While the pool of epic female-written books is deeper than ever, we could write about Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison and Harper Lee all-day long, we’re taking a look at some serious new talent that’s surfacing in the 21st Century. Think new talent, new reads and new voices that are well worth your time.
Check out the best female-written books you need to read this year.
Cold Enough For Snow
Jessica Au is an exceptional writer based in Melbourne and her second novel, Cold Enough For Snow has just nabbed The Novel Prize (all the more reason to add this one to your booklist, right?). In this story, a young woman travels to Japan with her mother—visiting galleries, riding trains and exploring small cafes and restaurants. They talk about the weather, horoscopes, clothes and personal experiences throughout each of their lives. But there’s a looming question around how much is spoken and how much is left unspoken. Read it here.
In this mother-daughter tale, Indigenous lawyer Jasmine decides to take her mother on a tour of England’s most significant literary sites. The idea being, it will bring them closer and help them reconcile the past. Twenty-five years earlier, Jasmine’s older sister’s disappearance completely rocked them both but now, as they travel together, another child goes missing during their time on Hampstead Heath. Read it here.
The Uncaged Sky
The Uncaged Sky reveals the insane true story of Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s fight to survive 804 days imprisoned in Iran. Back in 2018, the British-Australian academic was arrested at Tehran Airport by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards. She was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In this book, Kylie writes about the entire ordeal—solitary confinement for months, relentless interrogation and covert friendships she made with other prisoners. Read it here.
Another Day In The Colony
Chelsea Watego is a Munanjahli and South Sea Islander woman with an incredible background in Aboriginal health. Another Day In The Colony is her call to arms that exposes the ongoing colonial violence experienced by First Nations people every day. She draws on her own experiences which are sometimes fierce and sometimes funny but more so, speak of standing ground against colonialism in academia, in court and in the media. Read it here.
One Hundred Days
In a whirlwind of independence and natural defiance, sixteen-year-old Karuna falls pregnant. Not on purpose, but not entirely by accident, either. Incensed, Karuna’s mother, already over-protective, confines her to their fourteenth-storey housing-commission flat, to keep her safe from the outside world – and make sure she can’t get into any more trouble. Stuck inside for endless hours, Karuna battles her mother and herself for a sense of power in her own life. As the due date draws ever closer, the question of who will get to raise the baby. Read it here.
Love & Virtue
The internet is saying Love & Virtue is Australia’s version of Normal People but we’re thinking it’s our generation’s version of Puberty Blues—university-style. Michaela and Eve are two bright students who befriend each other in their first year of residential college at uni. However, something major happens one night during O-week that will force the two to wrangle with the realities of consent and power dynamics. If you’re the type of person who likes to finish a book in a day, this one is for you. Read it here.
How We Love
We mean, anything written by Clementine Ford is an immediate yes in our books. How We Love is a memoir is all about Ford’s experience of love throughout her life—from losing her mum at a young age, romantic love, platonic love, heartbreak and ultimately, self love. In true Clementine Ford nature, this read is confessional, hilarious at times and an essential part of any feminist’s arsenal. Read it here.
Who Gets To Be Smart
Who Gets To Be Smart could very well be one of our favourites of the year so if you haven’t had time to pick up a hardcover, let this be the read for you. Ultimately an interrogation of power and knowledge in Western societies and elite institutions, Lee dives into her own upbringing of privilege and its ramifications. Let this be the first Bri Lee book you smash out if you haven’t indulged in this exquisite writer before. Read it here.
By Yumiko Kadota
Is it the book of the year? We’d back that. This brilliant read is an absolute must for anyone this year and tales the toxic culture of bullying and overwork that junior doctors can experience in the workplace as part of their training (hint: it’s not pretty). In its true essence, Emotional Female is the memoir of Yumiko Kadota—the pinnacle representation of every Asian parent’s dream (her words). She was a model student, top of her class in med school and was on the trajectory to becoming a top surgeon.
As you might guess, the punishing hours of surgery took up most of her life but along with this, Yumiko also went up against a myriad of challenges. Sometimes she was left to carry out complex procedures (sans a senior surgeon), sometimes she was called too “emotional” or “confident” and sometimes, she was expected to work 70 hours a week or more, just to prove herself. Emotional Female is a true account of burnout and finding resilience to rebuild yourself after suffering physical, emotional and existential breakdowns. We take out hats off to Yumiko for sharing her story. Read it here.
By Yrsa Daley-Ward
This is not like any other book you’ve read. It’s a memoir, coming-of-age story and beautiful collection of dark yet endearing poems all in one. If you haven’t heard of Yrsa Daley-Ward, she’s one of the best contemporary female authors and she’s known as the “Instagram Poet” (go chuck her a quick follow to light up your feed with her profound words) and her lyrical creations will definitely cut deep at times. The Terrible is about Yrsa’s childhood, the short-lived magic of adolescence, about growing up after, fearing her sexuality and of course, all the pain that comes with life. While it’s not the most cheerful book you’ll pick up, it’s a mind-blowingly refreshing look at life and that’s exactly why you need to read it. Read it here.
By Yaa Gyasi
When Ya Gyasi won the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for the best first book back in 2016—she was only 26-years-old. Since then, she’s also written Transcendent Kingdom (also worth your time) however the power of her debut still stands today and we may or may not have read it a few times over—it’s that good. Homegoing follows the lives of two sisters, Effia and Esi—one gets sold into slavery, the other a slave trader’s wife. Tying in the consequences of their different destinies, the book dives into seven generations and the stark difference between family and history that follows on from each sister. It takes you from the coast of Africa to the picking plantation of Mississippi and from the missionary schools of Ghana to the bars of Harlem. It’s been dubbed the Beloved of the 21st Century and we entirely back the idea that Yaa Gyasi has the writing superpowers of Tony Morrison too. Read it here.
By Naomi Alderman
If you can’t hear, we’re already clapping Nicola Kidman Oscars-style circa 2017. How can we even begin to explain the magnitude of The Power? Basically, it’s a book that flips reality, a book where women actually rule the world (the fact that this is such a fantasy is an entirely different conversation) because one day, teenage girls wake-up and realise that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonising pain and even death on others. And there is your next can’t-look-away read. Read it here.
By Margo Nylle and Lynne Kelly
Having only dropped last year, we’ll forgive you (for now) if you haven’t sunk your literary teeth into the brilliance that is Songlines (which is actually part of a wider six-part series you need to get into) written by two of the best female authors of 2020. This is an absolute staple in any home library because Songlines is an archival read of knowledge stemming from Australia’s First Nations people which saw its culture flourish for over 60,000 years. While other books in this series delve into First Nation knowledge around design, land management and medicine, Songlines is a vice to provide a greater understanding in how First Nations people kept knowledge alive, not through written recordings, rather through song, art and most importantly—Country. Read it here.
In At The Deep End
By Kate Davies
Okay, think the queer version of Bridget Jones. Exactly—what’s not to love about that? In At The Deep End is a hilarious sexual awakening and turning point for Julia. The book kicks off with Julia not having sex in three whole years, a very audible roommate of hers who’s still lapping up the honeymoon phase with her new boyfriend, a dead-end job, Julia’s know-it-all therapist and a cesspool of… men (sorry). When Julia gets invited to a warehouse party, her new lesbian life snowballs into a life filled with queer swing dancing classes, gay bars, BDSM clubs and the hard-to-navigate world of polyamory. In At The Deep End is a literary theme park on the peaks and troughs of life and we love it in all its unfiltered glory. Read it here.
Everything I Know About Love
By Dolly Alderton
If you haven’t seen anyone and everyone posting photos of this book on their socials—where on earth have you been? This wildly hilarious read is another take on growing up and working through all kinds of love along the way (and journo Dolly Alderton has done and tried it all). In her memoir, she recounts falling in love, wrestling with self-sabotage, finding a job, throwing a socially disastrous Rod-Stewart themed house party, getting drunk, getting dumped, realising that Ivan from the corner shop is the only man you've ever been able to rely on, and finding that your mates are always there at the end of every messy night out. Everything I Know About Love is witty and just damn great. Read it here.
By Tara June Winch
Say hello to, what will no doubt be, one of the best reads of your life. Written by Wiradjuri author Tara June Winch, a contemporary female author you should very well be across now, The Yield is an exceptional novel of people and culture dispossessed. Knowing that he will soon die, Albert “Poppy” Gondiwindi takes to writing—his life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River and he’s determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. Enter August Gondiwindi, who after living overseas for 10 years returns home for her grandfather's burial. Upon arrival she finds a family wracked with grief and the news that her homeland is about to be repossessed by a mining company. This one also just scored the Miles Franklin Award so go forth and delve into its pages. Read it here.
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