The best books about rebellious women

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a writer who loves writing about women. All sorts of women. Strong, witty, complicated, unlikeable, and intelligent. It is important for me to understand the lived experience of women both inside and outside my own time and cultural context. So many women live with intersecting social characteristics, norms, expectations, nearly all of which hinder or harm. Yet so many women resist and rebel to change life for others. It is this sense of solidarity through history, one group of women paving the way for others, that I find especially fascinating and hopeful. And it is why rebellious women are so crucial. They cannot, and will not, be ignored.   

I wrote...

Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz: The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath & Anne Sexton

By Gail Crowther,

Book cover of Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz: The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath & Anne Sexton

What is my book about?

Introduced at a workshop in Boston University led by the acclaimed and famous poet Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton formed a friendship that would soon evolve into a fierce rivalry, colored by jealousy and respect in equal terms. In the years that followed, these two women would not only become iconic literary figures, but also lead curiously parallel lives haunted by mental illness, suicide attempts, self-doubt, and difficult personal relationships. With weekly martini meetings at the Ritz to discuss everything from sex to suicide, theirs was a relationship as complex and subversive as their poetry.

Based on in-depth research and unprecedented archival access, Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz is a remarkable and unforgettable look at two legendary poets and how their work has turned them into beloved cultural figures.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith

Gail Crowther Why did I love this book?

This book about the ultimate rebel woman Patricia Highsmith explores in depth the many ways Highsmith rejected social expectations of her time in terms of her gender, sexuality, and writing material. The biography does not shy away from presenting Highsmith in all her glorious complexity – equal parts humorous, wry, loathsome, disturbing. This was one of the first biographies that I read where I realized the power of archives, what they can reveal, and how enlightening they can be when used so brilliantly, as Andrew Wilson does here. 

By Andrew Wilson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Patricia Highsmith - author of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY - had more than her fair share of secrets. During her life, she felt uncomfortable about discussing the source of her fiction and refused to answer questions about her private life. Yet after her death in February 1995, Highsmith left behind a vast archive of personal documents - diaries, notebooks and letters - which detail the links between her life and her work. Drawing on these intimate papers, together with material gleaned from her closest friends and lovers, Andrew Wilson has written the first biography of…

Book cover of We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Gail Crowther Why did I love this book?

Merricat Blackwood strikes me as the classic rebel. Still a child, but with the wonderfully gothic quirks of a Shirley Jackson character. Without giving away any spoilers – you would not want to mess with Merricat. But this is also a study about cruelty and what happens to women when they rebel against social norms and expectations. It is unsettling, disturbing, but with a central character that you end up utterly rooting for. After reading this book I definitely thought, if I were Merricat, I would do what she did! 

By Shirley Jackson,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked We Have Always Lived in the Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister, Constance, and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn't leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.

Book cover of The Summer Without Men

Gail Crowther Why did I love this book?

The protagonist of this novel, Mia Fredricksen, experiences love, loss, and emotional breakdown. But what I love about this book is when Mia starts to rebuild herself and her sense of identity (her doctor tells her “tolerating cracks is part of being alive”) we move into a joyful narrative of female strength, power, and the solidarity of female friendship. And, as the title suggests, a summer without men. What I love about this novel is the message that even if you are badly betrayed, healing is possible. 

By Siri Hustvedt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Summer Without Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Out of the blue, your husband of thirty years asks you for a pause in your marriage to indulge his infatuation with a young Frenchwoman. Do you:

a) assume it's a passing affair and play along
b) angrily declare the marriage over
c) crack up
d) retreat to a safe haven and regroup?
Mia Fredricksen cracks up first, then decamps for the summer to the prairie town of her childhood, where she rages, fumes, and bemoans her sorry fate as abandoned spouse. But little by little, she is drawn into the lives of those around her: her mother and her…

Book cover of Adèle

Gail Crowther Why did I love this book?

In this novel, Slimani explores the downfall of a woman who seemingly has it all – the perfect apartment in Paris, a loving husband and son, and a respected job as a journalist. But what society tells Adèle is enough, is not enough for Adèle who feels isolated, bored, and lonely by this conventionality. In her search for illicit sex and excitement, Adèle breaks all the rules in her quest for some sort of emotional independence. As a writer, I marvel at Slimani’s ability to draw depth from what could be seen as chilly topics. As a reader, I love how you fall into the narrative, almost gasping at Adèle’s daring and recklessness.

By Leila Slimani,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Adèle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Fascinating . . . Adele has glanced at the covenant of modern womanhood--the idea that you can have it all or should at least die trying--and detonated it." --The New York Times Book Review

"[A] fierce, uncanny thunderbolt of a book." --Entertainment Weekly

From the bestselling author of The Perfect Nanny--one of the 10 Best Books of the Year of The New York Times Book Review--as well as Sex and Lies and In the Country of Others, her prizewinning novel about a sex-addicted woman in Paris

She wants only one thing: to be wanted.

Adele appears to have the perfect…

Book cover of The Bell Jar

Gail Crowther Why did I love this book?

Esther Greenwood is the ultimate rebel. Sassy, uncompromising, razor-sharp, questioning, and unwilling to make do. By the brutal exposure of how ridiculous gendered expectations are for women and highlighting the double standards of sexuality, ambitions, and futures between men and women, Plath wrote a novel that blew apart societal norms simultaneously revealing how they cause harm, and the energy that it takes to resist them. When I read this aged 15, I knew that things could be different, and it was my introduction and subsequent commitment to a life lived by feminist politics.

By Sylvia Plath,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Bell Jar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

I was supposed to be having the time of my life.

When Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing she will finally realise her dream to become a writer. But in between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther's life begins to slide out of control. She finds herself spiralling into depression and eventually a suicide attempt, as she grapples with difficult relationships and a society which refuses to take women's aspirations seriously.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath's only novel, was originally published in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria…

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Saving Raine

By Marian L Thomas,

Book cover of Saving Raine

Marian L Thomas

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Saving Raine is a captivating tale of resilience, redemption, and the enduring power of love, penned by the acclaimed author Marian L. Thomas.

This contemporary fiction novel chronicles the compelling journey of Raine Reynolds as she confronts heartache, betrayal, and loss. Against the vibrant backdrops of Atlanta and Paris, Raine's story unfolds as she grapples with the aftermath of her husband's infidelity and tragic passing.

Through poignant prose and compelling characters, "Saving Raine" delves into themes of forgiveness, healing, and the strength discovered in confronting life's greatest challenges. Readers will be captivated by Raine's emotional odyssey as she unearths hope, redemption, and the courage to embrace a brighter future.

Saving Raine

By Marian L Thomas,

What is this book about?

Raine Reynolds stands at the crossroads of despair and opportunity.
When the life you've built crumbles and the past refuses to release its grip, sometimes you need a fresh start-a new beginning that promises hope and redemption.
Once a celebrated author, Raine's life unraveled, sending her fleeing to the picturesque streets of Paris to escape the tormenting heartache that threatened to consume her. Yet, no matter how far she traveled, the pain remained her unwelcome companion.
Returning to bustling Atlanta as a senior VP for an ad agency, Raine is forced to confront a city steeped in…

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