Looking for a good story? Here are five of my favorites, all written by intelligent women with heart. Happy summer reading.
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
This book is told in a series of vignettes from the perspective of Esperanza, an adolescent living in inner-city Chicago. The reader must infer what is happening in many of the vignettes, as Esperanza encounters gender inequalities, abuse and what it means to come of age as a Latina from a working-class family. The beauty of Cisneros’ language and thought takes my breath away no matter how many times I read this book.
Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen
Fanny Price, the protagonist of this novel, is my favorite literary heroine. So often to be considered heroic within literature, women have to act like men. Fanny shirks that stereotype, however; she is emotionally intelligent, a strength that is traditionally female and not often recognized as valiant. Fanny knows who she is and is steadfast, true to herself and her morals; she doesn’t pretend or try to fit in as an outcast who rises to a place of prominence within her adoptive family.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard
This is my favorite book of all time. I read it while I lived and traveled in Europe for a year; it was one of those books that comes at exactly the right moment in life. In this nonfiction work, Dillard thinks deeply about nature and spirituality, writing seemingly disparate thoughts that somehow always come together perfectly at the end of each chapter. It’s brilliant; so is anything else by Dillard.
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
Told from three women’s perspectives — Skeeter, a white, college-educated woman with dreams of being a writer who doesn’t fit in back in her hometown; Abileen, a black maid who is a writer struggling with the grief of her only son’s violent death; and Minnie, a black maid who loves to cook and is working to escape from her abusive husband. It is set in Mississippi in the 1960s, as the women conspire to write and publish their stories. I have never read a writer so keenly adept at capturing the nuances of being female as Stockett is: she is spot-on in her descriptions of the ways we as women treat each other as friends, mothers and daughters; the grief of loss; and the pain of not being chosen. The movie is equally beautiful.
The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
This is my favorite novel I’ve ever read. Set in India in 1969 and 1993, Roy’s book critiques the Love Laws of the caste system — who can be loved, how and how much. The story centers around a mother’s forbidden love affair, a tragic death that occurs in a family and the repercussions of this death. Told out of order and from different characters’ perspectives, the reader has to piece the story together for herself.