Five Female-Character-Heavy Reads

When I asked for recommendation requests, a friend wanted books featuring a ‘pack of female characters doing stuff’. No problem, I thought. And then I looked through my Goodreads ‘read’ shelf. It turns out there are a lot of books I’ve read featuring one or two female characters doing things—together or separately—but a real lack of groups of them doing interesting things.

Leaving out Little Women and any of the teen fiction books I actually read when I was young, I’ve put together a list of books that are either general fiction or YA that fit the category. And have resolved to find more for the second version of this list. Links to longer reviews (if I’ve written them) from individual book titles.

  • Girlhood by Cat Clarke – Not out yet, but Girlhood has to go on my list because I read it recently and loved it. It centres around one female character and her group of friends at boarding school in Scotland, and what happens when a mysterious new girl appears and seems to have so much in common with one of them, down to the same tragedy. Clarke creates a tense narrative alongside an honest and and enjoyable version of teenage troubles like going to university, sexuality, and coping with grief.
  • The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey – A small community in an Irish island, mostly made up of women, deal with loss, a new stranger, and calls to leave their home for the safety of the mainland. A different interpretation of the request, but a book with a real range of female characters working together and apart.
  • Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson – A novel about the friendship between four girls living in Brooklyn in the 1970s and how they grew up, grew apart, and saw each other differently. The book is in a photographic style giving snapshots of memories and really getting across how friendship can be tied to time and place.
  • The Bomb Girls’ Secrets by Daisy Styles – I’ve included this one because it best fits the idea of female characters together doing things, in that it is a novel about young women coming together for the war effort, gradually getting closer and also forming a band. A light period read ideal for anyone who’d prefer something more historical than YA in the group of female characters category.
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo – Russo’s YA novel about a trans girl starting a new school isn’t just about a group of female characters, but the friendship between Amanda and her new group of friends—each with their own secrets and problems—forms a crucial part of the book.

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey

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The Stolen Child is a heartbreaking and mysterious novel set on a remote island off the west coat of Ireland. It is about two very different sisters, Emer and Rose, who are part of the dwindling community on the island, and how their lives are affected when an American stranger, Brigid, comes to live amongst them. The narrative is difficult to adequately summarise, a epic set over just a year between 1959 and 1960, but it broadly follows what happens to make the community finally make the move to the mainland. The novel is focused primarily upon the characters, particularly Emer and her relationship with Brigid, and the world, religious, magical, and remote, in which they live.

There is a captivating element of the novel, with Carey positioning it and its events in a world where sidhe magic and religious miracles seem equally plausible, where blame, regret, and love are all complicated by the island setting, by magic, and by the belief in powers greater than humans. At the same time, The Stolen Child focuses a lot on the human and physical, on childbirth and desire, on physical isolation and the power of nature, but also on physical powers enhanced by unknown forces. This gives it a unique quality, a novel which both addresses very real emotions and difficulties whilst creating a world with rules perhaps beyond our own. The prose bolsters this world through detailed description and a straightforward yet somehow mystical tone and the use of Yeats quotes (and title) adds to the poetic feel of the novel.

The Stolen Child is the kind of novel that brings a whole minuscule universe into existence and then sets the reader within it. One for anyone who likes novels full of emotion, an undercurrent of belief, and characters caught in a savage and remote world.