The best novels starring empowered women

The Books I Picked & Why

White Oleander

By Janet Fitch

Book cover of White Oleander

Why this book?

Fitch’s characters are powerful, multi-faceted, and written without disclosure. Furthermore, White Oleander is a survival story, which I love. 

When I first read this book, I had just had my second child, and I was in the midst of an abusive marriage. I didn’t necessarily find a sisterhood with Fitch’s characters, which could’ve been true enough, as much as I found an example to follow in genre study. Much of what I endured during those tumultuous years I tunneled into writing, and for that reason, in many ways, White Oleander is a precursor to my writing career, and Trespassing is one of the results of my studying Fitch’s style. Furthermore, publishing is part of my survival story.  

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To Kill a Mockingbird

By Harper Lee

Book cover of To Kill a Mockingbird

Why this book?

I used to read this classic to my brother every summer under the trees in our backyard. We shared this ritual well into our twenties. The same elements of story strike me now as they did half a lifetime ago. Most notably, Atticus Finch raises an empowered woman in the American South on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement. While Scout Finch is a child narrating the tale, the reader is allowed egress into how she blossoms into what we know will be a powerhouse of a woman—despite her shortcomings. It’s absolutely genius. Lee gave us permission to write flawed characters. This lesson absolutely filtered through to Trespassing. We won’t always approve of Veronica’s decisions, but we understand why she made them.

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By Jessica Warman

Book cover of Breathless

Why this book?

Breathless is Warman’s first full-length novel, perhaps lesser known than some of her others, and it’s a brilliant example of coming to age. Warman’s style is propulsive and character-driven. Katie, often overlooked due to the attention her older brother requires, is forced to make her own way in the world. She attends boarding school and finds family among people to whom she has no biological relation.

I first met Warman while earning a master’s degree in writing alongside her.  Needless to say, I learned as much from her as from our instructors. Her ability to throw a reader into immediate conflict, as well as her talent to put one at ease, is notable—especially here, where her young protagonist navigates a crooked path to the promise of happiness.

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Little Children

By Tom Perrotta

Book cover of Little Children

Why this book?

I love a book rich with flawed characters; this one is full of them. Perrotta’s peek into the mundane life of a stay-at-home mother at war with her lot in life is delicious. Sarah once coined herself a feminist, and now, she’s wiping noses. It’s a struggle many mothers of little children face, and while most don’t go to the lengths Perrotta’s characters explore, it’s a valiant example of losing oneself for the sake of a higher calling: motherhood. 

I first read this book at graduate school, with two babies at home. Perrotta taught me that exploring the human condition is necessary for connecting with readers. I’ve received many letters from readers citing that they connected with Veronica on the pages of Trespassing, and that’s the best accolade.

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The Chick Palace

By Leslie Davis Guccione

Book cover of The Chick Palace

Why this book?

To say Guccione influences me would be an understatement, as she was one of my first mentors in the industry. The Chick Palace is unusual, in that it’s centered around the back nine of life—after children are grown, and after aging parents are no longer a responsibility, when the time has come for women to focus on themselves. However, Guccione’s usual colorful characters and robust setting will take you on a vacation well deserved in this era, not to mention in the brutal cold of winter. 

The same goes for Trespassing’s Veronica, in a sense. She’s at a crossroads, and perhaps for the first time, she’s making decisions without the influence of a man. Add to that the backdrop of Key West, and you’ll find yourself on a mental retreat.

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