So here’s the thing: whenever I’m reading a book (or watching TV or a movie or whatever) and there is a female character, I automatically cringe and wait. I prepare myself for the shitty female character we’re about to get. Either she’s a super annoying airhead or she’s ~not like other girls~. And if we have two women interact, they hate each other for no reason or have this stupid forced kinship just because they’re women (
looking at you, Marvel).
And then, I started reading books with good representation. And I noticed my cringing for the first time. I noticed how much I brace for the shitty representation. And when it didn’t come, I was so relieved when I read the good female interactions, the real female characters, the actual women. It’s so refreshing and so great.
(as a bit of a side note that I’m in no way qualified to talk about: I imagine this is how POC feel consuming most media. When there’s the token POC, POC must cringe at the representation, and must be so relieved when there’s actual representation)
So anyway, I don’t really have a conclusion to this beginning part other than representation is important and refreshing (
bitch we been knew). And I wanted to recommend some books that have great female representation.
Books with good female representation, in very different scenarios and contexts
The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis (YA contemporary): the main character, Alex, doesn’t judge Branley (the Slut™) for sleeping around and liking sex and it was SO GOOD to read. Branley was portrayed as a real person with real feelings who just happened to like sex, and it was great!!! There was also great female friendship in this book that I was very much on board with, as well as morally grey female characters.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (historical fiction): the cringe I was talking about? I was 100% cringing and expecting Sunja and her sister-in-law to hate each other the moment they meet. But they didn’t!!! They become best friends! It was such a relief, and one of the best, most wholesome relationships in the whole book. It made me so happy to read such a great friendship between these two women throughout their whole life.
Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand (magical realism, thriller): in this book, the jealousy and hatred between two of the characters felt real and founded, and not based on some stupid, petty reasons. The bitchy mean girl was the bitchy mean girl for a reason that was explored, and she was an actual person. And the two rivals eventually were able to get over it, work together, and become friends.
Women Talking by Miriam Toews (literary fiction): the in this book women all felt like such real people. This was especially refreshing because the women are all part of a very religious group and are supposed to be these submissive, subservient wives. To see them act like real people was great.
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (more historical fiction): the relationship between May and Pearl, the titular Shanghai Girls and sisters, is so real. Yes, there’s jealousy between the two of them, but it was normal sibling jealousy. It’s the type of jealous that has actual reasons behind it. All the women felt like real people. Honestly, any of Lisa See’s books would work here. They all focus on female relationships and friendships, which is always great.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (fantasy): there are two main female characters in this book, Inej and Nina. We meet Inej early in the book and Nina a bit later. As soon as we met Nina, I was like “oh shit, Nina and Inej are going to have this stupid rivalry for no reason”. BUT NO I was wrong! They’re friends! Really good, real friends! Again, it was such a relief. I loved their friendship so much.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (semi-autobiographical literary fiction): this one might seem a little weird, but hear me out. Yes, Francie has that moment where she’s like “I hate women, I’ll never be friends with a woman”; however, she was a literal child when this happens AND she later talks with the girls in her class and realizes that they’re really nice and lovely. Also, there were such a great variety of women who were all portrayed in a great light, especially considering the time this book was written. And the relationship between the Rommely sisters was great and made me super happy.
Ultimately, it’s somewhat sad that I felt so relieved reading these books. Women being friends shouldn’t be such a relief. Women feeling like real characters shouldn’t be something special that we celebrate. It should just be the norm.
But those are some books I recommend with great female representation! Have you read any of these? What were your thoughts? Do you have any other books with great female representation? Let me know!