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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

12 Best Books Of 2023

Another year, done and dusted! In 2023, I had the pleasure of reading a bunch of great new releases, as well as older titles plucked from my trusty TBR jar. And now, as is tradition, I’m rounding up the best of what I read this year. Here are the best books of 2023.

12 Best Books Of 2023 - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Search History by Amy Taylor

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Search History is “a sharply funny debut novel about identity, obsession, and desire in the internet age”. But, unlike most books about relationships in tHe DiGiTaL eRa, this one actually rings true – in the way the characters think and behave, and the way their use of technology shapes their perceptions. If you’ve ever accidentally deep-liked a new love interest’s Instagram post, this is the book for you. It’s brilliant and relatable, and the heroine is both self-destructive and self-aware. The tagline promises that it’s Rebecca meets Fleabag in a Melbourne setting, which sums it up perfectly! Read my full review of Search History here.

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

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The Nothing Man is a very creepy, very detailed crime novel, so you should really check the trigger warnings before you pick it up. That said, it’s so well-written and propulsive, it’s difficult to put down – even when it turns your stomach. Howard masterfully balances the perspectives, giving the “victim” just as strong a voice and an active role in what unfolds as the perpetrator (something all-too-often missing from crime thrillers, with passive dead girls left voiceless in the narrative). Plus, it culminates in a satisfying ending that seems, granted, a little unrealistic – but not overwrought or overdone. It’s the perfect pick for fans of I’ll Be Gone In The Dark. Read my full review of The Nothing Man here.

Becky by Sarah May

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Ambitious and determined, Becky Sharp is going to scheme her way into high society. She slips unnoticed through the ranks, weaponising the secrets she uncovers about the movers and shakers, until she gets what she wants. Is it Vanity Fair, or the latest novel by Sarah May, Becky? Believe it or not, it’s both. This contemporary adaptation like if a British Ottessa Moshfegh told the story of the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal, using Thackeray’s classic novel as a template. May touches on everything – gender inequality, colonialism, celebrity culture, corruption in politics, the wealth gap – without overegging the pudding. Read my full review of Becky here.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

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At first glance, Fleishman Is In Trouble looks like your stock-standard New York divorce novel. A privileged couple – he’s a doctor, she’s a talent agent/manager – sniping at each other and using their kids like battering rams in the dissolution of their marriage. But by the end of the first chapter, you’ll realise that this is something different, something special. I might be the last person in the world to read it, but I’m very glad I got around to it! As well as living up to the prodigious hype, it ended up being one of my best books of 2023. Read my full review of Fleishman Is In Trouble here.

One Of Those Mothers

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I love it when a book takes me by surprise, and one of the most notable examples of 2023 was One Of Those Mothers. I hadn’t heard a thing about it before receiving a copy for review. The blurb brought to mind Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, and the cover had a recommendation from Charity Norman, so I figured I was getting into a stock-standard domestic noir. I wasn’t reckoning on just how dark, or just how compelling, it could be. You might want to steer clear of this one if you’re sensitive to issues around child abuse and exploitation, but I was absolutely gripped by it and highly recommend it otherwise. Read my full review of One Of Those Mothers here.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

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Rodham offers fascinating insight into Hillary Clinton’s mind – or, at least, Sittenfeld’s informed best-guess about it. The choice to relay the story from a first-person point of view doubles the effect. It’s shockingly intimate, even quite horny at times. I found it difficult to force myself to forget that it’s about a real person. I’m dying to know what Real Hillary thought of it, but if I never find out, I’ll satisfy myself with recommending it to everyone and forcing them to tell me what they think about it. It’s masterfully written, fascinating and shocking (at times), a pleasure to read and fuel for a lot of post-read musing. Read my full review of Rodham here.

Naked Ambition by Robert Gott

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C’mon, you know it wouldn’t be a list of my best books of 2023 without a genuinely hilarious knee-slapper or two! Naked Ambition is a hilarious satire of Australian politics, skewering the egos of the privileged career politicians making decisions about our lives (while making messes of their own). It had me howling with laughter. I can’t promise everyone will find it as funny as I do – but it’s surely worth a try. With lines like “Australians don’t like their politicians with their clothes on, taking them off isn’t going to win you any votes,” (page 14), and “The scrotum is not a vote winner” (page 22), how could you not find the funny? Read my full review of Naked Ambition here.

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

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“All is faire in love and war.” That’s the slogan of Well Met, an enemies-to-lovers romance novel that takes place in the unlikely setting of a small-town Renaissance Faire. I’m a sucker for a kooky premise like that, so of course, I had to read it. It’s a wonderfully fun feel-good summer romance. The heroine’s sunny nature makes for delightful narration (without ever becoming grating), and the plot is perfectly paced. Sure, the characters get a bit Extra at points, but it’s a romance novel. That’s expected. Jen DeLuca has won herself a fan, and I’ll be checking out her other books in this series ASAP. Read my full review of Well Met here.

Business Or Pleasure by Rachel Lynn Solomon

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I was desperate to read more Rachel Lynn Solomon as soon as I turned the final page of her last book, Weather Girl. Even going in with those high expectations, Business Or Pleasure knocked it out of the park. It’s a steamy read, with a bonus “oh no, there’s only one bed!” incident that had me giggling with delight. It’s not all smut, though; there’s a lot of interesting insights into the world of comic book conventions and fantasy fandom, and both main characters have anxiety disorders (OCD and GAD) that play significant roles without defining them. Solomon remains a must-read romance author for me, and I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next. Read my full review of Business Or Pleasure here.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

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The Five is a book about challenging long-held assumptions. Rubenhold encourages us to think critically about what we accept as historical fact. What we “know” about the past is inevitably shaped and coloured by the values of the time, and the hangover of those values on our perspective today. It’s a fascinating and insightful read, one I really wish I’d got to sooner. If you’re on the fence about picking this one up, let me be the one to tip you over to the side of “yes”. True crime readers will likely find it dry and scant on grisly details, but hopefully will recognise the reason for that and understand its importance in the broader context. Read my full review of The Five here.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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I found myself gripped by The Secret History. There’s something going on in this story, and I was determined to get to the bottom of it! Tartt’s prose is exquisitely detailed, with startling revelations and intriguing mysteries. By about a third of the way through, I was pretty sure I could see where it was all going, but she still managed to weave in a couple of surprises. In the hands of a lesser writer, the plot would have been beyond the pale. But Tartt is convincing, too convincing, and you’ll find yourself drawn in unquestioningly as the story unfolds. I’m sorry to say that it is every bit as good as everyone always says it is. Read my full review of The Secret History here.

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

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Eggshell Skull is one of the rare books when the quality of the writing (very, very high) makes it difficult to read. I had visceral, physical reactions to Bri Lee’s story. At various points, my stomach churned and my heart rate skyrocketed. In the final chapters, I unwittingly gave myself a headache because I didn’t realise I’d been clenching my teeth. It falls into the category of an incredibly good book that it’s incredibly difficult to recommend to anyone. It will be a five-star read for anyone who enjoyed Roxane Gay’s Hunger. It will be a rude shock for anyone who’s ever asked why a victim would “wait so long” to come forward. Read my full review of Eggshell Skull here.

20 Books About Angry Women

I don’t think it’ll come as any surprise that I love reading about women’s anger. Women who are raging, women who are pissed off, women who are fully unhinged – I love them, one and all! There’s something very cathartic about reading stories with angry women in them, seeing characters express that fury that quietly burns in so many of us. Here are twenty of my favourite books about angry women.

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Carrie by Stephen King

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Is it sacrilegious to suggest some of the best books about angry women were written by men? Whatever the case, Carrie might not be perfect, but it sure is iconic. Stephen King’s debut novel follows the unpopular teenage daughter of a religious fanatic. The titular character is tormented and teased by her classmates, but unbeknownst to them, she is growing more and more powerful. She has the power to move things with her mind, and when a small kindness turns out to be a cruel joke, she uses that power to exact grotesque and horrifying revenge.

Fates And Furies by Lauren Groff

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Fates And Furies is one of the more literary books about angry women – and the angriest woman doesn’t even get her say until the second half of the novel. It’s a portrait of a marriage infinitely more complex and enraging than it first appears. Mathilde has been hiding many secrets from her husband Lotto, violent secrets and dark histories that cast everything we know about them and their marriage in a new light. This New York Times bestseller is intense and propulsive, confusing at times but always intriguing.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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There have been books about angry women for hundreds of years, but Gone Girl is the one that got the most cut-through in recent memory. Gillian Flynn got unreliable and unhinged girlies trending! Her anti-heroine, Amazing Amy, seems like your standard beautiful blonde girl gone missing at first glance – but as the pages turn, and you get to hear from the woman herself, you realise that the darkest and most malevolent kind of anger burns within her. Hot enough to have her destroy her own life, just to take her husband down with her. Read my full review of Gone Girl here.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

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No one writes books about angry women like Ottessa Moshfegh. If there was a poster child, she’d be it. Eileen was her break-out novel, the one that thrust her angry women protagonists into the best-seller lists – whether we like them or not. The titular character is consumed by loathing and resentment for the men she’s forced to “care for”: her alcoholic father, the boys in the prison where she works, the guard she stalks. She indulges in fantasies of escape. The arrival of a new counselor at her workplace promises a change… I don’t think it constitutes a “spoiler” to tell you it hardly ends with a happily-ever-after.

Bunny by Mona Awad

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What happens when a dark, introspective outsider gets invited into the inner sanctum of the beautiful and bright-eyed? You’ll find out in Bunny, a dark academia novel that will take you all the way down the rabbit hole. Samantha has been granted entry into a highly coveted MFA program at a New England university. At first, she resents the clique of Bunnies, the twee girls with saccharine smiles. But when she’s invited to one of their salons, she finds herself drawn into their world, one that is surely more sinister than it appears. It turns out the sweetest smiles can hide the darkest fantasies and blackest rage.

Animal by Lisa Taddeo

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How long can a woman endure the cruelties of men before she gets angry? Not that long, it turns out. Animal is “a depiction of female rage at its rawest, and a visceral exploration of the fallout from a male-dominated society”. This explosive and confronting book follows a woman, Joan, pushed to the brink by violence and abuse. She goes in search of answers about what’s happened to her and why, looking for the strength to finally fight back. Olivia Wilde called it “so insanely good and true and twisted it’ll make your teeth sweat”.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

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Some of the most powerful (geddit?) books about angry women are the ones where that rage manifests physically. Naomi Alderman’s The Power is a feminist dystopia – or utopia, depending on how you look at it. Teenage girls suddenly develop the power to deliver electric shocks through their skin. The boys and men who have overpowered them all their lives are suddenly at their mercy, and the shift has ramifications around the world. As older women develop the power too, some of them use it to exact revenge, some of them turn to religion, and still more try to hide and remain loyal to the status quo. All of them are angry, though, and that’s the best part. Read my full review of The Power here.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

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When a woman is angry enough, she has no choice but to take matters into her own hands. That’s what happens in Sadie, where a young woman seeks vengeance on the man who killed her sister. She’s pursued all the while by an intrepid podcaster, who thinks he’s going to crack the case of the missing and dead girls from a trailer park in the middle of nowhere. She outsmarts him, though – she outsmarts everyone who might stand in her way. That’s the kind of power that being angry can give a woman who’s been wronged. Read my full review of Sadie here.

How To Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie

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A funny book about murder? Yes, please! How To Kill Your Family is one of the most delightful (and therefore most emotionally confusing) books about angry women you’ll ever read. The hot pink cover belies the anti-heroine’s murderous intentions. Grace has lost everything, but she has a plan to get it all back. First, she’s going to kill her family. Then, she’s going to claim their fortune. And, once she’s gotten away with it all, she’s going to adopt a dog (what a relatable queen!). You can’t choose your family, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with them.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

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One of the original angry women in fiction – Bertha Mason, from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre – had to wait over a century to be paid her due and have her story told in her own terms. Wide Sargasso Sea reclaims and reimagines the life of the “mad woman in the attic”, Mr Rochester’s first wife before he met and manipulated the young and beguiling Jane. Who among us can say that, having been ripped from our homeland and horribly mistreated, we might not ourselves turn to arson and take back our freedom by force?

Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

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One of the many dark truths brought to life by the #MeToo movement was the existence of whisper networks: chains of women in workplaces, passing information to each other about men who might be unsafe, knowing they couldn’t speak any louder without retribution. It makes sense that this reality filtered through to fiction books about angry women, as we see in Whisper Network. The women who work for Ames at Truviv, Inc. have been protecting each other from him for years. Now that the world is finally waking up to the abuses of men in power, they have the strength to fight back – but it will come at a price.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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The next generation of books about angry women is being written by kids who grew up reading The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen would’ve been happy to have never been angry; she just wanted enough food to feed her family, and a safe roof over all their heads (and maybe some sexy smooches with her hunting buddy Gale). Unfortunately, it’s not to be. She volunteers to take her sister’s place in a sadistic reality show run by her country’s elite, and stumbles into a war of the haves versus the have-nots. Read my full review of The Hunger Games here.

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

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Full to the brim with “scathing, furious, unforgettable prose”, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is a scary-good debut novel about a young woman who is, rightfully, very, very angry. The protagonist has grown up with the terror of her brother’s brain tumour, compounded in a house of denial and silence around trauma and abuse. The stream-of-consciousness style echoes feminist icons like Virginia Woolf, continuing their tradition of expressing rage on the page that cannot be contained. This examination of the angry woman’s psyche will live in your head rent-free after you’ve read it.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

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My Sister The Serial Killer gives you exactly what it says on the tin: the story of Korede and her sister, Ayoola, who has the unfortunate habit of killing her boyfriends. Korede is literally the person Ayoola calls to help her hide a body (c’mon, every angry woman has one). The plot boils over when a love triangle forms: Ayoola sets her sights on the handsome and charismatic doctor that Korede has loved from afar for months. Sibling loyalty can only go so far, after all. This forces Korede into the small gap between the proverbial rock and hard place: should she keep her angry sister’s secrets, or divulge them to the man she loves (possibly saving his life)? Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

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Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels are some of the most beautiful and complex books about angry women you’ll ever read – and it all begins with the first book in the quartet, My Brilliant Friend. It tells Elena and Lila’s stories from the very beginning, as children growing up in a violent and turbulent neighbourhood of mid-20th century Naples. It’s enough to make any young woman angry, but Elena and Lila experience and express their rage in very different ways. Ferrante’s gorgeous Italian writing is translated into English by the inimitable Ann Goldstein. Read my full review of My Brilliant Friend here.

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

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Think back to every horror movie you’ve ever watched. After all the screaming and wailing and bloodshed and jump-scares, there’s usually one woman left standing, one who – through luck or skill – survived the horrors. That’s the final girl, and in The Final Girl Support Group, these survivors gather to share their experiences and help each other rebuild their lives. What these women have survived is enough to make anyone angry, but when someone starts targeting their group, their survival instinct is put into overdrive. No matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

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The angry woman at the heart of The Lost Apothecary has a very special set of skills, skills she has acquired over a very long career, skills that make her a nightmare for the abusive and violent men of 18th century London. Women come to her for help, and she sends them on their way with a well-disguised poison and a promise that it will solve all their problems. It all goes to hell, of course, when a young girl visits the apothecary and makes a mistake with fatal consequences. In present-day London, a woman is about to uncover the secret of the underground apothecary vigilante.

The Recovery Of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

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These books about angry women might be fictional, but The Recovery Of Rose Gold hits very close to home. Stephanie Wrobel was undoubtedly inspired by the real-life story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard: a young woman disabled by her mother’s Munchausen by proxy, who takes matters into her own hands. Of course, in the fictional version, the story takes some different turns and we’re granted a lot more access to the source and nature of the anti-heroine’s anger. But at its bones, it remains the same – a young woman turning the tables on her abuser. Read my full review of The Recovery Of Rose Gold here.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian - Han Kang - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Not all books about angry women have the loud kind of rage. There’s very little screaming or breaking of things in The Vegetarian, but the protagonist is undoubtedly consumed by her own quiet fury. Yeong-hye is an ordinary woman with an ordinary husband, who up-ends her life and the lives of those around her by deciding to commit to vegetarianism. It’s a compelling read, but also (at times) a horrifying one – but, ironically, it says very little about the philosophy or ethics of vegetarianism. Yeong-hye’s dietary habits are not the point, even if they are the motif on which this story hangs. Read my full review of The Vegetarian here.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient - Alex Michaelides - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Perhaps the scariest kind of rage is the kind that simmers quietly – silently, even. The Silent Patient is a mystery-thriller about the kind of anger that has no answers and no voice. Alicia’s life looked perfect from the outside: nice house, creative career, attentive husband… until, one day, she shot him in the head. Afterwards, she didn’t say a single word, in her own defense or otherwise. Theo is a forensic psychotherapist, and he’s convinced he’s the only person who can reach Alicia through the fog of her furious silence. Is it just a professional curiosity, or is there something more sinister that connects them? Read my full review of The Silent Patient here.

20+ Sad Girl Books

Sad Girl books are kind of the Taylor Swift of book categories. There’s a solid rabid fan base, a swathe of detractors, and now and then one of the hits achieves mainstream cut-through. Sad Girl books are the kind that should come with a Lana Del Rey soundtrack, usually with a white woman protagonist in her 20s or 30s. She’s struggling with something – grief, trauma, mental illness – and she usually makes some kind of determined change in her life, which falls to shit. If you’re new to Sad Girl books, this is the list you need, a comprehensive reading guide to get you started.

20 Sad Girl Books - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

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

My Year Of Rest And Relaxation is the queen bee of sad girl books. The unnamed narrator is the pinnacle of sad girl fitness. She’s beautiful, she’s hateful, she’s narcissistic, she’s grieving, she’s rich, and she’s come up with the most ridiculous solution to her problems in the history of the world. She decides to sleep for an entire year, a clinophile dream fuelled by the disgraceful prescribing practices of the eccentric Dr Tuttle. You won’t be able to look away as she sleeps her way through most of 2001 in her Manhattan apartment, knowing exactly what awaits her when she “wakes up” in September.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Bell Jar is the O.G. sad girl book. Sylvia Plath was bumming everyone out and making depressed girls feel Seen(TM) long before it was cool. The story is loosely autobiographical (except that Plath’s real life had a far more tragic end). The main character, Esther, has recently finished a summer internship in New York City, and she comes out of it more lost and perplexed than ever. As the “bell jar” of depression descends over her life, she beats against the cage she feels her gender has built for her. If any book deserves a trigger warning for depression and suicidality, it’s surely this one. Read my full review of The Bell Jar here.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People - Sally Rooney - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Millennial wunderkind Sally Rooney is (at least mostly) responsible for the burgeoning trend towards sad girl books. Normal People is her magnum opus, a character-driven novel depicting the hopelessly destructive relationship between two small-town Irish teenagers. Their romance-cum-friendship-cum-rivalry ebbs and flows across the course of their lives, and your allegiances to each of them will shift accordingly. Neither Marianne nor Connor are particularly likeable, and neither of them come out of this book with their hands clean. This is the sad girl book for anyone who’s in a situationship that has passed its use-by date. Read my full review of Normal People here.

Bonus recommendation: Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations With Friends, is actually the superior book (in my opinion). In it, a sad girl finds herself in a love quadrangle with her ex-girlfriend and a married couple, and (once again) all of them suck. Read my full review of Conversations With Friends here.

Luster by Raven Leilani

Luster - Raven Leilani - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Raven Leilani’s protagonist, Edie, might not be white – but she’s definitely a sad girl. She’s barely holding it together at her job due to her growing obsession with the married middle-aged white man, Eric. When she is inevitably fired, a series of convenient coincidences sees her moving in with Eric’s wife Rebecca and their adopted (Black) daughter. This is an explicit, wry novel full of self-destructive sex and violence, a testament to the power of millennial ennui in the big cities. Luster was big-time book club fodder when it came out in 2020, one of the few sad girl books to cut through to the mainstream. Read my full review of Luster here.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

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Sad girl books can be fun, too! My Sister, The Serial Killer is case in point. The conceit is laid out in the title. Korede is the person that her sister, Ayoola, calls to help hide a body – literally. See, Ayoola has the unfortunate habit of killing her boyfriends when she’s done with them, and Korede feels like she has no choice but to put her medical expertise to use, helping her keep getting away with it. That all changes, though, when Ayoola sets her sights on the hunky doctor at Korede’s hospital, the one that Korede has had her eye on for months. Who will she choose: her murderous sister, or her long-time crush? Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.

Breasts And Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

Breasts And Eggs - Mieko Kawakami - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s not every day you come across a sad girl book recommended by Haruki Murakami – in fact, I think this might be the only one you ever find. He called it “breathtaking”, and has described Mieko Kawakami as his “favourite novelist”. That’s some high praise, right there! Breasts And Eggs is the first of her novels to be translated from the original Japanese into English (by David Boyd), and the sad girlies fell head-over-heels in love with it upon release. The story is told in two parts, each of which could stand alone but are brought together by their narrator (Natsuko, a writer living in Tokyo) and themes (womanhood, motherhood, and self-discovery). Read my full review of Breasts And Eggs here.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Not many sad girl books are written by men (as you can see from this list), but The Virgin Suicides broke the mold. It was the sad girl book of the ’90s, its popularity skyrocketing after the film adaptation directed by Sofia Coppola. The alluring contradiction is represented in the title: the “pure” Lisbon sisters, affected by the “dark” scourge of mental illness and suicidality. Another unusual twist can be seen in the narration; the primary perspective is that of the boys of the suburban neighbourhood where the Lisbon sisters live, as they watch their “perfect” lives unravel from afar.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted is better known as one of the ultimate sad girl movies (a blonde Angelina Jolie leading a young Winona Ryder astray after they bond in a mental institution? yes, please!). But the cult classic film was actually based on a memoir, one of the rare non-fiction sad girl books. (Why are so few sad girl books true stories? I don’t know, exactly. I guess they’re just too sad.) Kaysen depicts a kaleidoscopic world inside the McLean psychiatric hospital of the 1960s, forcing us to interrogate how much we really understand about mental illness and its treatment.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian - Han Kang - Keeping Up With The Penguins

“Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.” Isn’t that just… chef’s kiss? It’s the opening line of The Vegetarian, and it promises a wonderful sad girl novel to come. It’s a story about Yeong-hye, an ordinary woman with an ordinary husband, who up-ends her life and the lives of those around her by deciding to commit to vegetarianism. This is a sad girl book for the vegan girlies, and the ones who have any kind of food intolerance or aversion. And, by the by, it was “elegantly translated into bone-spare English” by Deborah Smith. Read my full review of The Vegetarian here.

New Animal by Ella Baxter

New Animal - Ella Baxter - Keeping Up With The Penguins

“Raw” is an over-used word for honest and forthright stories about sex and death, but that’s exactly what New Animal is: it’s the steak tartare of literature. Perhaps that means it’s not for everyone, but the sad book girlies went absolutely nuts for it. Amelia is the cosmetician in her modern family’s funeral parlour, “well known in this town full of retirees and clumsy tradespeople” (ha!). She also likes to de-stress from her days of dressing corpses with the company of young men (ahem). She’s an expert compartmentaliser, but even she struggles to keep her emotions in order when the grim reaper comes too close to home. Read my full review of New Animal here.

Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin

Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead - Emily Austin - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Not all Sad Girl books are hopelessly morose trauma-dumps. Some of them are delightfully wry and self-aware, like Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead. Gilda can’t stop thinking about death (given the state of the world, it’s hard to blame her). In desperation, she responds to a flyer for free therapy from her local church – but instead of healed, she finds herself installed as their new receptionist. For a queer atheist with intense anxiety, this presents many problems. Her anxious apathy and her unsentimental delivery make an otherwise-dark story a hilarious and relatable read. Read my full review of Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead here.

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

No One Is Talking About This - Patricia Lockwood - Keeping Up With The Penguins

No One Is Talking About This is a lot of things: weird, for starters, written in a strangely poetic and fragmented style, but also doubly sad for a Sad Girl book. Patricia Lockwood drew heavily on her own life experiences, and knowing that makes the grief and trauma of this story a lot more palpable. An unnamed narrator, who shot to international fame when one of her only-barely-considered social media posts – “can a dog be twins?” – went viral, travels the world talking about “the portal”, the infinite scroll, the digital zeitgeist. She’s forced to confront the fragility of her virtual life when a tragedy in her “real” life threatens its margins (big-time trigger warning for pregnancy and infant loss). Read my full review of No One Is Talking About This here.

The Lying Life Of Adults by Elena Ferrante

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Sad Girl books can be literary, too! The elusive, reclusive queen of contemporary literature in translation, Elena Ferrante, proves it in The Lying Life Of Adults. It was published in the original Italian (La vita bugiarda degli adulti) in 2019, and the English translation (by the imitable Ann Goldstein) came out the following year. The story follows a tween girl in the early ’90s, who overhears her father disparaging her appearance, likening her looks to those of his estranged sister. That sends her off on a hunt for her long-lost aunt, trying to figure out what’s so bad about looking like Vittoria anyway.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

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It’s hardly surprising that the ascendancy of Sad Girl books came alongside the #MeToo movement, as so many of them focus on uncovering the abuses perpetrated against girls and women that have traditionally been kept from view. My Dark Vanessa was controversial upon its release in 2021, and people are still talking about it now. A young woman is forced to reconsider her teenage relationship with her older teacher, in light of new allegations that have arisen about his behaviour towards other students. Was it really the romantic formative relationship she believed, or was she groomed and manipulated?

Idol, Burning by Rin Usami

Idol Burning - Rin Usami - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Teenager Akari is obsessed with pop-star Masaki Ueno, one-fifth of the Japanese boy band Maza Maza. He is her idol, her hero, and her totem. In Idol, Burning, her world falls apart when Masaki is publicly accused of assaulting a fan. Her blog is flooded with comments, social media lights up with conspiracy theories, and Akari is forced to reckon with reconciling her “real” life with the man on the screen who feels more real to her. This is a Sad Girl novella that you can knock out in an afternoon, but the intensity of the psychological denouement will stay with you for a while. It was translated into English by Asa Yoneda, and beautifully illustrated by Leslie Hung. Read my full review of Idol, Burning here.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

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Sayaka Murata is a literary superstar in Japan, but she didn’t make a splash in the Anglophone world until Convenience Store Woman was translated into English (by Ginny Tapley Takemori) in 2018. The compelling and delightfully weird combination of “strange” protagonist Keiko and the highly conservative and conformist Japanese culture in which she lives makes for a fascinating read. This is one of the Sad Girl books beloved by readers who feel like they don’t belong, who have had to contort themselves into something different to feel accepted. Read my full review of Convenience Store Woman here.

Bonus recommendations: After the success of Convenience Store Woman, more of Sayaka Murata’s work made its way into English bookstores (thanks in part to the fantastic translations by Ginny Tapley Takemori). She always levels-up the weird, and the sad, so they’re a great place to start your Sad Girl books collection. Check out my full review of Earthlings here, and my full review of Life Ceremony here.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A Little Life has the distinction of being the most popular of a very rare sub-type of Sad Girl books: those with male protagonists. Even though the story follows four men through some of the most horrific life experiences you’ll ever see depicted on the page, the girlies went for it in droves. Some of them even found it “too sad”, which is no mean feat. The unrelenting trauma, the cruel vicissitudes of fate, and the distinctly unhappy ending all make for a major bummer of a read – all the more so for its heft, at 800+ pages. Make sure you gird your loins before giving this one a go. Read my full review of A Little Life here.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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Kate Bush saw the Sad Girl potential in the Brontë classic Wuthering Heights long before any of the rest of us. She was way ahead of the curve! This tragic love story between Cathy and Heathcliffe – two of the worst people you’ll meet in literature – transcends generations, continents, and reading tastes. It’s set on the gloomy West Yorkshire moors, constantly lashed by miserable weather and the perfect spot to do a little mansion haunting if you want to taunt your lover after your death. It’s probably not one for beginners, but any Sad Girl book aficionado has a copy of this one in their tote bag. Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.

Milkman by Anna Burns

Milkman - Anna Burns - Keeping Up With The Penguins

“The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died.” So begins Milkman, one of the best (and most acclaimed!) Sad Girl books to come out of Northern Ireland. It’s loosely based on Anna Burns’ own experiences growing up in Belfast during the Troubles. Everything is heightened, everything is politicised, and everything is prone to being extrapolated upon by the community. If William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf had a love child who grew up in 1970s Belfast, they would write this book. Read my full review of Milkman here.

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo - Taylor Jenkins Reid - Keeping Up With The Penguins

There aren’t many cross-overs between Sad Girl books and the the libraries of BookTok girlies. Sad girl books are, well, sad, while BookTok best-sellers tend to have cartoon covers and enemies-to-lovers romances. But there’s one book on which both segments of readership totally agree: The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo. It’s got the romance and the glamour that BookTok girlies crave, with the disappointment and heartache that Sad Book girlies need. Taylor Jenkins Reid brings together old world Hollywood with contemporary realities in this highly readable tale.

Does The Dog Die? 30+ Books To Avoid

I have read way too many books lately where (gulp) the dog dies. I hate it. I especially hate it when I have no idea that it’s coming. I know it’s my personal trigger, not shared by everyone, but it bothers me enough that I decided to put together a list, just in case anyone else out there wants to avoid being blindsided.

Does The Dog Die - 30 Books To Avoid - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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This list is not exhaustive, obviously. I haven’t read every book (though I’m giving it a red hot go). I also haven’t included books where the dog famously dies (e.g., Old Yeller, Where The Red Fern Grows, those “classics”). This is specifically a list of books where the dog dies and you might not see it coming. I’ll update this list of books to avoid as I encounter more.

I’ve also included books with instances of cruelty towards dogs or dog injuries, even if they don’t necessarily die, because I find those just as difficult (so I’m assuming others do, too). Where I’ve published a review, I’ve linked to it, if you’re looking for a bit more context about what happens.

Oh, and I’ve included a few photos of Fyodor Dogstoyevsky too, just to remind you in this misery parade that there are happy, beloved dogs out there living their best lives.

Fyodor Dogstoyevsky wearing a rainbow harness sitting on the grass, next to a copy of Sharp Objects

Books To Avoid Where The Dog Dies

A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder by Holly Jackson

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier

Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Burst by Mary Otis

The Call Of The Wild by Jack London

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

The Days Of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

Death In Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Fyodor Dogstoyevsky cuddling his teddy on a soft blanket next to a copy of The Silence Project

Educated by Tara Westover

How To Sell A Haunted House by Grady Hendrix

The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

The Marriage Act by John Marrs

Milkman by Anna Burns

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Fyodor Dogstoyevsky in a Christmas outfit under someone's arm, behind an open Santa book

She Is Haunted by Paige Clark

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

Tender Is The Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

The Winners by Fredrik Backman

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