At a time when we’re all starved for adventure, we have curated our favorite women-authored books of 2021—perfect for an armchair escape. Whether it’s the story of Olympic runner-turned-filmmaker Alexi Pappas, or a gripping novel about two estranged sisters who will stop at nothing to protect each other, even if it means swapping identities, let this frequently-updated list be a guide for your next read.
Just As I Am
You may remember Cicely Tyson from her venerable roles as Ophelia in How to Get Away with Murder or Sipsey in Fried Green Tomatoes, or perhaps as the recipient of an honorary Oscar or the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The pioneering actress died on January 28, at 96, just after the release of her memoir, Just As I Am, an honest and passionate story about talent, success, and what she endured to reach her goals: racism, misogyny, poverty, and single motherhood.
The Chosen and the Beautiful
A 2021 Indie Next Pick from Oprah Magazine and USA Today, Nghi Vo’s debut novel The Chosen and the Beautiful reinvents America’s classic coming-of-age story with magic, mystery, and glittering excess. The story follows Jordan Baker, who is from the rarefied circles of 1920s American society: she has money, education, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, with the most important doors remained closed to her.
No One Is Talking About This
After the success of her 2017 memoir, Priestdaddy, acclaimed author Patricia Lockwood returns with her third book about a woman who goes viral on Twitter and travels the world to meet her adoring fans. It’s not long before the protagonist is left to grasp the insignificance of the internet (or “the portal” as she calls it) after a family emergency forces her to reckon with the more pressing issues of 2021: a ceaseless scroll, climate change, and economic disaster.
UNRAVELED: The Life and Death of a Garment
A must-read for anyone wanting to understand the impact of unfettered capitalism, UNRAVELED is the story of a pair of pants, from cotton farm to landfill, exposing the fractures in our supply chains, shedding new light on our relationships to the planet, and offering a path toward a moral marketplace that puts the people and planet first. Written by fashion and sustainability expert Maxine Bédat, UNRAVELED will forever change the way you look at fashion. Read it before you buy a new pair of jeans, or anything else.
Her years spent at English prep school, St. John the Divine, seems like a lifetime ago for Josephine, who is brought back to the school 15 years later by news that has shattered the community. Lost in an inexplicable blend of time, Josephine becomes fixated with the life she once lived, filled with prep-school boys and cliques. Ellie Eaton’s The Divines plays with themes of coming-of-age sexuality, female identity, and the detrimental class divide as Josphine’s journey into the school’s scandal is to the detriment of her marriage, career, and psyche.
The Ugly Cry
Abandoned at 10 years old by a mother who chose her drug-addicted, abusive boyfriend, author Danielle Henderson was raised by her grandparents in a mostly white neighborhood in upstate New York. Her moving memoir, The Ugly Cry, is at turns hilarious, harrowing, and heartbreaking as it upends society’s conventional understanding of family through a visceral telling of how someone survives childhood trauma—and keeps going in spite of it.
Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead
A highly anticipated debut from Emily Austin comes Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead, a story that follows an anxious, Queer young woman who stumbles into a job as a receptionist at a Catholic church and becomes obsessed with her predecessor’s mysterious death. With a blend of deadpan humor and pitch-perfect observations about the human condition, the book explores what it takes to stay afloat in a world where your expiration—and the expiration of those you love—is the only certainty.
All That She Carried
Written by Harvard historian Tiya Miles, All That She Carried tells the true story of an American family through a singular heirloom: a sack of items that an enslaved woman gave her young daughter Ashley in 1852 before her child was sold into slavery. All That She Carried is a poignant story of resilience and love that honors the fierce resourcefulness of people who preserved their family history when official systems refused to do so. Miles’ historical work serves as a visual illustration of how to reconstruct and recount silenced stories of the past today.
Writer, podcast host, and inimitable educator Ashley C. Ford is releasing her debut novel with an extraordinarily powerful memoir: the story of a childhood defined by the ever-looming absence of her incarcerated father and the path we must take to both honor and overcome our origins. In Somebody’s Daughter, Ford’s search for unconditional love causes her to look in all of the wrong places. Through poverty, puberty, and a fraught relationship with her mother, this coming-of-age explores how isolating and complex such a childhood can be.
Dara and Marie Durant share a lifelong passion: the art of dance. When their mother and founder of the Durant School of Dance dies in a tragic car accident, the girls become responsible for the school’s continuation. Things begin to unravel when a tragic accident interrupts the start of the studio’s annual performance of the Nutcracker and an outsider endangers the dance-empire they have worked so hard to create. In The Turnout, Edgar award-winning author Megan Abbott fuses a tale of femininity, family drama, and the hunger for power.
Written by the best-selling author of Freshwater, PET, and The Death of Vivek Oji, Akwaeke Emezi’s new memoir is structured as a series of letters to friends and loved ones, revealing the harrowing yet resolute truths of their own life. Their story weaves transformative decisions about their gender and body, their precipitous path to success as a writer, and the turmoil of relationships, culminating in a book that is as tender as it is brutal. Featured on the cover of Time Magazine as a 2021 Next Generation leader, Emezi’s work is both electrifying and inspiring.
A complex story of three women (two daughters and their mother), Something Wild is the debut novel of Hanna Halperin, a harsh but inspirational novel about women’s resilience, the contradictions of sisterhood, the desires of adolescence, and the traumas that trap mothers and daughters in cycles of violence. Told in alternating perspectives that interweave past and present, Something Wild is an unflinching portrait of the bond between sisters, the legacy of divorce, and how it might be possible to overcome the past.
The Other Black Girl
Named one of the most anticipated books of 2021 by Time, The Washington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, and Fortune, The Other Black Girl is Zakiya Dalila Harris’ debut novel based on her experience working at Knopf Doubleday Publishing. The story centers on 26-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers, who is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the daily microaggressions from her colleagues, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. A whip-smart and dynamic thriller, The Other Black Girl is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace—keeping you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.
Based on the incredible true life story of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, a woman born into slavery on the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat before buying her freedom—and that of her sister and her mother—from her Irish planter father, Island Queen is an unforgettable portrait written by Vanessa Riley. Thomas, an entrepreneur who became one of the most powerful landowners in the West Indies, answered to no one but herself as she rose to power against all odds, challenging the oppression of women and people of color.
The Paper Palace
Miranda Cowley Heller, the creative developer behind shows such as The Sopranos, The Wife, and Big Love, makes her literary debut with The Paper Palace, a tender yet devastating love story that follows one day in the life of Elle Bishop, a married mother-of-three in her late 40s who must make a life-changing decision that has been brewing for decades. The Paper Palace is a “magnificent page-turner” (The New York Times) that considers the legacies of abuse and the crimes and misdemeanors of families.
Two estranged sisters will stop at nothing to protect each other—even if it means swapping identities. June is three years older with a problematic finance job and the “classic first-born mindset,” while Jayne is “emotionally-stunted and self-preoccupied”. They desire no association with each other until June finds out she has cancer, and Jayne is the only one who can save her. From New York Times bestselling author Mary H.K. Choi comes a funny, yet deeply moving novel about sisterhood and love overcoming pride.
Pop Song: Adventures in Art & Intimacy
Pop Song is a non-traditional love story: an affair of the senses with music, art, and people. In this memoir-in-essays, Larissa Pham’s debut work of nonfiction is inspired by her juvenile attempts at finding fulfillment in travel, sex, drugs, and art, before looking in the most important place; inward. From Picasso to pain, lust to loneliness, each page is filled with an intimate discourse that provokes the self-reflection of any reader.
Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness
From the acclaimed author of Imagine Wanting Only This comes a timely and moving meditation on isolation and longing on the individual and societal level. Named one of LitHub’s Most Anticipated Books of 2021, this graphic novel by Kristen Radtke digs into the ways in which we attempt to feel closer to one another, and the distance that remains, through the lenses of gender and violence, technology and art.
The Startup Wife
Named one of Granta’s best young British novelists, Tahmima Anam’s upcoming novel, The Startup Wife, is an exploration of start-up culture and the institution of marriage. When newlyweds Asha and Cyrus build an app that replaces religious rituals of marriage with innovative cultural norms, the couple soon finds themself running one of the most popular social media platforms in the world. Anam’s gripping prose asks whether technology can truly disrupt the traditions and institutions of love.
The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice
Lauded for both its authentic reporting and its testament to female courage in the face of the enemy, The Daughters of Kobani is the unforgettable story of the women of the Kurdish militia who created international hope for ceasing ISIS in Syria. Drawing from hundreds of hours of interviews, bestselling author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon highlights the unforgettable women fighting on the front lines while simultaneously evincing that women could lead in war.
Such a Quiet Place
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last House Guest, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club selection, comes Megan Miranda’s riveting new novel about a mysterious murder in an idyllic, private, close-knit neighborhood. Pulsating with suspense and the shocking twists that are Miranda’s trademark, Such a Quiet Place is arguably her best novel yet—an immersive page turner that will turn any reader into a mystery devotee.
In this blazingly witty anticipated debut from Rachel Yoder, Nightbitch is a story about an artist turned stay-at-home mom who becomes convinced she’s turning into a dog. Soon to be made into a film produced by Annapurna Pictures (founded by Megan Ellison) and set to star Amy Adams, Yoder’s novel highlights ideas about art, power, womanhood, and the price of putting an ambitious career on hold.
Under a White Sky
Pulitzer-Prize winning environmental author Elizabeth Kolbert returns with an investigation into the immense challenges humanity faces as we scramble to reverse, in a matter of decades, the effects we’ve had on the atmosphere, the oceans, the world’s forests, and rivers. Can we change nature in order to save it? Kolbert examines the world through scientists who are trying to preserve the world’s rarest fish; engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone in Iceland; and Australian researchers who are trying to develop a “super coral” that can survive on a hotter globe. Kolbert’s blend of fear, humor, and inspiration creates an unparalleled examination of our environment—and what you can do to change it.
The Three Mothers
In her trailblazing debut, scholar Anna Malaika Tubbs tells the story of three women who raised America’s most determining heroes. In this commemoration of Black motherhood, The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation features Berdis Baldwin, Alberta King, and Louise Little as they pass their knowledge and experiences of the Jim Crow era through lessons of faith and social justice. This is a story of the leaders who shaped the nation and the women who shaped them.
Crying in H Mart
If you’re an Indie rock fan, you’ll know Michelle Zauner as the face of the solo musical act Japanese Breakfast. Crying in H Mart is Zauner’s debut memoir, centered around her struggle with maintaining her Korean identity in the wake of her mother’s death. In a story about identity as a Korean-American in a time of loss, she writes, “‘Am I even Korean anymore if there’s no one left in my life to call and ask which brand of seaweed we used to buy?”
One of the Good Ones
In a shocking, yet all-too-real series of events, teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed after attending a social justice rally. As the Smith family is left to deal with the aftermath, sisters Happi and Genny are frustrated by the idealistic way their sister is remembered. Using the historical Green Book as a guiding force, they embark on their own journey to intimately and authentically honor Kezi. This stunning novel from sister-writer duo Maika and Maritza Moulite blends prejudice, police brutality, and the unbreakable bond of sisterhood in a story that will undoubtedly have you feeling both touched and inspired.
The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the Tart, Tender, and Unruly
In a glorious blend of cookbook, memoir, and love notes, The Book of Difficult Fruit contains 26 essays supplemented with recipes for jellies, tonics, and balms, with little-known fruits such as Aronia and medlar. Author Kate Lebo expertly blends natural, culinary, medical, and personal history to create “rituals that promise transformation.”
The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free
From award-winning author Paulina Bren comes the first history of New York’s most famous residential hotel—The Barbizon—and the remarkable women who lived there. Built in 1927 at the peak of the roaring ’20s, The Barbizon Hotel was designed to be a place for the “Modern Woman” pursuing a vocation in the arts after World War II’s political enfranchisement, housing the likes of Syliva Pleth, Grace Kelly, Joan Didion, and many others. The Barbizon is as much a research phenomenon as it is a beautifully crafted tale of women’s ambition and the places that encouraged their dreams.
The Rose Code
The New York Times bestselling author of The Huntress and The Alice Network returns with another heart-stopping World War II story of three female code-breakers at Bletchley Park and the spy they must root out after the war is over. A resounding story of friendship, love, and humor, The Rose Code follows Osla, a wealthy socialite; Mab, from the impoverished east end of London; and Beth, a local spinster, who defy all resistance in this historical fiction.
Dog Flowers: A Memoir
When archivist and writer Danielle Geller’s mother dies of alcohol withdrawal during an attempt to get sober, Geller dedicates herself to understanding her mother’s life and family history—a pursuit that returns her to the Navajo reservation. In this touching memoir, images are fused with text to tell a story of colonization, mothering, and what it means to understand where you came from.
Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas
When Alexi Pappas was four years old, her mother died by suicide, setting her on an ongoing search for female role models. As her father signed her up for sports, the first women she looked up to were female athletes and her dream of being an Olympian was born. In this authentic and moving memoir, the filmmaker, writer, athlete, and actress opens up about post-Olympic depression, embracing pain, and having the confidence to fight for your dreams.
We Run the Tides
Teenage Eulabee and her inseparable best friend, Maria Fabiola, live together on Sea Cliff, their San Francisco neighborhood that sits above the ocean. While walking to their upscale all-girls school, the two witness what one remembers as a horrible act. When they disagree on what happened, their friendship as well as the riveting enigma begins to unravel. In a story of mysterious disappearance, disloyalty, and female friendship, Vendela Vida’s We Run the Tides is sure to satisfy even the most particular of mystery-lovers.
If the Shoe Fits (Meant to Be)
After graduating college with a degree in shoe design, Cindy begins working for her stepmother, who happens to be the executive producer of America’s favorite reality show, Before Midnight. Cindy volunteers when a spot on the show urgently needs filling, and as the only body positive woman on a reality dating competition, Cindy becomes an overnight self-love sensation for women everywhere. From The New York Times best-selling author Julie Murphy comes a story about body positivity and the self-awareness required to make your dreams come true.
The Dutch House
Pulitzer finalist Ann Patchett’s latest novel takes place at the end of World War II, following real estate mogul Cyril Conroy who buys the Dutch House, an estate in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Set over the course of five decades, the story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. Banished from the home and thrown into a world of poverty, the siblings must reconcile their relationship with the past and each other as they navigate loss with humor and temper.