My freelance work necessitates many hours spent staring at my laptop screen; and, as anyone who works a desk-based job will know, that can get tiring rather quickly. What better way to escape (and to give my poor eyes a rest!) than getting invested in a good book?
In no particular order, here’s my selection of ten fiction books every woman should read before she turns 30. I hope you find a new favourite among them, or at least a pleasant or thought-provoking way to spend some hard-earned downtime.
A note before we begin: Some of the books I’m about to discuss deal with tough, potentially upsetting topics. Do take a look into them before reading if you feel the subject matter may affect you.
After many years of intending to finish reading the quintessential Brontë sisters ‘trilogy’ (the others being Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights), I finally turned to the first page of Tenant this October.
At its core, Tenant is the story of a young woman escaping her abusive husband, and building a life for herself and her young son.
Whilst it’s mostly told through letters penned by Gilbert, the male lead, the section featuring Helen’s personal diary is filled with implicit commentary on the often-less-than-fair conditions faced by 19th-century women.
It may not feature the sweeping storms and wildness of Charlotte and Emily’s more famous novels, but the pervading sense of countryside calmness in Tenant is really refreshing.
I’m pleased to say that Helen – and Gilbert – get the happy ending they deserve.
I’ve been an avid follower of Kent’s work ever since she exploded onto the literary scene back in 2013 with her chilling debut, Burial Rites. The Good People is her second novel: and, like her first, takes the form of an intriguing, female-led story based on real historical events.
Set in the 19th-century Irish countryside, The Good People centres on Nóra: recently widowed and charged with the care of her orphan grandson, who suffers from a strange illness no doctor can diagnose.
In the midst of her grief and desperation, she enlists the aid of young maid Mary and Nance, the local herbwoman (and possible witch), in a final attempt to restore the boy to health.
The setting is steeped in fairy lore, and Kent’s lyrical prose drips carefully-woven cultural detail at every turn.
Kent’s next offering, Devotion, is due to hit shelves next year. I, for one, can’t wait!
I know, I know: we’ve pretty much all read this one in literature class. But have you considered taking another look at this classic novel, with the lens of tedious high-school study removed?
I adore Scout’s straightforward narration, and the mischievous antics she, her brother Jem, and their friend Dill get up to. Funny, affecting, and relatable even decades later, it’s a charming glimpse into the childhoods we may never truly have left behind.
Contrasted with the dark, complicated adult world that the rest of the cast – including the siblings’ iconic father, Atticus – inhabit, To Kill a Mocking bird is also a searing exposé of the social, political, and racial injustices that asserted an insidious influence over the Civil Rights Era; a tribute to their victims; and a celebration of those who stood up against them.
On the topic of child narrators, I instantly warmed to Jack, the central character of Donoghue’s hard-hitting crime novel. The style of Room won’t be for everyone: it’s told entirely through the eyes of the five-year-old protagonist, and has a stream-of-consciousness feel.
The way that Jack assigns anthropomorphic qualities to objects, along with his persistent innocence and curiosity about the world, lends a real sense of authenticity to his narration. (If I recall correctly, Donoghue did take some inspiration from her own youngster when creating Jack.)
While it is by no means an easy read – and the dramatic irony produced by an adult reader’s perspective making what we don’t see more insidious – Room retains a truly indomitable sense of hope throughout the trials that Jack and his mother face.
You’ll be pleased to know that, like Tenant, it has a very happy ending for its protagonists.
I’ve (sadly) had to limit myself to one dystopian book for this article, or we’d be here all day! Published in 2018, Vox is a more recent entry into one of my favourite genres; and it’s the most human story in this category that I’ve ever read.
The setting: America, the not-so-distant future. The heroine: Jean McClellan, former expert linguist and neurologist turned stay-at-home mom. The problem: thanks to a mandatory-issue bracelet that tracks speech and delivers electric shocks to those who break the rules, women are only permitted to speak 100 words a day.
Jean herself was, by far, my favourite part of Vox. She is intelligent, strong-willed, and wonderfully flawed. I especially appreciated Dalcher’s depicting a middle-aged woman who’s confident in, and proud of, her work and her abilities, as well comfortable with her own sexuality.
Remember the author of Eat, Pray, Love? As it turns out, she’s written much more than that!
This gorgeously-crafted, family-chronicle-style novel follows Alma: a remarkable, quirky heroine who is, at turns, a scientist, explorer, and early adopter of evolutionist theory. Born at the turn of the 19th Century, she’s poised to lead an exceptional life from the moment she sets foot on Earth.
Populated by a beautifully layered cast of characters, the setting sweeps from Europe, to America, to the Tahitian islands, and back again, filled with minutiae of scientific detail that both educates and solidifies this most essential aspect of Alma.
Combined with Gilbert’s nuanced explorations of culture, gender, and faith, and a whole spectrum of emotions, The Signature of All Things is a living, breathing, thinking testament to the tenacity of women who won’t allow their circumstances to keep them from achieving greatness.
After seeing the film adaptation of The Help as a teenager, I finally picked up a copy of the book a couple of years ago. I fell in love with Stockett’s story from the beginning. Ostensibly about Eugenia, an aspiring writer from a white middle-class family, the real stars are the Black houseworkers whom Eugenia interviews, hoping to use their experiences to craft her first book and highlight the unjust conditions they face in 1960s America.
Both comical and tragic in perfectly-balanced amounts, The Help is also a superb criticism of laws and social codes that sought to keep Black women from equal rights.
Aibileen – arguably the true protagonist – is a pleasure to follow, while her sassy friend Minnie brings moments of victorious hilarity.
Stockett’s novel encourages us to be no less than our true selves, and to stand up for what’s right, even when we’re faced with adversity from all sides. In the immortal words of Aibileen: “You is kind, you is smart, and you is important.”
I must confess: I’ve yet to read Alcott’s classic Civil War novel, but I have seen the recent film starring Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet.
As an aspiring writer myself, the frustrations (and joys!) that Jo March faced spoke to me on a deeply personal level; and I loved its frank portrayal of the ups and downs of the bonds of sisterhood and family, as well as the thrills (and heartbreak) that can accompany first love.
Little Women did make me miss not being closer with my own siblings – but it also brought back many fun memories of living with my girl friends during our university days!
Having, in a rather uncharacteristic fashion, brought only one book to last a summer visit to my close friend, I decided to borrow her favourite novel and finally catch up on the Austen craze.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the plot, Pride and Prejudice follows the ever-changing fortunes of the five Bennett sisters, whom their socially-conscious mother is more than a little keen to see married off to England’s most eligible bachelors. There’s plenty of humour, romance, and brilliant character development – and, of course, a frustrating yet oh-so-handsome hero in the form of Mr Darcy.
That said, I almost feel I should apologise for not immediately adoring Austen’s enduring Regency love story. The main culprit is, likely, that my historical interests lie elsewhere; so, I heartily encourage you to come to your own conclusions!
Last but not least, it’s time to talk about fantasy fiction. This is another genre close to my heart, and I couldn’t resist including one of its most famous examples!
A classic adventure tale, The Hobbit follows Bilbo, a typical unassuming hero. While he lives a comfortable life in the idyllic Shire, he’s always longed to see more of the world; and his chance finally comes when he is approached by the wise old wizard Gandalf and a party of dwarves on a quest to reclaim their lost home from a covetous dragon.
Brave deeds are done, narrow escapes are made, and hijinks are had, all helped along by Bilbo’s discovery of a certain ring that grants him the power of invisibility…
The Hobbit was originally written for younger audiences; but that doesn’t mean adults can’t take delight in it, too! It’s both a fantastic introduction to Tolkien’s work, and an excellent shorter read if you don’t feel like committing to the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.
And there you have it: my personal picks for ten fiction books every woman should read before she turns 30!
I’d like to extend another huge thanks to Elaine for giving me the chance to write for her blog. I hope you’ve found this article both enjoyable and informative – and to see you here again, soon!
Interested in more fiction books? Check out 10 Psychological Thrillers That Will Keep You Hooked!
Megan is a freelance writer, proofreader, and editor. When she isn’t using her keyboard to deliver top-quality work and smash deadlines, she’s often enjoying a coffee or working on her historical novel (or both at once!). Visit her website: www.mloproofreading.com.
This page may contain affiliate links, which means I will receive a commission if you buy one of these products, at no additional cost to you. I only list things that I personally love.