The Signature of All Things
Born in 1800, Alma Whittaker is the daughter of a wealthy and charismatic botanical explorer. She becomes an exceptional botanist herself, but as her careful studies of moss take her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, the man she loves draws her in the opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical.
Mary Anning has a talent for finding fossils. Her discovery of ancient marine reptiles such as the ichthyosaur shakes the scientific community and leads to new ways of thinking about the creation of the world. But as a working-class woman in 19th-century England, she struggles to make her way in a society, and scientific field, dominated by men.
The Movement of Stars: A Novel
It’s 1845 in Nantucket and Hannah Gardner Price’s goal is to discover a comet and win a gold medal from the King of Denmark, something unheard of for a woman. When she meets a young whaler who shares her interest in the stars, she agrees to take him on as a student. Their relationship challenges her beliefs about work and love, and ultimately will change the course of her life.
Contemporary children’s literature is doing a pretty good job of making sure that young girls not only see themselves in books, but also see their potential in print. Don’t get me wrong, there is still work to be done to balance out the ratio of heroes to heroines—take princesses out of the equation and we’re nowhere near 50/50—but movements like We Need Diverse Books have made headway over the past few years.
There are heaps of picture books out there like Ada Twist, Scientist that feature kick-ass girls who dominate in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). But as you move up from middle grade fiction through YA and into adult literature, the ranks of women in science—not science fiction or fantasy but real, actual, scientists solving problems in our world—plummet.
Non-fiction books about female scientists are much easier to find. Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren, was a fantastic memoir. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson started a revolution. And Hollywood loves turning these underdog stories into blockbusters. Look at Gorillas in the Mist, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Hidden Figures, to name just a few.
But where are the female scientists in fiction? Is it a lack of imagination on the part of authors? Is it resistance from editors and publishers? Is sexism so entrenched in our society that we, as readers, cannot suspend our disbelief that a woman with a scientific brain could carry the emotional arc of a literary novel? I hope that’s not the case. I hope, for the sake of all those girls growing up with STEM coming out their ears, that we grown-ups can get our acts together and imagine a future filled with female scientists in fiction.
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