Women’s History Month is an annual month, which takes place in March, that highlights the contribution of women to history and society today. It overlaps with International Women’s Day, which takes place on 8th March. So in celebration of this month, here are our recommendations of historical fiction books that feature some badass and important women – some of my favourite female characters that I’ve ever read.
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Code Name Verity is an all-time favourite book of mine. Code Name Verity is a wartime novel about two women working with the Allied Forces. ‘Verity’ is captured by the Nazi’s after crash landing in Nazi-Occupied France, and she is tortured into writing her confession. You’ll be viciously catapulted into a heartwrenching story of love and friendship and bravery and fall in love with an arrogant, stubborn SCOTSWOMAN and a brilliant and intelligent British pilot.
2. Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
When America enters World War Two, Ida Mae Jones dreams of joining the WASPS to engage in her passion for flight. However, she’s a black woman and the WASPS won’t accept her – forcing Ida Mae to pretend to be white to achieve her dream and do her bit for the war effort. Flygirl is a fantastic, well-researched, engaging historical fiction with important messages about identity. Ida Mae was an exceptional protagonist. The plot was a bit clumsy at times, but the distinct characters certainly made up for it. For fans of historical fiction or women in aviation, I would certainly recommend.
3. Iron Cast by Destiny Soria
Iron Cast takes place in 1919 and Prohibition is just around the corner. The Cast Iron nightclub in Boston is haven for Ada Navarra and Corinne Wells – two hemopaths. They are considered outlaws, their blood is “afflicted” which allows them to create illusions through their words and music. They make a living at the club putting on shows at night for the rich – a line of work that is illegal and looked down upon. However, the Cast Iron club, their safe haven, is on the brink of going under. Iron Cast was very female-centric and empowered. I loved both Ada and Corinne – both witty and fun – and their friendship. There was a fantastic scene near the end that was really great and really showed their love and devotion but also showed Corinne’s privileged background coming in to play very strongly. A rich, diverse, and atmospheric book that I highly recommend.
4. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Between Shades of Gray is a moving story that opens your eyes to the horrors that occurred in the Baltic countries under the rule of Stalin and the USSR – I feel that it is a subject that goes overlooked in history. Between Shades of Gray follows the story of Lina, a Lithuanian girl who is forced out of her home by the NKVD along with her family and sent to labour camps and the story shows how they suffered during this period, which is over a decade. They starved, had no freedom and people died, and they were treated as animals. Lina is a very strong character, like her mother. Instead of being defeated in the situation she is in, she decides to write and draw the atrocities that are going on around her in order to try and tell the world – despite the dangers she faced in doing so. This is a seriously engaging story that may make you cry because it’s meant to convey such an important message – that these people were ignored by the rest of the world. The Nazi’s were the priority at this time. Another book I’d highly recommend.
5. Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott
Paper Hearts is a free-verse novel about two Jewish girls, Fania and Zlatka, and their survival, friendship, and defiance. Paper Hearts is about Zlatka and her story to create Fania a birthday card, a crime that is punishable by death in Auschwitz. Based on a true story, and the Heart of Auschwitz can be viewed today in the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre. A powerful and beautifully written novel. Paper Hearts is female centred which focuses on the true story of two formidable women and their powerful bond.
6. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Based on a true story, Burial Rites tells the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir and Friðrik Sigurðsson, who have been convicted of murdering Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson. They have been given the death penalty and were to be executed by beheading. Agnes has been moved to a farm to wait for her execution. Burial Rites is a stunning and beautifully written novel about courage, love and death. Reading the Author’s Note, Hannah Kent stated many thought Agnes was the leader and dominant one in the crime, but Kent gives another explanation and interpretation of events and I was pleasantly surprised by this thrilling and riveting read. Agnes was a complex and interesting character and I’d highly recommend.
7. In the Shadows of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
In the Shadow of Blackbirds takes place in San Diego in 1918. A time when the world was plagued by war and influenza. Mary has been sent to live with her Aunt after her father has been arrested for treason. Mary has been used as a model for a spiritual photographer, but she has always been sceptical of ghosts. However, after the death of her beloved Stephen during the war, she starts to believe. Mary Shelley Black, our protagonist, was a great female character that was feminist as hell. She went against all the stereotypical views of women in the early 1900’s. She had some awesome goggles, and she loved science and electricity and she was a fierce girl who didn’t take crap from anyone. Highly recommend for paranormal and historical fiction lovers.
8. The Blazing Star by Imani Josey
When Portia comes into contact with an ancient Egyptian scarab, she is pushed into the limelight for the first time in her entire life – she is transported to Ancient Egypt. Now Portia is in Ancient Egypt with her sister and a freshman, and a new magical ability she’s never had before. They find out they are tied to the past, and to each other, in more ways than they ever realised and now they have to decide what is truly important. The Blazing Star was a well-researched and enjoyable book. The Blazing Star is definitely a breath of fresh air in YA – it is an original story with a unique setting so it is one I’d would recommend for those looking for a historical time travelling fantasy with a diverse setting. The setting was atmospheric and one of the best aspect of The Blazing Star – the myth, culture, and religion were really interesting and rich. Filled with complex female characters and female relationships, and a book filled with women of colour – definitely a historical fiction/fantasy I’d recommend.
9. The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
Nixie, on her father’s time-travelling ship, has travelled across the globe in different centuries with the use of maps and her father’s unique navigating skills. From modern day New York to the lands from One Thousand and One Nights, Nixie’s father desperately searches for a map for 1868 Honolulu in order to save Nixie’s mother from dying. Nixie doesn’t know what will happen if her father changes the past; will she cease to exist? This book is magic blended with historical fiction. The story mainly takes place in 17th century Hawaii, and the author (who grew up in Hawaii) has certainly done her research and has put so much love into creating an authentic atmosphere that really puts you in that time and place. It was absolutely great to read because I am such a history geek. I loved Nixie and her dedication to The Temptation, her love for travelling, her spirit and adventure. She certainly made this book for me.
10. Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
Lee Westfall can sense the presence of gold beneath and above the surface. Veins, nuggets – you name it, she can find it. Lee and her family have kept this secret safely guarded for fear Lee will be exploited. The sense leaves her warm and with an ever-present company. Her gift has kept her family from starvation, but soon her life is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Lee disguises herself as a boy and sets off for California and the gold rush. A fantastic story with a strong heroine and some amazing magical elements. Lee was such a fantastic protagonist and I thoroughly enjoyed reading from her perspective. She was tough and a hard worker, a dreamer but also a realist, grounded. Torn from her family, Lee is thrust into a path she never expected to take and I really admired her development, and the relationships and bonds she found on the trail. Highly recommend.
11. Tyranny of Petticoats edited by Jessica Spotswood
A Tyranny of Petticoats is a YA historical fiction anthology which focuses on American girls throughout history. The synopsis says that there are ‘monsters and mediums, bodyguards and barkeeps, screenwriters and schoolteachers, heiresses and hobos. They’re making their own way in often-hostile lands, using every weapon in their arsenals, facing down murderers and marriage proposals. And they all have a story to tell’. An exciting anthology filled to the brim with witty, clever, and strong female historical heroines.
Also If you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend watching HIDDEN FIGURES. A fantastic movie about the important roles African American women had and the important work they did for NASA to help send people into space – and further space exploration.
Also, in terms of talking about modern intersectional feminism, I highly recommend the non-fiction anthology Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen. You can read my review here.
Some books that I’ve yet to read, but are on my long TBR list include: Under a Painted Sky & Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee, The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke, Audacity by Melanie Crowder, Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, A Mad Wicked Folly & The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller, Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz.
What books would you recommend for Women’s History Month?