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Ten books with Inspiring Female Protagonists by Sally Hepworth

the-mother-s-promiseSally Hepworth, author of The Mother’s Promise, a novel about four strong female protagonists, reveals to Better Reading her other favourite females in books:

As a woman and a writer of women’s fiction, I enjoy nothing more than reading female-centric books with inspiring female protagonists. And there are plenty of them. Below are some of my favourites.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Possibly my favourite book of all time, in The Help, three women—two African American maids, one white aspiring journalist—join forces to write a book exposing the maids’ secrets about the families for which they work during the 1960s civil rights movement. In order to achieve their mission, Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter risk social exclusion, physical violence … even death. Is there anything more inspiring than that?

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Housseini

This stunning follow up to The Kite Runner (another favourite novel of mine), A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of Mariam and Laila, two women living under oppression in an astonishing chronicle of Afghan history. Both married to Rasheed—an abusive, manipulative man—Mariam and Laila are forced to endure unimaginable hardships at his hand. Though at first wary of each other, they form an unbreakable bond through their trials. A moving tale of sisterhood, resilience and survival that will leave you feeling sad, spent and uplifted all at once.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Plenty of stories have been written about World War Two, but in The Nightingale Kristin Hannah tells a tale rarely heard about: the women’s story. The novel tells the stories of Vianne and Isabelle, two sisters, each on her own dangerous path in German-occupied, war-torn France. Vianne, a mother and wife, fights the fight in her own home, which she is forced to share with a German soldier while her husband is at war. Meanwhile her sister, Isabelle, joins the resistance movement, forging a path that sees her risking her life over and over. An amazing novel that showcases the strength of women during this challenging period of history.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

What is particularly impressive about this book is that the protagonist actually exists. Cheryl Strayed is one tough woman. After the death of her mother and her ensuing emotional breakdown, she decided to challenge herself to walk the thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail—with virtually no experience or training. Wild captures the endless challenges of a twenty-two year old woman as she ultimately reaches her goal, and in the process, turns her life around.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Joy Luck Club centres around four Chinese-American women who gather each week to eat and play Mahjong. Told in vignettes, each woman tells her story over the course of the book, demonstrating the horrors and wonders of being a woman, and the profound connection they have with their American-born daughters. A brilliant tale of motherhood and womanhood that will make you smile through tears.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Is there any greater hardship to face than losing your memories? Alice Howland is only fifty years old when she receives the crushing diagnosis—she has early-onset Alzheimer’s. A Harvard Professor, Alice is powerless to do anything but wait as a lifetime of memories, not to mention academic achievement, slips away like water through her fingers. As she struggles to cope with her diagnosis and ensuing loss of abilities, we see her bravery in the face of her terror. And we learn that a person is so much more than their memory.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Imagine you learned your husband was harbouring a secret—a secret so terrible that it could tear your family apart. In The Husband’s Secret, Cecelia, Tess and Rachel confront the terrible secrets of those closest to them, forcing them to take a hard look at their husbands, their marriages, and even themselves. What I love about this book is the internal narrative as each woman weighs up the love she has for her husband with her own moral compass. A great women-centric novel about the way we face—and overcome— great challenges.

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

There is not much that inspires me more than people who are willing to risk their own skin for someone else’s, and this is exactly what happens in this novel. Based on a true piece of history, Necessary Lies tells the story of Jane and Ivy during the time of state-mandated sterilizations in North Carolina in the 1960s. Ivy is a fifteen-year-old living on a tobacco farm with her grandmother and mentally disabled sister. Jane is a social worker in Grace County who given the task of recommending clients to be sterilized—without their consent. When Jane becomes close to Ivy she cannot ignore her serious ethical objections to the sterilization policy—and she makes it her mission to protect Ivy from her would-be terrible fate.

The Light between the Oceans by M.L. Steadman

In this novel, two women face unthinkable fates. The Light Between the Oceans is the story of Tom and Isabel, a Lighthouse Keeper and his wife who rescue an infant child adrift at sea and keep her as their own. Years later they discover the child’s mother is still alive and are forced to face the consequences of their actions. A heart-wrenching novel that explores the choices we make—and what we are able to live with.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

In my opinion, there is no more interesting or inspiring heroine than Katniss Everdeen. In fact, my four-year-old daughter (who has never seen the movie) even dressed up as her during book week at kinder. When I asked her why, she said “because Katniss is brave and strong”. It was a much prouder moment than when she went as Cinderella. In this dystopian YA novel, sixteen-year-old Katniss volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in a fight-to-the-death competition called The Hunger Games. If that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.

Which female protagonists have inspired you?


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