The best novels about unplanned pregnancy

Who am I?

Two things are true about me: I’m fascinated by the early twentieth century and I'm a diehard feminist. My grandfather nurtured my love of the 1920s and 1930s by introducing me to Dorothy Parker, John O’Hara, Ella Fitzgerald, and The New Yorker. My mother, a petite woman who can wield a welder like few others, encouraged the development of my feminist sensibilities. These two parts came together when my father offhandedly mentioned that his grandmother had an unplanned pregnancy during the Great Depression. As I researched reproductive issues through the years, my fascination for the topic grew. Each of the books here takes a different view of how to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. 


I wrote...

Modern Girls

By Jennifer S. Brown,

Book cover of Modern Girls

What is my book about?

In 1935, Dottie Krasinsky is a 19-year-old with a promising career as a bookkeeper. She dotes on her boyfriend, Abe, though he’s slow to propose. However, after an argument, Dottie spends a single night with an unsuitable man… and finds herself in the family way. 

Dottie’s mother, Rose, a Yiddish-speaking immigrant, is eager to return to the social activism of her youth. With strikes and breadlines in New York and National Socialism rising in Europe, there’s more important work than cooking and cleaning. Yet Rose’s plans derail when she discovers that she, too, is pregnant. As mother and daughter wrestle with unthinkable choices, they are forced to confront their beliefs, the changing world, and the fact that their lives will never again be the same.

The books I picked & why

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Pachinko

By Min Jin Lee,

Book cover of Pachinko

Why this book?

The unplanned pregnancy at the beginning of Pachinko starts a generations-long saga. In the early 1900s, Sunja is a young, innocent Korean woman who is seduced by an older man, a gangster who already has a wife. Sunja is rescued from the shame of an out-of-wedlock birth by a pastor who marries her and brings her to Japan, where they have a second child. The novel brings to life the conflict between the Korean and Japanese people, through the lives of Sunja’s offspring, taking us through WWII all the way to the 1980s. Every sentence Lee writes is gorgeous, and though the book is long, I wished it were longer because I didn’t want to let go of the story.

Pachinko

By Min Jin Lee,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

* The million-copy bestseller*
* National Book Award finalist *
* One of the New York Times's 10 Best Books of 2017 *
* Selected for Emma Watson's Our Shared Shelf book club *

'This is a captivating book... Min Jin Lee's novel takes us through four generations and each character's search for identity and success. It's a powerful story about resilience and compassion' BARACK OBAMA.

Yeongdo, Korea 1911. In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja…


The Book of Essie

By Meghan MacLean Weir,

Book cover of The Book of Essie

Why this book?

I felt an almost voyeuristic pleasure in reading The Book of Essie. Seventeen-year-old Essie Hicks is the daughter of an Evangelical pastor, whose family is the subject of a reality television series, Six for Hicks. Essie, as the youngest, has had her entire life aired for their adoring public. As you can guess, when Essie finds herself pregnant no one is thrilled. Essie’s future is determined by her mother and the TV producers: Essie needs to marry. How Essie takes control of the situation and the secrets that are revealed make for a gripping read.

The Book of Essie

By Meghan MacLean Weir,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

ALEX AWARD WINNER
FINALIST FOR THE 2018 NEW ENGLAND BOOK AWARD

"Both timelessly beautiful and unbelievably timely." —Chris Bohjalian, New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Flight Attendant 

Esther Ann Hicks—Essie—is the youngest child on Six for Hicks, a reality television phenomenon. She's grown up in the spotlight, idolized and despised for her family's fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. So when Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she immediately arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers. Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Pass the child off as Celia’s? Or do they…


The Mothers

By Brit Bennett,

Book cover of The Mothers

Why this book?

In The Mothers, Nadia is seventeen, pregnant, and closely scrutinized by the church women of her community. The novel focuses less on the pregnancy and more on the repercussions of it as Nadia and those involved grow older. The many layers of this book—mothers, daughters, infertility, suicide, secrets—made it one I wanted to read in one sitting. The writing is incandescent, with a gorgeous melody to the sentences. This book stayed with me; long after the last page, I was still lost in the story.

The Mothers

By Brit Bennett,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Mothers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Half.

The Mothers is a dazzling debut about young love, a big secret in a small community and the moments that haunt us most.

All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we'd taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.

It's the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother's recent suicide, she takes…


Unterzakhn

By Leela Corman,

Book cover of Unterzakhn

Why this book?

No graphic novel has ever blown me away like Unterzakhn (which means “underthings” in Yiddish). The story takes place in the early 1900s on the Lower East Side of New York, and the black-and-white bold strokes illustrate the bleakness of the lives of the new immigrants. Twin sisters find themselves taking roaringly divergent paths: one works in a whorehouse before becoming a star of the stage; the other assists the “lady-doctor,” from whom she learns about birth control and abortion. With strong feminist themes, I found it impossible not to root for both sisters. This is the only graphic novel whose ending made me cry.

Unterzakhn

By Leela Corman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A mesmerizing, heartbreaking graphic novel of immigrant life on New York’s Lower East Side at the turn of the twentieth century, as seen through the eyes of twin sisters whose lives take radically and tragically different paths.
 
For six-year-old Esther and Fanya, the teeming streets of New York’s Lower East Side circa 1910 are both a fascinating playground and a place where life’s lessons are learned quickly and often cruelly. In drawings that capture both the tumult and the telling details of that street life, Unterzakhn (Yiddish for “Underthings”) tells the story of these sisters: as wide-eyed little girls absorbing…


Small Pleasures

By Clare Chambers,

Book cover of Small Pleasures

Why this book?

An unwanted pregnancy of a different kind is at the center of Small Pleasures. When Gretchen Tilbury becomes pregnant with her daughter Margaret, she is absolutely convinced she had a virgin birth. How could it not be? Gretchen was bed-ridden, convalescing in a hospital run by nuns when she was impregnated. In 1957, Margaret is ten-years-old and Gretchen is now married. Journalist Jean Swinney—who herself had an unwanted pregnancy in the past—is assigned to write an article about Gretchen, uncovering once and for all if she had a virgin birth.  A lovely sense of mystery develops as Jean unravels what may have happened, all the while Jean becomes a bit too entangled with this family she so admires.

Small Pleasures

By Clare Chambers,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

LONGLISTED FOR THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2021

'A WORD-OF-MOUTH HIT' Evening Standard

'A very fine book... It's witty and sharp and reads like something by Barbara Pym or Anita Brookner, without ever feeling like a pastiche'
David Nicholls

'Perfect'
India Knight

'Beautiful'
Jessie Burton

'Wonderful'
Richard Osman

'Miraculous'
Tracy Chevalier

'A wonderful novel. I loved it'
Nina Stibbe

'Effortless to read, but every sentence lingers in the mind'
Lissa Evans

'This is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. I honestly don't want you to be without it'
Lucy Mangan

'Gorgeous... If you're looking for something…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in family secrets, immigrants, and exile?

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