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35 Brilliant Books With Strong Female Protagonists [Updated 2021]

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As we celebrate National Women’s History Month, here are 35 great books featuring some of the most awesome and inspiring female characters ever created.

1. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert


Penguin Books

Elizabeth Gilbert’s first novel in 12 years might not seem very appealing at first glance. It’s about botany, after all. However, Gilbert’s unaffected writing style tackled what could have been a tedious storyline effortlessly. But what really stands out is Gilbert’s protagonist in the person of Alma Whittaker. As brilliant as she is homely, Alma shrewdly overcomes the limitations imposed on women in the 19th century, while earnestly dealing with matters of the heart.

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The Signature of All Things: A Novel
  • Great product!
  • Gilbert, Elizabeth (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 528 Pages - 06/24/2014 (Publication Date) - Riverhead Books (Publisher)

2. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward


Bloomsbury

Set at the height of Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught on a coastal Mississippi town, 14-year-old Esch discovers that she is pregnant. Despite the chaos, her emotional turmoil, and a dearth of food and supplies, Esch exhibits great strength in her struggle to protect her family during the storm.

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Salvage the Bones
  • Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • Ward, Jesmyn (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 04/01/2012 (Publication Date) - Bloomsbury (Publisher)

3. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout


Random House

The tale of Olive Kitteridge is told in 13 cleverly linked stories set in a small coastal town in Maine. The title character is a retired schoolteacher who is equal parts tender and vicious. Feeling threatened by the drastic changes in her little world, Olive undergoes a journey of self-actualization of sorts, while offering great insight on the human condition in the process.

Olive Kitteridge
  • SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Strout, Elizabeth (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 06/09/2011 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster Ltd (Publisher)

4. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh


Yearling

The adorable Harriet is a young spy with great aspirations to be an author someday. So she writes down everything she knows about her friends and classmates in a secret notebook. Everything goes awry when her peers discover the notebook, leaving Harriet scrambling to fix her broken relationships.

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Harriet the Spy
  • Yearling Books
  • Fitzhugh, Louise (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 05/08/2001 (Publication Date) - Yearling (Publisher)

5. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante


Europa Editions

My Brilliant Friend is a rich and heartwarming account on female friendships. Elena and Lila are two girls growing up in a poor Neapolitan neighborhood in the 1950s. The girls maintain a strong bond of friendship over the years, despite following different paths. At the same time, the book also cleverly tells the story of a country on the verge of change.

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My Brilliant Friend: A Novel (Neapolitan Novels, 1)
  • Europa Editions
  • Ferrante, Elena (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 331 Pages - 09/25/2012 (Publication Date) - Europa Editions (Publisher)

6. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg


Atheneum Books for Young Readers

This tells the story of a young girl, Claudia Kincaid, who is quite bored of her suburban life. So she runs off to New York City with her little brother in tow. While secretly living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Claudia struggles to keep them both alive as she works on solving the mystery of a certain marble sculpture.

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The E.L. Konigsburg Newbery Collection: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth; The View From Saturday
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Konigsburg, E.L. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 472 Pages - 10/22/2013 (Publication Date) - Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Publisher)

7. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers


Mariner Books

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter tells the story of 5 young misfits who form a bond founded on their shared isolation. A young girl, Mick Kelly, stands out from her companions as she chooses to search for beauty to fight her loneliness, unlike the others.

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The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
  • Mariner Books
  • McCullers, Carson (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 368 Pages - 04/21/2004 (Publication Date) - Mariner (Publisher)

8. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Knopf

Americanah is an intimate look at the love and identity dynamics of American and Nigerian life. After spending 15 years in America and achieving great success as a student and blogger, Ifemelu returns to her native Nigeria in which she meets her first love, Obinze.

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Americanah
  • The bestselling novel—a love story of race and identity—from the award-winning author of We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele.
  • Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 588 Pages - 03/04/2014 (Publication Date) - Anchor (Publisher)

9. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain


Random House

Telling the story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s long-suffering first wife, this book is about a woman who gave her all to her man. But despite being left on the wayside in his struggle to find his voice and deal with his newfound fame, Hadley proves that it is, indeed, possible to rise above it all.

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The Paris Wife
  • VIRAGO
  • McLain, Paula (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 392 Pages - 01/01/2012 (Publication Date) - Virago Press (UK) (Publisher)

10. Dealing With Dragons (The Enchanted Forest Chronicles series) by Patricia C. Wrede


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Cimorene is not your ordinary princess. She is headstrong, independent, and a total tomboy. Constantly living with her father-king’s disapproval, she runs away and finds herself a dragon.

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Dealing with Dragons: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Book One
  • Harcourt Brace and Company
  • Wrede, Patricia C. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages - 09/15/2015 (Publication Date) - HMH Books for Young Readers (Publisher)

11. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl


Penguin Books

New girl Blue van Meer finds herself accepted to St. Gallway’s most prestigious clique of students, the “Bluebloods” when she joins the prep school. Little does she know that she would become embroiled in a murder mystery.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics
  • Penguin Books
  • Pessl, Marisha (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 514 Pages - 04/24/2007 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

12. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Millennium Series) by Stieg Larsson


Random House

Troubled Lisbeth Salander is a diminutive genius with an unconventional way of dealing with whatever comes her way. Despite living a life that’s rife with violence, she soldiers on with a unique and enviable stoicism.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium Series)
  • book,The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,Stieg Larsson,Crime, mystery, thriller, Scandinavian noir
  • Larsson, Stieg (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 672 Pages - 11/22/2011 (Publication Date) - Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (Publisher)

13. Coraline by Neil Gaiman


HarperCollins

In her family’s new home, young Coraline discovers a passage to an alternate universe. While at first glance it seems that the other world is so much better than her reality, Coraline quickly discovers that it is not at all what it seems. So she sets about rescuing the trapped souls of other children as she tries to rescue herself.

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Coraline: The Graphic Novel
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • Gaiman, Neil (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 05/05/2009 (Publication Date) - HarperAlley (Publisher)

14. Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness series) by Tamora Pierce


Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Because she is a woman, it seems that young Alanna’s dream of becoming a knight and warrior will never be fulfilled. So she goes off to disguise herself as a boy, switching places with her twin brother, in order to train as a page in the king’s palace.

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Alanna: The First Adventure (The Song of the Lioness, Book 1)
  • Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Pierce, Tamora (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 12/07/2010 (Publication Date) - Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Publisher)

15. The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner


Scribner

A young woman named Reno moves to New York City to indulge her passion for the arts and motorcycles. She then finds herself in a relationship with a wealthy Italian sculptor. The Flamethrowers is a great account of the many facets of art, gender, and identity in 1970s New York.

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The Flamethrowers
  • Scribner Book Company
  • Kushner, Rachel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 383 Pages - 01/14/2014 (Publication Date) - Scribner (Publisher)

16. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan


G.P. Putnam’s Sons

The Joy Luck Club explores the intricate and often painful relationship between mothers and their daughters. Set in San Francisco in 1949, Amy Tan wittily tells the stories of 4 immigrant families in a strange new land.

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The Joy Luck Club: A Novel
  • Penguin Books
  • Tan, Amy (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 352 Pages - 09/21/2006 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

17. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler


Grand Central Publishing

A dystopian America is the setting for Parable of the Sower, and its protagonist is Lauren Olamina, the 18-year-old daughter of a minister. Following the great decline of society, Lauren finds herself orphaned when she loses her family and home. She finds solace in the company of fellow refugees as they fight for their very survival.

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Parable of the Sower (Parable, 1)
  • Butler, Octavia E. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 368 Pages - 04/30/2019 (Publication Date) - Grand Central Publishing (Publisher)

18. Hild by Nicola Griffith


Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Set in Britain during the Middle Ages, the story centers on Hild, the bright and curious niece of the ruling king. In this brutal period, Hild defies all odds and grows up to become St. Hilda of Whitby, one of the most powerful women in the 7th century.

Sale
Hild: A Novel
  • Picador USA
  • Griffith, Nicola (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 560 Pages - 10/28/2014 (Publication Date) - Picador (Publisher)

19. Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García


Ballantine Books

The story starts in the mid-1930s and spans for decades as it covers the lives of three generations of del Pino women and how they were affected by the Cuban Revolution. Despite family divisions and corruption, these women steadfastly maintain their clairvoyance to see the family through the worst.

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Dreaming in Cuban
  • Ballantine Books
  • García, Cristina (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 245 Pages - 02/10/1993 (Publication Date) - Ballantine Books (Publisher)

20. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant


St. Martin’s Press

This is the story of Dinah, a woman briefly mentioned in the Bible as Jacob and Leah’s daughter, before she became a renowned midwife in Egypt. From her childhood in Mesopotamia to her womanhood in Canaan, The Red Tent is a great account of the struggles of women in Biblical times.

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The Red Tent
  • Picador USA
  • Diamant, Anita (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 352 Pages - 08/21/2007 (Publication Date) - Picador (Publisher)

21. Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye


Knopf

Three Strong Women is a powerful exploration of the trials of West African immigrants in France. Centered on the interwoven lives of three women, this is a poignant telling of their struggles and strength.

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Three Strong Women: A novel
  • Vintage Books
  • NDiaye, Marie (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 304 Pages - 05/21/2013 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

22. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery


Modern Library

11-year-old Anne Shirley is a bright and imaginative girl, sent off to live in a farm where she is to help with the chores. She quickly warms the heart of everyone she encounters and grows up to be remarkable young woman in Avonlea.

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Anne of Green Gables, Complete 8-Book Box Set
  • Fiction
  • Classics
  • Montgomery, L. M. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 497 Pages - 10/06/1998 (Publication Date) - Starfire (Publisher)

23. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan


Scholastic

Esperanza is the daughter of affluent Mexican ranchers. However, tragedy befalls her family, forcing the heroine and her mother to flee to California and live in a camp for Mexican farm laborers. As she struggles with her new life of hard labor during the Great Depression, Esperanza finds a way to overcome her desperate situation and thrive with great strength.

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Esperanza Rising (Scholastic Gold)
  • Scholastic
  • Ryan, Pam Muñoz (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 262 Pages - 05/01/2002 (Publication Date) - Scholastic (Publisher)

24. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow


Algonquin Books

Rachel is forced to live with her strict African-American grandmother following a family tragedy. Because she is biracial, Rachel has to struggle for acceptance in a predominantly black community on top of dealing with her grief over the loss of her family.

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The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
  • Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Durrow, Heidi W. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 304 Pages - 12/01/2010 (Publication Date) - Algonquin (Publisher)

25. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë


Dover Publications

Jane Eyre defies convention in the Victorian era as an independent and strong-willed feminist. She is possibly the most unforgettable governess in literature, bravely pushing the boundaries between social classes and exploring sexuality, love, and morality well ahead of her time.

Jane Eyre (Bantam Classics)
  • Bronte, Charlotte (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 492 Pages - 10/01/1983 (Publication Date) - Bantam Classics (Publisher)

26. Fanny by Erica Jong


W.W. Norton & Company

Set in 18th century England, Fanny is none other than Fanny Hackabout-Jones, the beautiful foundling who grew up to be a sensuous woman desired by many. Forced to flee her home, she runs off to London to seek her fortune, encountering various interesting characters along the way.

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Fanny: Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones
  • Jong, Erica (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 544 Pages - 05/17/2003 (Publication Date) - W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

27. Caucasia by Danzy Senna


Riverhead Books

Caucasia is the tale of two biracial sisters, light-skinned Birdie and the darker Cole. When their parents separate, Cole is taken to Brazil by their black father, while Birdie is left behind in America, under pressure to live as a white woman.

Sale
Caucasia: A Novel
  • Senna, Danzy (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 432 Pages - 02/01/1999 (Publication Date) - Riverhead Books (Publisher)

28. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


Penguin Classics

Set in New England during the Civil War, this is the famous story of four sisters growing up in poverty. From their creative childhood to their adventures in adulthood, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are the catalysts for a timeless tale that have inspired countless women over many decades.

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Little Women (150th Anniversary Edition): With Foreword and 200 Original Illustrations
  • Alcott, Louisa May (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 546 Pages - 03/02/2019 (Publication Date) - SeaWolf Press (Publisher)

29. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell


HMH Books for Young Readers

Karana, a 12-year-old Indian girl, jumps off an illegal boat that’s taking her family to California in order to look for her brother. She ends up marooned on an island called San Nicholas where she would spend the next 18 years in solitude, relying only on herself for survival.

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Island of the Blue Dolphins
  • Gripping tale of karana’s survival, strength, and courage amidst vivid descriptions of island life
  • Recommended for grades 2-5
  • 192 pages
  • O'Dell, Scott (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

30. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood


Anchor Books

The Handmaid’s Tale is a satirical novel set in a dystopian society where women are nothing more than “handmaids”, or concubines whose only purpose is to give birth to children for the ruling class. This tells the story of Offred, a handmaid who embarks on an unorthodox relationship with an official of high rank.

Sale
The Handmaid's Tale
  • Great product!
  • Atwood, Margaret (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 311 Pages - 03/16/1998 (Publication Date) - Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Publisher)

31. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine


HarperCollins

Loosely based on Cinderella, this is the story of Ella, a more headstrong and definitely pluckier version of the original. Despite her “gift” of obedience, Ella resists her fate and breaks her curse with sheer strength and determination.

Ella Enchanted (Trophy Newbery)
  • HarperTrophy
  • Levine, Gail Carson (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages - 05/02/2017 (Publication Date) - Quill Tree Books (Publisher)

32. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez


Algonquin Books

Leaving their comfortable lives in the Dominican Republic in order to move to New York had the Garcia girls scrambling to adjust to their new home. But despite losing their Spanish accents and wearing American clothing, the past, it seems, is not so easy to leave behind.

Sale
How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
  • Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Alvarez, Julia (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 01/01/2010 (Publication Date) - Algonquin Books of Chapel (Publisher)

33. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb


Simon & Schuster

The story of Dolores Price is a heartbreaking one. Abandoned by her father and raped by a neighbor as a young girl, she coped by eating her way to obesity. This is a coming-of-age story that will break your heart many times over. You won’t necessarily like Dolores, but you will definitely feel for her.

Sale
She's Come Undone
  • Washington Square Press
  • Lamb, Wally (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 480 Pages - 12/01/1996 (Publication Date) - Washington Square Press (Publisher)

34. Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende


Harper Perennial

Set in 1849 at the height of the Gold Rush, a young orphaned girl named Eliza Sommers moves from Chile to California to chase her lover. Her search for her lost love eventually turns into a journey to find herself as she discoveres freedom in this new, strange place.

Sale
Daughter of Fortune: A Novel (P.S.)
  • Allende, Isabel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 432 Pages - 05/02/2006 (Publication Date) - Harper Perennial (Publisher)

35. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne


Dover Publications

Hester Prynne finds herself condemned by her Puritan colony when she was found to be an adulteress. Despite the shame of her punishment, Hester is steadfast in her strength, giving readers a wonderful insight on the concepts of sin, survival, and redemption.

The Scarlet Letter
  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 175 Pages - 12/07/2020 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

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