These 20 Books Featuring Compelling Female Protagonists Should Be Required Reading For Everyone

Books With Female Protagonists
PHOTO: @SHEREADSDOTCOM AND STACEY_SQUIDDLEINK / INSTAGRAM

Note: Vocally might make a little money if you buy anything in this gift guide. All items were in stock at the time of publication. Happy shopping!

No disrespect to Harry Potter, Holden Caulfield, or Sherlock Holmes, but we love to immerse ourselves in fantasy worlds where a woman is the master of her own universe. 

Every single book should include determined, compelling female characters — maybe we're biased? — but since they don't, here are 20 specific books with strong and nuanced women at their helms that should be lining your bookshelves.

annihilation
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1 / 20

"Annihilation" by Jeff Vandermeer

"Annihilation" not only features a badass female lead (played by Natalie Portman in the recent film adaptation), but a whole host of strong female characters. Think of it and the rest of the sci-fi Southern Reach Trilogy as a grown-up version of the YA series you loved as a teen. 

Buy it here.

swing time zadie smith
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2 / 20

"Swing Time" by Zadie Smith

"Swing Time" tells the tale of two women, both dancers, as they come of age in the '80s and eventually grow apart. While you're at it, check out Smith's entire body of work — she loves strong women and is so prolific that it will take you a while to run out of reading material. 

Buy it here.

the handmaid's tale
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3 / 20

"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood

"The Handmaid's Tale" features one of the most fascinating female characters in the literary realm: She lives in a world where she isn't allowed to be free, where she can't be the protagonist of her own life — yet she perseveres. If you weren't required to read this in high school, we highly suggest picking up a copy (or re-reading it) ASAP. While the Hulu series based on it is fantastic, the world-building in the book is much better. 

Buy it here.

the bastard of istanbul
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4 / 20

"The Bastard of Istanbul" by Elif Shafak

Not only does this book have two — count 'em, TWO — teenaged female protagonists, but the book's author, Elif Shafak, is the most widely read female writer in Turkey.

Buy it here.

jane eyre book
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5 / 20

"Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte

"Jane Eyre" is the OG of books with awesome female protagonists. It's a love story, but more importantly, it's one of the first novels that really gets into the head of the woman at the center of the story. 

Buy it here

Americanah
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6 / 20

"Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"Americanah" hails from the brilliant mind of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a.k.a. the woman featured on the Beyonce song "Flawless." The novel follows a woman and her lover from Nigeria who have to leave each other when the former moves to America. 

Buy it here.

Franny and Zooey
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"Franny and Zooey" by J.D. Salinger

"Franny and Zooey" is technically two separate short stories, but they are often sold as one continuous two-part novel. Both stories feature imaginative and distinct female heroines. It's a quick read that should absolutely join your arsenal. 

Buy it here.

my sister's keeper
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8 / 20

"My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult

A cross between a YA coming-of-age story and a classic pulpy novel, this book tells the tale of two sisters, one of whom was conceived to be the other's bone marrow donor. 

Buy it here

"Room" by Emma Donoghue
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"Room" by Emma Donoghue

There's a reason why so many of the books on this list have been adapted into movies or television series. One might consider the son, Jack, to be the protagonist of "Room," but his mother is a fierce, strong, and resilient woman. 

Buy it here.

"Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden
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"Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden

"Memoirs of a Geisha" tells the story of one of Japan's most celebrated geisha — a hostess of sorts meant to entertain men. It really subverts the definition of "strong female protagonist" in a world where women had to shrink in order to be strong. 

Buy it here.

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MOLLY LEIGH

Writer, amateur baker, and dog enthusiast living in La La Land.

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