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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Learning in Public: Lessons for a Racially Divided America from my Daughter's School
Determined to raise anti-racist children, Courtney E. Martin details her decision to enroll her daughter in their local, majority Black, and poorly-rated public elementary school in her latest autobiographical book, Learning in Public. Echoing the acclaimed New York Times podcast Nice White Parents, Martin examines her own fears, assumptions, and conversations with other parents as they navigate their school choice, while vividly documenting school fund-raisers, contentious school board meetings, and school drop-offs—challenging the country’s preconceptions about American education and race relations today.
New York Times (and Reese Witherspoon Book Club) bestselling author of The Whisper Network, Chandler Baker, returns with a new feminist thriller, exploring what it would take for women to have it all. The Husbands follows Nora Sprangler, a successful attorney and mother who agrees to take on a new neighbor’s wrongful death case. But as the case unravels, Nora uncovers a plot that may explain the secret to “having-it-all”. Calling to mind a Stepford Wives gender-swap, The Husbands imagines a world where the burden of the second shift is equally shared—and what it may take to get there.
The Manningtree Witches
A Literary Hub “Most Anticipated Book of the Year,” The Manningtree Witches is the debut novel of poet A.K. Blakemore, an entrancing historical look at the residents of a small Puritanical English village as they endure the grip of 17th-century witch trials. Set in 1643, the novel tackles contemporary questions of modern feminism through the menace of the English witch trials, where the nation’s male institutions start to realize that the people they’ve suppressed may be about to rise up and claim their freedom.
With echoes of Zadie Smith and Sally Rooney, Three Rooms is the debut novel of new-comer Jo Hamya. The novel (another Literary Hub “Most Anticipated Book of the Year”) centers on a young woman’s inability to afford her own apartment, and her journey through the many rented rooms she inhabits over the course of a single year. Hamya pushes Virginia Woolf’s adage “a woman must have money and a room of one’s own” into the 21st century, making deft observations about the aspirations and challenges faced by Millennial women as they try to find their footing in the world—and financial stability.
Not “A Nation of Immigrants”: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion
Historian and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, returns with another transformative look at U.S. history with Not “A Nation of Immigrants.” Dunbar-Ortiz’s unparalleled breadth of research debunks the national myth that America is “a nation of immigrants,” looking instead to shine a light into the darkest corners of our nation’s history—that America was founded in violence as a settler state, imperialist since its inception.
“This is a book about death” might not seem like the most appealing tagline at first, but former NPR reporter Kat Chow’s new memoir, Seeing Ghosts, is an intimate portrait of the transformative nature of grief—and the search for meaning accross three generations of a Chinese-American family. After Kat’s mother dies unexpectedly from cancer, her family is forced to excavate their family history, a story of loss spanning immigration from China and Hong Kong to America and Cuba. Ultimately, this coming-of-age story challenges the power structures of race, class, and gender, while asking: What do we owe to our families in our grief, and how does it shape us?
Still Mad: American Women Writers and the Feminist Imagination
A sweeping history of the contemporary women’s movement, Still Mad is told through the lives and works of the literary women who shaped it: Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion, Audre Lorde, and many more. Co-written by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, the book explores the changing attitudes toward gender and sexuality today, and celebrates the diversity and urgency of women who have turned passionate rage into powerful writing.
Beautiful World, Where Are You
Conversations With Friends and Normal People put Sally Rooney on the map for her unique ability to capture the complexities of human emotion, and her latest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, is no exception. While following the lives of four single Irish 30-somethings (Alice, a novelist, invites Felix, a warehouse worker she just met, to travel to Rome with her; meanwhile, Alice’s best friend Eileen begins flirting with Simon, a childhood friend), Rooney packs in plenty of existential musings on life, love, climate change, and sex.
The Flowering: The Autobiography of Judy Chicago
In this provocative and resonant autobiography, world-renowned artist and feminist icon Judy Chicago reflects on her extraordinary life and career, including the glittering table laid for 39 iconic women in The Dinner Party (now permanently housed at the Brooklyn Museum). With a foreword by Gloria Steinem, The Flowering reinforces Chicago’s message of resilience for a new generation of artists and activists—an essential read for anyone interested in making change.
A never-before-published novel by the iconic Simone de Beauvoir of an intense and vivid girlhood friendship, The Inseperables was discovered in a manuscript hidden in a draw. Deemed too intimate to publish during de Beauvoir’s life, the lost novel offers fresh insight into the groundbreaking feminist’s own coming-of-age; her transformative, tragic friendship with her childhood friend Zaza Lacoin; and how her youthful relationships shaped her philosophy.
Rock Paper Scissors
Soon to be made into a Netflix TV series, Rock Paper Scissors is the latest thriller by New York Times bestselling author Alice Feeney. Centering the so-called perfect couple Mr. and Mrs. Wright, Feeney explores the couple’s relationship as they win a weekend getaway to Scotland for their anniversary. The novel unravels their 10 years of marriage, highlighting the secretive cracks that may be impossible to mend.
On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint
From legendary writer Maggie Nelson (The Argonauts and Jane: A Murder), comes an essay collection that cracks your heart open while forcing you to consider the intimacies that exist in the plain exchanges of daily life. Nelson’s Our Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint contains truths that are hard to swallow as she meditates on the concept of freedom, drawing on ideas from pop culture and critical theory, all of which will leave you smarter than you started.
From the author of the Los Angeles Times-bestseller Esperanza’s Box of Saints comes a witty climate novel about a Mexican-American family trying to survive a Los Angeles drought. Written by Maria Amparo Escandon, L.A. Weather follows the Alvarado family as they wrestle with impending evacuations, deception, betrayal, and (with the weather forecast as an omnipresent backdrop to the characters’ emotional conflicts) their toughest decision yet: whether to stick together or burn it all down.
Beautiful Country: A Memoir
A debut memoir and powerful recollection of immigrant life by Qian Julie Wang, Beautiful Country is the coming-of-age story of a civil rights lawyer recounting her move to Manhattan from China as a seven-year-old. With her parents working long hours in sweatshops, Qian is isolated from both her family and classmates at school, and has little to hold onto beyond her father’s constant refrain: “Whatever happens, say that you were born here, that you’ve always lived here.”
Please Don't Sit On My Bed In Your Outside Clothes
Comedian Phoebe Robinson is back with a hilarious book of essays, Please Don’t Sit On My Bed In Your Outside Clothes. Recounting her time spent quarantining with her boyfriend, the author is insightful, laugh-out-loud funny, and heartfelt as she reflects on America’s current cultural moment, detailing everything from the Black Lives Matter movement and performative allyship to her decision to not have children.