7 Books About Women Rescuing Women

Jessica Barry, author of “Freefall,” recommend books without the knight-in-shining-armor

Still from 9 to 5

W e all grew up on fairy tales. Damsels in distress rescued by knights on charging steeds, ladies with exceptionally long hair waiting for a man to climb her braid and rescue her from her tower, glass shoes, poisoned apples, and always, always a prince who comes to the rescue. While for me, there will always be a place in my heart for these kinds of stories (who doesn’t love a good evil queen?), as I got older, I started hankering for stories that reflected the world as I knew it. Sure, sometimes a man would turn up and do me a solid, but the people I relied on most in times of need were mainly women.

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In my debut thriller, Freefall, a woman survives a plane crash and must fight for survival through the Colorado Rockies. On the other side of the country, her mother is fighting to discover the truth behind the crash, and the secrets her daughter was harboring before her plane went down. Both find themselves in grave danger as a result, and only they can save each other. Mothers, sisters, daughters, friends: all have the capacity to be superheroes.

Here are some of my favorite books that celebrate women helping women.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

When Bernadette goes missing, her daughter is determined to figure out what’s happened to her — even if everyone around her thinks her mother has just gone off the deep end. Funny, warm and always surprising, this is one of my favorite books about the bond between mother and daughter. A special mention also goes to Audrey, the frenemy-turned-hero of the story.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Poor Janie has a rough time of it. Three husbands, two of whom treat her like dirt while the third contracts rabies and goes insane. All Janie wants is to find love, but instead she only finds heartache, trouble and near-imprisonment. The only constant in her life is her best friend Phoeby, who was there for her at the beginning and is a pair of patient ears willing to listen to her story at the end.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

Most people think of the movie first, but the book has all the charm of the film — and it came first! The novel explores two pairs of female friendships: the friendship that blooms between Evelyn and the elderly Mrs Threadgood, and the friendship between Idgie and Ruth in the story Mrs Threadgood tells Evelyn about her youth at the Whistle Stop Café. Both relationships are beautifully drawn and just as affecting as any love story.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

This one’s a little bit of a cheat as it’s a short story rather than a novel, but Carter’s retelling of Bluebeard deserves to be included for its clever reimagining of a classic folktale and the fact that the person who finally takes out the evil Marquis is the mother of his intended victim, who sweeps in and kills him right before he’s able to murder her daughter.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

I loved Miranda July’s bizarre, brilliant quasi-buddy dark comedy. Cheryl Glickman is ostensibly pining after her stuffy co-worker, Phillip, but as soon as human-tornado Clee turns up and starts tearing Cheryl’s extreme-minimalist life apart, we know she’s her true soulmate. Sure, they drive each other nuts and beat each other up, but they save each other, too, by rescuing each other from the prisons of their own selves.

The Likeness by Tana French

Tana French is a master at placing characters in extraordinary situations and watching how their psyches hold up under the strain. Here, her subject is Detective Cassie Maddox, who’s called to the scene of a murder only to discover that the woman who’s been murdered is her exact double. In a wild attempt to crack the case, she agrees to impersonate the dead woman and to assume her old life in the hope that it will flush out the killer. But Cassie starts to lose herself while undercover, and it’s only the memory of the victim and her desire to catch her killer who keep her from going over the edge.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Alcott’s classic story of sisterly love (and, at times, sisterly conflict) is a masterclass in women caring for each other. The tenderness with which Jo nurses Beth when she contracts scarlet fever alone is enough to teach anyone about the bond between sisters, but watching the girls grow into adulthood (and grieve the loss of one of their own) has a resonance and power that explains why it’s still such a favorite.

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