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Feminist books: Reading recommendations for smashing the patriarchy

Feminist books that every woman – and man – should read.

Whether attacking the power structures of the present, or creating imaginative utopias and dystopias, literature has long been an effective way to spread ideas about equality. These feminist books, recommended by talented authors Kirsty Logan and Anna Mainwaring, will inform and empower. 

From the queen of the modern gothic to female fantasy heroes, you’ll find plenty to inspire you within these pages.

Feminist horror books, recommended by novelist and poet Kirsty Logan

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson

She’s considered the queen of modern gothic, and for good reason: these stories are sinister, gleeful, mysterious, desperately sad, and so tense I forget to breathe while reading them.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexico is perfect for a gothic story. It’s more than just seeing the usual gothic tropes overlaid on a non-European setting; Mexico’s history and culture are vital to the narrative. And the evil at the heart of the story? Patriarchy!

Beloved by Toni Morrison

You can never go wrong with Toni Morrison, but this is my favourite of hers. The tale of the ghost baby and the horrors of her world will forever haunt me.

Point Horror: Dream Date by Sinclair Smith

Since starting Teenage Scream podcast, I’ve read almost 100 teen horror books from the 1990s – most terrible. But this is a hidden gem: a quick, creepy read that also asks some serious questions about domestic abuse.

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Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger & Melanie R. Anderson

An insightful, interesting overview of women writing horror, from the classics like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein right up to the modern day with Helen Oyeyemi and Sarah Waters.

Feminist books for young adults, chosen by YA author Anna Mainwaring

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Set in the near future where girl babies are no longer born, EVEs are designed in the lab to be either wives or concubines for the elite young men of society. The Eves have to compete on appearance and personality in order to survive with devastating consequences.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

When Star Carter is a witness to a police shooting, she needs to find her voice and learn how to take a stand in a divided society. Thomas’ central character and her richly drawn family and friends make a compelling read from the opening chapter.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V E Schwab

As a girl who loved fantasy in the eighties, I struggled to find female protagonists who had real agency. This book was written for the 13-year-old me who would have loved Lila Bard: brave, duplicitous, complex, dark and resourceful. A superb start to a compelling series.

Gloves Off by Louisa Reid

Written in verse, Gloves Off follows Lily, who is bullied for her appearance and learns to fight back in so many ways.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Would this be YA if it were published today? Plath follows teen Esther Greenwood as she interns in 1950s New York, struggling to navigate the various roles a young woman should play in society. As relevant now as it was when published, The Bell Jar remains a disturbing but compelling read.

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