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.

The books I picked & why

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The Girls in the Stilt House

By Kelly Mustian,

Book cover of The Girls in the Stilt House

Why 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.


Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler,

Book cover of Parable of the Sower

Why 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.


Always Coming Home

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of Always Coming Home

Why 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.)


The Savage Kind

By John Copenhaver,

Book cover of The Savage Kind

Why 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.


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

By Lewis Carroll,

Book cover of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Why 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in best friends, Mississippi, and dystopia?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about best friends, Mississippi, and dystopia.

Best Friends Explore 49 books about best friends
Mississippi Explore 43 books about Mississippi
Dystopia Explore 232 books about dystopia

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Plague, The Overstory, and The Lord of the Rings if you like this list.