Louisa May Alcott
Yes, the March sisters entertain their fair share of courtships (some more reluctantly than others) from various men, but the majority of this bildungsroman is about how Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy help Marmee maintain the home—and their sanity—during the Civil War. Nights spent around the piano, Christmas morning volunteering, and staging Jo’s plays only serve to strengthen the bonds between the four girls as they become little women.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
In nineteenth-century Hunan county China, Lily and Snow Flower are paired together as laotong, or “old same,” in an emotional match that supersedes any other partnership. Writing messages back and forth in nu shu (a secret language invented by women) on their fans, they share the highs and lows of their arranged marriages, the horrors of footbinding, and a misunderstanding that threatens to break their bond.
Men don’t have a place in this ghost tale of mothers and daughters. When former slave Sethe’s home is haunted, she believes it to be the spirit of her two-year-old daughter, Beloved, who she killed rather than have her be returned to slavery years before. Neither Sethe’s sons nor her lover Paul D can help exorcise Beloved; only Sethe’s daughter Denver can reach through to her mother, caught in Beloved’s thrall.
The Paying Guests
In the aftermath of World War I, with sons and husbands lost to the death toll, women like Frances Wray and her mother are forced to open up their home to “paying guests” to make up for lost income. And while Leonard and Lilian seem like a charming, bohemian couple, Frances’ torrid affair with the young Mrs. Barber overshadows any considerations for the men in their lives, alive or dead.
2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas
In this heartfelt novel, set in Philadelphia on the night before Christmas Eve, three women—Madeline, a 9-year-old aspiring jazz singer reeling from the death of her mother, her fifth-grade teacher Sarina (shell-shocked by divorce, but open to new possibilities) and Lorca, the owner of struggling jazz club The Cat’s Pajamas—are all searching for something and become dazzlingly intertwined in the process.
The Last Nude
In this imaginative work of historical fiction, Rafaela Fano, a young American woman, has a chance meeting in Paris with Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka during the summer of 1927. The ex-pat agrees to pose nude for the artist, inspiring some of her most famous works and eventually becoming her muse, as well as her lover. Set across the glittering backdrop of Paris in the Roaring Twenties, this tale of female friendship and love is a heady mix of art and eroticism.
Coined by a 1985 comic strip from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, the Bechdel Test is a simple but effective way to determine gender equality in fiction: The work must have 1) at least two female characters 2) with names 3) talking about something that’s not a man. For the term’s 30th anniversary, Bechdel pushed to rename it as the Bechdel-Wallace Test, for the woman who actually originated the term. While the Bechdel-Wallace Test is usually applied to movies, we’re looking at books: tales of fractious female friendship; of female prisoners or survivors united by unforeseen circumstances; of women who have so much on their minds with quests, survival, and love that they don’t have time to care about the other sex.
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