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35 Books You Might Have Missed During The Pandemic

We’ve just passed the fourth anniversary of the date a Public Health Emergency was declared in Australia, due to the emergence of COVID-19. That pesky little virus ravaged the world, shutting down cities and killing millions, incapacitating millions more. With all that going on, we were reading more than ever (for lack of anything else to do while locked down), but we were mostly turning to old comforting favourites or tackling books that had been waiting on our shelves for years. With book stores closed, and events cancelled or hastily relocated to a computer screen, authors had little opportunity to put their new books in front of us. Even with my finger firmly on the pulse of book releases (or so I like to think), I’m still coming across books released in the early 2020s that I missed in the COVID kerfuffle. So, I thought I’d give some of them their long-overdue moment in the spotlight. Here are 35 books you might’ve missed during the pandemic.

35 Books You Might Have Missed During The Pandemic - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Book reviewers are still recovering from the pandemic too, so support this one by making a purchase through an affiliate link 🙂

By the way, COVID-19 isn’t over. The virus is still doing damage in our community, and we all need to protect ourselves and each other as best we can. Get vaccinated, wear a mask if you need to, and for the love of all that is good in this world, STAY HOME if you’re unwell! The new release shelf at your local bookshop can wait, as this reading list proves.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The Thursday Murder Club - Richard Osman - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 3 September 2020

Blurb: “In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders. But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.”

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa - Kate Elizabeth Russell - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 10 March 2020

Blurb: “Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood.”

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi - Susanna Clarke - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 15 September 2020

Blurb:Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has. In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides that thunder up staircases, the clouds that move in slow procession through the upper halls. On Tuesdays and Fridays Piranesi sees his friend, the Other. At other times he brings tributes of food to the Dead. But mostly, he is alone. Messages begin to appear, scratched out in chalk on the pavements. There is someone new in the House. But who are they and what do they want? Are they a friend or do they bring destruction and madness as the Other claims?” Read my full review of Piranesi here.

The Dictionary Of Lost Words by Pip Williams

The Dictionary Of Lost Words - Pip Williams - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 31 March 2020

Blurb: “Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, an Oxford garden shed in which her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Young Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word bondmaid flutters beneath the table. She rescues the slip and, learning that the word means ‘slave girl,’ begins to collect other words that have been discarded or neglected by the dictionary men.”

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land - Elizabeth Acevedo - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 5 May 2020

Blurb: “Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people… In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash. Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.”

The Roommate by Rosie Danan

The Roommate - Rosie Danan - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 15 September 2020

Blurb: “The Wheatons are infamous among the east coast elite for their lack of impulse control, except for their daughter Clara. She’s the consummate socialite: over-achieving, well-mannered, predictable. But every Wheaton has their weakness. When Clara’s childhood crush invites her to move cross-country, the offer is too tempting to resist. Unfortunately, it’s also too good to be true. After a bait-and-switch, Clara finds herself sharing a lease with a charming stranger. Josh might be a bit too perceptive—not to mention handsome—for comfort, but there’s a good chance he and Clara could have survived sharing a summer sublet if she hadn’t looked him up on the Internet…”

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Tweet Cute - Emma Lord - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 21 January 2020

Blurb: “All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built. As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.”

Big Lies In A Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

Big Lies In A Small Town - Diane Chamberlain - Book on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 9 January 2020

Blurb: “Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, her dream of a career in art is put on hold – until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will get her released from prison immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy Southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to be free, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.” Read my full review of Big Lies In A Small Town here.

The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

Migrations - Charlotte McConaghy - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 4 August 2020

Blurb: “Franny Stone has always been the kind of woman who is able to love but unable to stay. Leaving behind everything but her research gear, she arrives in Greenland with a singular purpose: to follow the last Arctic terns in the world on what might be their final migration to Antarctica. Franny talks her way onto a fishing boat, and she and the crew set sail, traveling ever further from shore and safety. But as Franny’s history begins to unspool―a passionate love affair, an absent family, a devastating crime―it becomes clear that she is chasing more than just the birds. When Franny’s dark secrets catch up with her, how much is she willing to risk for one more chance at redemption?”

The Rearranged Life Of Oona Lockhart by Margarita Montimore

The Rearranged Life Of Oona Lockhart - Margarita Montimore - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 25 February 2020

Blurb: “It’s New Year’s Eve 1982, and Oona Lockhart has her whole life before her. At the stroke of midnight she will turn nineteen, and the year ahead promises to be one of consequence. Should she go to London to study economics, or remain at home in Brooklyn to pursue her passion for music and be with her boyfriend? As the countdown to the New Year begins, Oona faints and awakens thirty-two years in the future in her fifty-one-year-old body. Greeted by a friendly stranger in a beautiful house she’s told is her own, Oona learns that with each passing year she will leap to another age at random. And so begins Oona Out of Order…”

Death In Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

Death In Her Hands - Ottessa Moshfegh - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 23 June 2020

Blurb: “While on her daily walk with her dog in a secluded woods, a woman comes across a note, handwritten and carefully pinned to the ground by stones. “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.” But there is no dead body. Our narrator is deeply shaken; she has no idea what to make of this. She is new to this area, alone after the death of her husband, and she knows no one. Becoming obsessed with solving this mystery, our narrator imagines who Magda was and how she met her fate. A triumphant blend of horror, suspense, and pitch-black comedy, Death in Her Hands asks us to consider how the stories we tell ourselves both reflect the truth and keep us blind to it.”

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Wow No Thank You - Samantha Irby - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 31 March 2020

Blurb: “Irby is forty, and increasingly uncomfortable in her own skin despite what Inspirational Instagram Infographics have promised her. She has left her job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, has published successful books and has been friendzoned by Hollywood, left Chicago, and moved into a house with a garden that requires repairs and know-how with her wife in a Blue town in the middle of a Red state where she now hosts book clubs and makes mason jar salads. The essays in this collection draw on the raw, hilarious particulars of Irby’s new life. Wow, No Thank You is Irby at her most unflinching, riotous, and relatable.” Read my full review of Wow, No Thank You here.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

One Last Stop - Casey McQuiston - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 1 June 2021

Blurb: “For cynical 23-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures. But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train. Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a magical, sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time.” Read my full review of One Last Stop here.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

The Other Black Girl - Zakiya Dalila Harris - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 1 June 2021

Blurb: “Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust. Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.” Read my full review of The Other Black Girl here.

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida by Clarissa Goenawan

The Perfect World Of Miwako Sumida - Clarissa Goenawan - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 10 March 2020

Blurb: “University sophomore Miwako Sumida has hanged herself, leaving those closest to her reeling. In the months before her suicide, she was hiding away in a remote mountainside village, but what, or whom, was she running from? Ryusei, a fellow student at Waseda who harbored unrequited feelings for Miwako, begs her best friend Chie to bring him to the remote village where she spent her final days. While they are away, his older sister, Fumi, who took Miwako on as an apprentice in her art studio, receives an unexpected guest at her apartment in Tokyo, distracting her from her fear that Miwako’s death may ruin what is left of her brother’s life.” Read my full review of The Perfect World Of Miwako Sumida here.

She Come By It Natural by Sarah Smarsh

She Come By It Natural - Sarah Smarsh - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 13 October 2020

Blurb: “Far beyond the recently resurrected ‘Jolene’ or quintessential ‘9 to 5’, Parton’s songs for decades have validated women who go unheard: the poor woman, the pregnant teenager, the struggling mother disparaged as ‘trailer trash’. Parton’s broader career—from singing on the front porch of her family’s cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains to achieving stardom in Nashville and Hollywood, from ‘girl singer’ managed by powerful men to leader of a self-made business and philanthropy empire—offers a springboard to examining the intersections of gender, class, and culture. Infused with Smarsh’s trademark insight, intelligence, and humanity, She Come By It Natural is a sympathetic tribute to the icon Dolly Parton and—call it whatever you like—the organic feminism she embodies.” Read my full review of She Come By It Natural here.

Weather by Jenny Offill

Weather - Jenny Offill - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 4 February 2020

Blurb: “Lizzie works in the library of a university where she was once a promising graduate student. Her side hustle is answering the letters that come in to Hell and High Water, the doom-laden podcast hosted by her former mentor. At first it suits her, this chance to practice her other calling as an unofficial shrink, but soon Lizzie finds herself struggling to strike the obligatory note of hope in her responses. The reassuring rhythms of her life as a wife and mother begin to falter as her obsession with disaster psychology and people preparing for the end of the world grows. A marvelous feat of compression, a mix of great feeling and wry humor, Weather is an electrifying encounter with one of the most gifted writers at work today.”

When We Were Vikings by Andrew David Macdonald

When We Were Vikings - Andrew David MacDonald - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 28 January 2020

Blurb: “When Zelda finds out that Gert has resorted to some questionable—and dangerous—methods to make enough money to keep them afloat, Zelda decides to launch her own quest. Her mission: to be legendary. It isn’t long before Zelda finds herself in a battle that tests the reach of her heroism, her love for her brother, and the depth of her Viking strength. A most welcome and wonderful debut, When We Were Vikings is an uplifting debut about an unlikely heroine whose journey will leave you wanting to embark on a quest of your own, because after all… we are all legends of our own making.” Read my full review of When We Were Vikings here.

The Recovery Of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

The Recovery Of Rose Gold - Stephanie Wrobel - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 5 March 2020

Blurb: “Rose Gold Watts believed she was sick for eighteen years. She thought she needed the feeding tube, the surgeries, the wheelchair… Turns out her mum, Patty, is a really good liar. After five years in prison Patty Watts is finally free. All she wants is to put old grievances behind her, reconcile with her daughter and care for her new infant grandson. When Rose Gold agrees to have Patty move in, it seems their relationship is truly on the mend. But Rose Gold knows her mother. Patty won’t rest until she has her daughter back under her thumb. Which is a smidge inconvenient because Rose Gold wants to be free of Patty. Forever.” Read my full review of The Recovery Of Rose Gold here.

The Safe Place by Anna Downes

The Safe Place - Anna Downes - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 23 June 2020

Blurb: “Emily Proudman just lost her acting agent, her job, and her apartment in one miserable day. Emily is desperate. Scott Denny, a successful and charismatic CEO, has a problem that neither his business acumen nor vast wealth can fix. Until he meets Emily. Emily is perfect. Scott offers Emily a summer job as a housekeeper on his remote, beautiful French estate. Enchanted by his lovely wife Nina, and his eccentric young daughter, Aurelia, Emily falls headlong into this oasis of wine-soaked days by the pool. But soon Emily realizes that Scott and Nina are hiding dangerous secrets, and if she doesn’t play along, the consequences could be deadly.” Read my full review of The Safe Place here.

Group by Christie Tate

Group - Christie Tate - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 27 October 2020

Blurb: “The refreshingly original and startlingly hopeful debut memoir of an over-achieving young lawyer who reluctantly agrees to group therapy and gets psychologically and emotionally naked in a room of six complete strangers—and finds human connection, and herself. Often hilarious, and ultimately very touching, Group is a wild ride, and with Christie as our guide, we are given a front row seat to the daring, exhilarating, painful, and hilarious journey that is group therapy—an under-explored process that breaks you down, and then reassembles you so that all the pieces finally fit.”

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall - Liane Moriarty - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 16 August 2021

Blurb: “From the outside, the Delaneys appear to be an enviably contented family. Even after all these years, former tennis coaches Joy and Stan are still winning tournaments, and now that they’ve sold the family business they have all the time in the world to learn how to ‘relax’. Their four adult children are busy living their own lives, and while it could be argued they never quite achieved their destinies, no-one ever says that out loud. But now Joy Delaney has disappeared and her children are re-examining their parents’ marriage and their family history with fresh, frightened eyes. Is her disappearance related to their mysterious house guest from last year? Or were things never as rosy as they seemed in the Delaney household?” Read my full review of Apples Never Fall here.

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence - Louise Erdrich - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 4 November 2021

Blurb: “Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, The Sentence, asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book. A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store’s most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day, but she simply won’t leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading “with murderous attention”, must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation, and furious reckoning.”

Empire Of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Empire Of Pain - Patrick Radden Keefe - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 13 April 2021

Blurb: “This is the saga of three generations of a single family and the mark they would leave on the world, a tale that moves from the bustling streets of early 20th-century Brooklyn to the seaside palaces of Greenwich, Connecticut, and Cap d’Antibes to the corridors of power in Washington, DC.  Empire of Pain chronicles the multiple investigations of the Sacklers and their company, and the scorched-earth legal tactics that the family has used to evade accountability.” Read my full review of Empire Of Pain here.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

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Publication Date: 19 May 2020

Blurb: “Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.” Read my full review of Rodham here.

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

The Reading List - Sara Nisha Adams - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 22 July 2021

Blurb: “Aleisha is a bright but anxious teenager working at the local library for the summer when she discovers a crumpled-up piece of paper in the back of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a list of novels that she’s never heard of before. Intrigued, and a little bored with her slow job at the checkout desk, she impulsively decides to read every book on the list, one after the other. As each story gives up its magic, the books transport Aleisha from the painful realities she’s facing at home. When Mukesh arrives at the library, desperate to forge a connection with his bookworm granddaughter, Aleisha passes along the reading list… hoping that it will be a lifeline for him too. Slowly, the shared books create a connection between two lonely souls, as fiction helps them escape their grief and everyday troubles and find joy again.”

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary - Sarah Penner - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 2 March 2021

Blurb: “Aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London 200 years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate – and not everyone will survive. With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters, and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance, and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.”

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Plot - Jean Hanff Korelitz - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 11 May 2021

Blurb: “Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written—let alone published—anything decent in years. When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then… he hears the plot.” Read my full review of The Plot here.

Matrix by Lauren Groff

Matrix - Lauren Groff - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 7 September 2021

Blurb: “Equally alive to the sacred and the profane, Matrix gathers currents of violence, sensuality, and religious ecstasy in a mesmerizing portrait of consuming passion, aberrant faith, and a woman that history moves both through and around. Lauren Groff’s new novel, her first since Fates and Furies, is a defiant and timely exploration of the raw power of female creativity in a corrupted world.”

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

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Publication Date: 16 February 2021

Blurb: “As real life and its stakes collide with the increasingly absurd antics of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy, and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary. Fragmentary and omniscient, incisive and sincere, No One Is Talking About This is at once a love letter to the endless scroll and a profound, modern meditation on love, language, and human connection from a singular voice in American literature.” Read my full review of No One Is Talking About This here.

Sorrow And Bliss by Meg Mason

Sorrow And Bliss - Meg Mason - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 2 September 2020

Blurb: “With Patrick gone, the only place Martha has left to go is her childhood home, to live with her chaotic parents, to survive without Ingrid, the sister who made their growing-up bearable, who said she would never give up on Martha, and who finally has. It feels like the end but maybe, by going back, Martha will get to start again. Maybe there is a different story to be written, if Martha can work out where to begin.”

The Animals In That Country by Laura Jean McKay

The Animals In That Country - Laura Jean Mckay - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 17 March 2020

Blurb: “As disturbing news arrives of a pandemic sweeping the country, Jean realises this is no ordinary flu: its chief symptom is that its victims begin to understand the language of animals — first mammals, then birds and insects, too. As the flu progresses, the unstoppable voices become overwhelming, and many people begin to lose their minds, including Jean’s infected son, Lee. When he takes off with Kimberly, heading south, Jean feels the pull to follow her kin. Setting off on their trail, with Sue the dingo riding shotgun, they find themselves in a stark, strange world in which the animal apocalypse has only further isolated people from other species. Bold, exhilarating, and wholly original, The Animals in That Country asks what would happen, for better or worse, if we finally understood what animals were saying.” Read my full review of The Animals In That Country here.

The Other Side Of Beautiful by Kim Lock

The Other Side Of Beautiful - Kim Lock - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 7 July 2021

Blurb: “Meet Mercy Blain, whose house has just burnt down. Unfortunately for Mercy, this goes beyond the disaster it would be for most people: she hasn’t been outside that house for two years. Flung out into the world she’s been studiously ignoring, Mercy goes to the only place she can: her not-quite-ex-husband Eugene’s house. But it turns out she can’t stay there either. And so begins Mercy’s unwilling journey. After the chance purchase of a cult classic campervan (read tiny, old and smelly), with the company of her sausage dog, Wasabi, and a mysterious box of cremated remains, Mercy heads north from Adelaide to Darwin.” Read my full review of The Other Side Of Beautiful here.

Detransition Baby by Torrey Peters

Detransition Baby - Torrey Peters - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 7 January 2021

Blurb: “When her ex calls to ask if she wants to be a mother, Reese finds herself intrigued. After being attacked in the street, Amy de-transitioned to become Ames, changed jobs and, thinking he was infertile, started an affair with his boss Katrina. Now Katrina’s pregnant. Could the three of them form an unconventional family – and raise the baby together?”

The Anomaly by Hevre Le Tellier

The Anomaly - Herve Le Tellier - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Publication Date: 20 August 2020

Blurb: “When flight Air France 006 enters a terrifying storm, the plane – inexplicably – duplicates. For every passenger on board, there are now two. Just one thing sets them apart. One plane leaves the storm in March. The other doesn’t land until June. For world leaders, the emergence of the June flight raises serious alarms. No science, faith, or protocol can explain this unprecedented event. But for the passengers, a bigger question is at stake. What happens to them, now that their life is shared? And as the doubles prepare to meet, only one thing is certain: life as they know it, will never be the same.” Read my full review of The Anomaly here.

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
You know what’s good for her, meaning this site? Making purchases through the affiliate link on this page!

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn - Book Laid Face Up On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

Carrie - Stephen King - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

How To Kill Your Family - Bella Mackie - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

The Vegetarian - Han Kang - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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.

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

Fleishman Is In Trouble - Taffy Brodesser-Akner - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

Naked Ambition - Robert Gott - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

Well Met - Jen DeLuca - Keeping Up With The Penguins

“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

The Secret History - Donna Tartt - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

Eggshell Skull - Bri Lee - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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.

20 Books About Angry Women - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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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

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

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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

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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

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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

My Sister The Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

Girl Interrupted - Susanna Kaysen - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

The Lying Life Of Adults - Elena Ferrante - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

My Dark Vanessa - Kate Elizabeth Russell - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

Convenience Store Woman - Sayaka Murata - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - Keeping Up With The Penguins

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.

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