Sometimes, when you need a boost, it’s helpful to turn to things that will help you feel like the best, most kick-ass version of yourself. It beats the alternative– distracting yourself with things that will only drag you further down into the depths of your bad mood. When I feel myself getting stuck in negative thoughts, I turn to female empowerment books that light a fire in me.
Books, movies, TV shows, and podcasts all have ways of shifting our psyches—they act as an outside voice that can break into negative self-talk in our heads. As a book lover, I routinely turn to books that center on strong, smart women who are making a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others.
These are my favorite female empowerment books that remind me I can do so much more than remain hopeless, no matter what’s going on around me.
A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua, 2018
In this debut novel, factory worker Scarlett Chen has been sent from her native China to a secret maternity home in Los Angeles to give birth to her baby on American soil.
The father is her married boss and factory owner, Boss Yeung, who believes she’s carrying his son. But when Scarlett discovers something surprising in her latest sonogram, she steals a van and escapes the house – with another pregnant mother as a stowaway.
Scarlett shows incredible bravery and grace under pressure as Boss Yeung tries to track her down. Her ability to exhibit extraordinary strength and courage while dealing with so many obstacles was a constant reminder that there is always a way forward.
Perfect for: Fans of Thelma and Louise
The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis, 2019
The Chelsea Hotel in New York City has long been a haven for creatives. The Chelsea Girls follows playwright Hazel Riley and actress Mead, entering this scene back in its golden era.
After meeting in the 1940s while performing abroad for American GIs, the two main characters form a fast friendship. Fast forward to the mid-1950s, as the two are trying to mount their first show on Broadway. But what stands between them and opening night is the paranoid finger-pointing of McCarthyism, which unfairly paints them as communists and gets them blacklisted.
This work of historical fiction perfectly examines female friendship and ambition against the backdrop of the Red Scare.
Perfect for: Those who aren’t afraid to shine in the spotlight
How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue, 2021
Imbolo Mbue’s sophomore novel is set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, which has been desecrated by an American oil company. Farmland lies barren after pipeline spills and villagers are dying from drinking poisoned drinking water and the American company is full of excuses, but devoid of action.
One young girl, Thula, grows up to become a revolutionary and fights back against corporate greed and environmental destruction to protect her village and the people in it.
This was a story of one woman as much as it was about her village, her people, and her ancestors. Even though Kosawa is a fictional village, this story is close to nonfiction for many women just like Thula in our world today. This story is one of my favorite female empowerment books because it reminds me that there is hope, even in times when we feel utterly powerless to the inequities in our world.
This feels like: a modern Erin Brockovich
Broad Band by Claire L. Evans, 2018
Fans of Hidden Figures will love this look at the women who helped create the internet. (No, it wasn’t just Al Gore).
Largely written out of history, women have always played a huge role in technological advances and innovations. From Ada Lovelace, who created the first computer program in 1842 to Stacy Horn, who ran one of the world’s earliest social networks in the 1980s.
This important addition to tech history will make you realize the progress of the last century is owed not just to tech bros but to some serious women visionaries.
Read this if: you’ve ever considered signing up for coding bootcamp…or if you’ve ever Googled anything.
Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray, 2013
A mom of a certain age, Clover feels totally invisible – her kids only rely on her for meals and rides, her husband doesn’t appreciate her, and society ignores women in their early fifties. When she wakes up one morning to find she’s *actually* invisible, she panics and then is crushed even further when her family doesn’t miss her.
After Clover discovers there are other women like her, she leads the way to ensure they all feel recognized and appreciated.
This book is both hysterically funny and touching and Clover is an invincible character you won’t soon forget.
Perfect for: anyone who’s ever felt under-appreciated or ignored
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, 2020
This inspiring novel follows Adunni, a teenage girl growing up in a Nigerian village, who is determined to get an education, despite the obstacles in her way.
She wants to find her “louding voice,” so she can speak up for herself and help other girls like her do the same and escape the constricting life of poverty she was born into.
This is an incredible story about following your dreams, no matter what stands in your way.
Read this if: you resonate with chasing a goal even when the going gets tough
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson, 2019
This espionage thriller is set in 1986, in the middle of the Cold War. We meet Marie Mitchell, a brilliant, young intelligence officer with the FBI, who isn’t just a woman in a traditionally male setting, but a Black woman.
She is oft passed over for exciting missions, so when she’s offered the chance to join a shady task force aimed at overthrowing the President of Burkina Faso, she agrees, partly out of boredom and the desire to stop doing paperwork. What she learns in the year that follows — including the coup that takes the President out of office — will change her irreparably.
Based on true events, this novel brings the heart-pounding drama that will not only keep you reading, but will leave you buzzing from the thrill of the spy life. Don’t we all want to feel like undercover agents once in a while?
Read this if: you adored Harriet the Spy as a kid and Mission: Impossible as an adult
Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho, 2020
It’s not enough that 33-year-old Andrea Tang has a successful career as a lawyer, an enviable condo, and supportive girlfriends. Her Chinese-Malaysian family is dying to see her get married off.
Even though she doesn’t need a man to complete her, she agrees to entertain the idea of dating Eric Deng, a wealthy entrepreneur her family would approve of. But Suresh Aditparan, her annoying office rival, keeps butting into her life – a guy her family would hate. Finally, Andrea has to ask herself “what would make me happy?” instead of trying to please everyone else.
Last Tang is a bright, emotional read that has earned its spot on my list of top female empowerment books because of its intimate look into a commonly underrepresented culture, and how that shapes the female protagonist. It is a phenomenal reminder that we have the power to determine our own path, even when others want to dictate our lives.
Perfect for: Anyone who loved Crazy Rich Asians or Bridget Jones’s Diary
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, 2006
With her dry sense of humor, Nora Ephron absolutely nails what it’s like to be a woman – especially a woman who is aging (I mean, aren’t we all?).
These personal essays focus on the infuriating, unending maintenance of serums and night creams to keep wrinkles at bay, the rude reality of menopause, and the echoey, happy-sad experience of becoming an empty nester. Nora Ephron says what we’re all thinking in a much funnier way.
Read this if: you miss your mom, big sister, or best friend and need some sage advice
Do you have any go-to female empowerment books that you turn to when you need an extra boost that we missed? Make sure to share it in the comments!
About the Author
Abbe Wright is the Creative Development Lead in the Content Marketing department at Penguin Random House. Previously, she was the senior editor of Read it Forward, an online book vertical that helps readers discover their next read, as well as the host of The Adaptables and Read it Forward podcasts. Previously, she was a contributing editor at Glamour and an assistant editor at O, The Oprah Magazine. She has also written for The Cut, Metro, Modern Bride, and Philadelphia Magazine. She earned a B.A. in English from Denison University in Granville, OH, and recently moved back to her hometown of Philadelphia from Brooklyn, NY.