis to Glasgow, she begins to learn the limits of his devotion and the complexities of her own affections.

The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, a novel about a young woman whose gift of second sight complicates her coming of age in late-nineteenth-century Scotland

Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small child that she can see into the future. But her gift is selective—she doesn’t, for instance, see that she has an older sister who will come to join the family. As her “pictures” foretell various incidents and accidents, she begins to realize a painful truth: she may glimpse the future, but…

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