In 1937, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. The sisters are in Shanghai, the Paris of Asia, living a carefree existence until their father gambles away their wealth. To repay his debts, he sells the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles for Chinese brides. Along the way to their new home in America, the sisters‘ friendship is tested through sacrifices, choices and secrets.
When eighteen-year-old Susanna is committed to the
In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she’d never met before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and committed to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years in the psychiatric ward for teenage girls but it’s the friendships she formed with the patients—Lisa, Polly and Georgina—that helped her see the cruelty of mental illness in America.
Saturday Night Widows
When she becomes a widow at an all-too-young age, journalist Becky Aikman finds she’s failing the Five Stages of Grief and doesn’t fit in with the other widowers at the local support group at the Y. So she creates her own group, bringing together five other widows, each seeking a way back to life out of grief. Aikman’s memoir charts the incredible journey these women take together (even as far as the Galapagos!) and shows that friendship can be a salve for the deepest pain.
The Story of My Life
When she was 19 months old, Helen Keller suffered a severe illness that left her blind, deaf and later mute. Her struggle to overcome these handicaps with the help of her teacher and friend Anne Sullivan is a story of dedication and devotion. In her classic autobiography, Helen recounts the first 22 years of her life, but it’s her extraordinary friendship with Miss Sullivan, who showed a remarkable genius for communicating with her that will leave you spellbound.
The daughters of a black father and a white mother, sisters Birdie and Cole are inseparable. The sisters’ friendship is constantly aggravated by micro-aggressions from society such as the racism they experience amongst peers at their Afrocentric school. Unfortunately for the girls, their parents separate, causing Cole to relocate to Brazil with her father, while Birdie and her mother assimilate into New Hampshire as a Jewish family. While Birdie must learn to navigate her new white world, it’s her reliance on the memory of Cole speaks volumes about the sisters innate bound.
The Joy Luck Club
United in shared trauma, four adult friends gather to do what all good Chinese women do: eat dim sum, play mahjong and talk. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to come together to raise their spirits and money, calling themselves the Joy Luck Club. Each woman’s hardship of unspeakable loss and hope is shared, unraveling the truth about her life and relationships with their daughters.
Friends Natalie and Leah couldn’t be more different. While both grew up in North West London in public housing, the adult women lead deviating lives that are odds with each other. Natalie is a dedicated and shrewd corporate lawyer with a wealthy husband, two kids and a big house. While eccentric Leah works for a non-profit organization and is married to a French African hairdresser. This 21st century novel shows a vibrant, multicultural world that will make you question whether friendships can survive the complexities of human life, such as need, desire, class and racial divides.
Nel and Sula are best friends in childhood who become separated in young adulthood, and reunite as adult women. While Nel follows the traditional path–grows up to become a wife and mother, happy to remain in her hometown of Medallion, Ohio—Sula, leaves to pursue college, men and fast life in the big city. When the women meet again as adults, it’s clear that Nel has chosen a life of acceptance and accommodation, while Sula must fight to defend her unconventional choices and beliefs. This novel shows the extraordinary bond between two kindred spirits.
The Women of Brewster Place
Once the home of poor, white immigrants, Brewster Place now shelters black families with matriarchs who have seen it all. Mattie loses her son to prison, Etta Mae trades in her extravagant lifestyle for a tame married life to a man of God and Kiswana abandons her middle-class family to organize a tenant’s union. Through it all the women rely on their many female friendships to hold their families together.
Memoirs of a Geisha
After Chiyo’s mother passes away her father sells her and her sister into slavery. Under the tutelage (and blossoming friendship) of the renowned Mameha, Chiyo becomes a leading geisha of the 1930s and 1940s. Mameha dubs Chiyo as “her little sister” teaching her about the importance of kindness and generosity. This novel shows that even under the cruelest conditions, friendships between females can shape our identity for the best.
The Best of Everything
Five young employees of a New York publishing company face personal and professional struggles together. Ivy League Caroline dreams of graduating from the typing pool to an editor’s office while naïve April reinvents herself as the woman every man wants on his arm. Even free-spirited Gregg experiences her own drama: she’s a struggling actress with a secret yearning for the domestic life. Through it all, the women rely on their friendships for strength and wisdom.
Bestselling author and all-around real-life heroine, Mindy Kaling (check out her latest book of brilliance Why Not Me?) said it best: “Best friend isn’t a person—it’s a tier.” So she gets that when it comes to friendships between women, more is totally merrier. Admittedly, these relationships can contain a rollercoaster of emotions: they’re filled with laughter, joy, and sometimes anger and sadness but through the years, these friendships sustain, nourish and nurture us, helping us to become the women we are today. Even science agrees that female friendships rock: a groundbreaking study done by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles showed when a woman reacts to stress, she releases the brain chemical oxytocin, which compels her to gather with other women. So, instead of fight or flight—women befriend, and in doing so, they continue to combat stress. The study’s findings suggest friendships between females are so powerful that they can keep us healthy, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol and helping us live longer. Here at Read It Forward, we completely agree with the power of friends, so we’ve curated 21 must-read books that feature the most fascinating female friendships around. These characters’ camaraderie with the significant women in their lives will leave you absolutely speechless. Read them and share them with your friends and then let us know which books we missed in the comments below!
Bookshelf curated by Carla St. Louis.
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