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Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

12 Books That Will Make You Say Good For Her

Video essayist Rowan Ellis has given us a new genre, the “good for her” story. According to Rowan, a “good for her” story has a female central character who is victimised in some way by an unjust system. She outwits or conquers the system without remorse, giving her (and us, the readers) a feeling of catharsis. I would argue that any book that has a woman unapologetically coming out on top should ‘count’, but that’s just me. In any case, here are twelve books that will make you say “good for her!”.

12 Books That Will Make You Say Good For Her - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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There are three women at the centre of Liane Moriarty’s break-out best-seller Big Little Lies, which means three times as many opportunities for a “good for her!” throughout this domestic noir. There’s Madeline, who’s green with envy about her daughter’s relationship with her ex-husband’s new partner; Celeste, whose husband knocks her around; and Jane, whose son was conceived as a result of a violent sexual assault. Each of them gets a few points on the board, but it’s Jane who’s the true victor in the good-for-her stakes. Read my full review of Big Little Lies here.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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Gillian Flynn is kind of the reigning queen of Good For Her books. All of her protagonists are women with axes to grind, none more famous (or infamous) than Amazing Amy in Gone Girl. Granted, the “unjust system” that she is “victimised” by is a mediocre marriage in a patriarchal society, and there’s a strong argument to suggest that she overreacts (by faking her own death and framing her husband). Still, there’s a little bit of Amazing Amy in every angry woman, and I challenge you to get to the end of this pacy thriller without saying “good for her!” at least once. Read my full review of Gone Girl here.

Bonus: Another one of Gillian Flynn’s Good For Her books is Sharp Objects, featuring a heavy-drinking self-harming journalist on the hunt for someone in her small town who is abducting and murdering young girls. Read my full review of Sharp Objects here.

We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived In The Castle - Shirley Jackson - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If there was ever a woman who deserved a Good For Her ending, it’s Shirley Jackson. Unfortunately, she didn’t get one in life, but she managed to write a few into her fiction. We Have Always Lived In The Castle is one great example, a Good For Her book you’ll find on the shelves of any self-respecting gothic feminist. It starts innocently enough, with a peculiar teenage girl named Merricat and her agoraphobic sister living on their family estate. Their Uncle Julian lives with them, too, but the girls are mostly isolated from the outside world. Danger will darken their doorstep soon enough, but Merricat isn’t going down without a fight.

Carrie by Stephen King

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It’s a bit galling that one of the O.G. Good For Her books was written by a man, but the lasting impact and cultural legacy of Carrie cannot be denied. Stephen King was in a bit of a I’ll-show-you mood when he sat down to write a short story, having been told that he couldn’t write about women. That short story was gradually expanded – and rescued, at one point, from the waste paper basket by King’s long-suffering wife – until it became this iconic horror novel about a young girl with telekinetic powers and bullies to punish at her high-school.

My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

My Year Of Rest And Relaxation - Ottessa Moshfegh - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s hard to say Good For Her in an Ottessa Moshfegh book, simply because her female protagonists are so damn unlikeable. Take the unnamed narrator of My Year Of Rest And Relaxation, for instance: she’s wealthy, she’s privileged, she’s gorgeous, and she’s absolutely awful. She’s terrible to her friend, she looks down her nose at everyone, she even takes a shit on the floor of her former workplace. And yet, we’re all a teeny bit jealous, because she uses her money and privilege to take a year off to simply sleep. So, we can’t help but say it: good for her!

The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

The Southern Book Club's Guide To Slaying Vampires - Grady Hendrix - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Good For Her books are, unexpectedly, Grady Hendrix’s schtick. He takes the well-worn horror tropes and stock-standard characters – non-believers, best friends, promiscuous girls, final girls – and turns them into feminist critiques of societal norms. His talent is on full display in The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires, where suburban mothers must battle both racism and sexism to have their concerns taken seriously. It won’t be without bloodshed, but their happy ending will definitely have you cheering “good for her!”.

Bonus: There’s plenty more Good For Her books in Hendrix’s oeuvre. Take Horrorstor, where a young woman roped into working overnight does battle with the demons haunting a furniture superstore, or My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Read my full review of Horrorstor here, and my full review of My Best Friend’s Exorcism here.

How To Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie

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Who among us hasn’t had an idle fantasy – just a daydream! nothing more! – of murdering all the family members who wronged them? Okay, maybe that’s taking things a bit far, but it’s still satisfying to see a female character live your dream when they’re all pissing you off. In How To Kill Your Family, Grace Bernard has lost everything and she’s seeking revenge. She plans to kill her family, steal their fortune, get away with it, and adopt a dog – in that order. This is one of those Good For Her books with a very dark streak but a lot of snarky humour and a note or two of truth.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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As far as Good For Her books go, it’s hard to be happy for the protagonist of The Vegetarian. I mean, her big victory is… getting to starve to death in a mental hospital, deluded into thinking she’s a tree? But, it’s what she wants, so good for her! Really, the most satisfying aspect of this novel is how absolutely mad Yeong-hye drives her shitty husband and his family by simply deciding to change her diet. And no matter how mad they get, she’s steadfast in her resolution to eschew meat. Even in the face of violence and institutionalisation, she never loses her will to live her life on her own terms. Read my full review of The Vegetarian here.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

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Convenience Store Woman is one of the shortest Good For Her books, but it’s also one of the most powerful. Keiko has known since childhood that she was “different” from everybody else, but she learned early on that expressing herself in ways that feel natural to her does not go down well in her conservative and conformist culture – it freaks people out and causes problems. So, she does her best to “fit in” by getting a job at a convenience store and mirroring the mannerisms of those around her. Still, even that’s not enough. Eventually, Keiko learns that she can’t make everyone happy, and chooses to live for herself – good for her! Read my full review of Convenience Store Woman here.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Little Fires Everywhere is masterfully written. It’s an issue novel, but one that doesn’t beat you over the head with a foregone moral position. It’s a psychological thriller, without the hack writing or “plot twists” you can sniff out a mile off. It’s a family drama with a family that actually feels like a family, lots of little dramas unfolding in each of their lives. And, by the end of it, you’ll be saying “good for her”, probably about the character you’d least expect. Just because you’re following the ‘rules’ doesn’t mean you’re doing the right thing. Read my full review of Little Fires Everywhere here.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

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The Lost Apothecary has the ultimate Good For Her premise: a secret shop of potions that ill-treated women can use to poison their good-for-nothing husbands. Yes, please! Word of it is passed through a secret network of women who are looking out for one another and dismantling the patriarchy, one abuser at a time. That’s one of the timelines, anyway. In the other, an aspiring historian stumbles upon a clue that could solve a two-centuries-old series of murders. Her own life is about to collide with the apothecary’s in a way she could never have expected – and not everyone’s getting out of it alive.

The Harpy by Megan Hunter

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There’s a long history of calling inconvenient women “harpies” and “shrews” – and Megan Hunter’s novel is going to reclaim that moniker, good for her. The Harpy follows Lucy, a homemaker who sacrificed her career for her family, only to discover that her husband threw it all to the wind for a passionate affair with another man’s wife. They decide to stay together, but Lucy gets to exact her revenge by hurting her husband three times in return. It’s a delicate game of crime and punishment, of course it has unforeseen consequences, but damn, it feels good to see a woman negotiate her own rightful vengeance.

2 Comments

  1. I love the idea of a “Good for Her” story. I’ve only read Convenience Store Woman of the titles on your list, but it was definitely a GFH story.

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