Reading is an experience that bonds people together. After all, there’s a reason some of the classics have stayed classics for hundreds of years. When it comes to experiences of womanhood and growing up, there are certain books that every collegian must read at some point in her life.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen We’ll start off with a classic. Sure, popular culture has turned this book into the ultimate rom-com predecessor, but when you examine it deeply, you’ll notice just how much Elizabeth defies convention in order to seek her true happiness. Darcy isn’t the swoon-worthy, brooding hero that the movies make him out to be, and it’s only when our heroes fumble through initial awkwardness and ignore societal expectations that they find happiness.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte Once again, often thought to be a romance-orientated book, Jane Eyre is a powerful coming-of-age novel. It’s a popular required reading in high school, but if you thought it was a drag the first time around, I recommend that you take a closer look at it. This story is about Jane finding herself, and while she does get her happily ever after, it is a choice that she makes on her own.
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott This is the book every girl should’ve read while growing up. It’s about the closeness of female friends and relatives and how growing up can be difficult. The experiences that the March sisters go through are experiences that are still relevant in this day and age. From sibling rivalry and unwanted suitors to meddling family members and career expectations, this book has it all.
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath This book has often been called the female equivalent of Catcher in the Rye. It’s an evocative portrait of a young woman with a mental illness, similar to the more popularized Salinger novel that we all had to read in high school. It gives a voice to mental illness without romanticizing the notion, and though it is semi-autobiographical, Plath’s heroine speaks for all of us.
- The Awakening by Kate Chopin Kate Chopin’s only novel is about an unsatisfied woman who wants to break away from societal norms. The Awakening, while beautifully written, also forces us to question what is expected and whether or not it is fair. It’s about a woman deciding to live for herself and the devastating consequences that come with that decision.
- Beloved by Toni Morrison This one’s a bit darker but is a powerful tale about a former slave in the post-Civil War era. It’s haunting but definitely a life-changing book about the terrible choices we are sometimes forced to make. The prose is beautiful and the plot is riveting, and in the end you are left questioning what really happened.
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou An autobiographical tale of the author’s childhood and early adolescence, this novel deals with deep issues of sexual assault and racism, but it maintains the resilient spirit of a girl growing up and leaving childhood behind. It’s one of seven novels about Angelou’s life but is perhaps the most well known.
- The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan A story of mothers and daughters and cultural divides, The Joy Luck Club tells stories of childhood and adulthood that span countries and generations. It’s definitely a tearjerker, and the heart of the stories comes from disconnects between mothers and daughters that we can all relate to.
- The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares I highly recommend you revisit the adventures of Carmen, Lena, Bridget and Tibby, as this read is a staple of young-adult literature in the 2000s. They deal with some pretty heavy stuff in that first novel alone (divorce, illness and sex) but find solace in their friendship — something all of us should remember.
- Beauty Queens by Libba Bray Possibly the most unapologetically feminist novel I have ever read, Beauty Queens disguises itself as a light-hearted, young-adult comedy, but ends up being so much more. It’s provocative, hilarious and in the end, reminds us that every girl is powerful in her own way.
If there are books on this list you’ve already read for school, I recommended looking at them with new eyes and fresh perspectives. If this whole list is new to you, then what better way to start than by finding the one that stood out to you the most and opening it up? Hopefully you’ve at least gotten a new idea for your next book to read. Happy reading!