The best books about young women saving their own lives

Who am I?

Like my narrator Maggie, I was a child, then a teen wandering the woods and dreaming of a life. I’ve always hated those books/TV shows/films where women, especially young women, are helpless and reliant on a man to get them out of trouble. I gravitate toward stories where females figure out their own paths, not always to a happy ending. I’m still a wanderer today, mostly solo, from New York City to the vast Highlands of Scotland, and while the world can seem scary, I’m confident and free on my own. 

I wrote...

In the Lonely Backwater

By Valerie Nieman,

Book cover of In the Lonely Backwater

What is my book about?

A whip-smart outsider insecure in her gender identity, 17-year-old Maggie explores the North Carolina woods and avoids misery at home and school by communing with shadowy figures including a long-ago biologist. When her gorgeous cousin’s brutalized body is found at the marina where Maggie lives with her broken father, a persistent detective intimates that she’s the prime suspect—and this backwater world, where people perpetually reinvent themselves to survive, suddenly becomes more complex and dangerous.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Girls in the Stilt House

Why did I love this book?

This recent debut novel features two young women who are enmeshed in the racist and sexist culture of 1920s Mississippi. Ada, the white girl, deals with an abusive father and gets away for a time, but then has to go home, while sharecropper Matilda plans to get to the North and start a new life there. Bootleggers and human predators bring them into an uneasy alliance to gain their freedom.

By Kelly Mustian,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Girls in the Stilt House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Remarkable debut.... [a] nearly flawless tale of loss, perseverance and redemption."-Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
Set in 1920s Mississippi, this debut Southern novel weaves a beautiful and harrowing story of two teenage girls cast in an unlikely partnership through murder-perfect for readers of Where the Crawdads Sing and If the Creek Don't Rise.
Ada promised herself she would never go back to the Trace, to her hard life on the swamp and her harsh father. But now, after running away to Baton Rouge and briefly knowing a different kind of life, she finds herself with nowhere to…

Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler,

Book cover of Parable of the Sower

Why did I love this book?

I’d been reading science fiction for many years when I came across this book. While I was already a big fan of Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, and others, Butler’s work showed me a new perspective through the story of empath Lauren Olamina, an African American teenager in a dystopian future California. Her struggles to survive a world in chaos, to manage her power, and to begin a movement to save the human race remain with me.

By Octavia E. Butler,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked Parable of the Sower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The extraordinary, prescient NEW YORK TIMES-bestselling novel.

'If there is one thing scarier than a dystopian novel about the future, it's one written in the past that has already begun to come true. This is what makes Parable of the Sower even more impressive than it was when first published' GLORIA STEINEM

'Unnervingly prescient and wise' YAA GYASI


We are coming apart. We're a rope, breaking, a single strand at a time.

America is a place of chaos, where violence rules and only the rich and powerful are safe. Lauren Olamina, a young woman with the extraordinary power to…

Always Coming Home

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of Always Coming Home

Why did I love this book?

This is an incredibly intricate book, braiding many strands together to tell the story of people who “might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California.” One thread tying it all together is Stone Telling, a young girl caught between her mother’s rich tribal life and the militaristic city life of the man who is her father. She tells him, “I am a woman, and make my own choices,” but learns that is not the case in the land of the Condors. Her story illuminates two of the many ways to be human. (I’m re-reading this now.)

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An "ethnographic" novel that portrays life in California's Napa Valley as it might be a very long time from now, imagined not as a high tech future but as a time of people once again living close to the land.

The Savage Kind

By John Copenhaver,

Book cover of The Savage Kind

Why did I love this book?

I was on a panel with John and really enjoyed reading his novel, set in the 1940s. Two teenage girls, Philippa and Judy, are brought together through school and their shared admiration for teacher Christina Martins. A rape—or was it?—and a murder turn this story into a noir tale wrapped in the secrets they keep from others, and themselves. The narrative is uniquely structured with a voice that may be one or the other, not revealed until the end.

By John Copenhaver,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

2022 Lambda Literary Award Finalist in LGBTQ Mystery

Two lonely teenage girls in 1940s Washington, DC, discover they have a penchant for solving crimes-and an even greater desire to commit them-in the new mystery novel by Macavity Award-winning novelist John Copenhaver.

Philippa Watson, a good-natured yet troubled seventeen-year-old, has just moved to Washington, DC. She's lonely until she meets Judy Peabody, a brilliant and tempestuous classmate. The girls become unlikely friends and fashion themselves as intellectuals, drawing the notice of Christine Martins, their dazzling English teacher, who enthralls them with her passion for literature and her love of noirish detective…

Book cover of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Why did I love this book?

I still have the edition I was given for Christmas when I was in elementary school, and followed Alice down the rabbit hole into the original “Upside-Down.” I was ready for the wordplay, the utter strangeness of Wonderland, and how Alice held her own against Red Queens and hookah-smoking caterpillars and the rest. It freed my imagination from the bonds of realism.

By Lewis Carroll,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland) is an 1865 novel by English author Lewis Carroll (the pseudonym of Charles Dodgson). It tells of a young girl named Alice, who falls through a rabbit hole into a subterranean fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. It is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre. The tale plays with logic, giving the story lasting popularity with adults as well as with children.

One of the best-known and most popular works of English-language fiction, its narrative, structure, characters and imagery have been enormously…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in best friends, Mississippi, and dystopian?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about best friends, Mississippi, and dystopian.

Best Friends Explore 71 books about best friends
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