Don’t take this the wrong way, 2016, but I absolutely cannot wait to see the last of you. In fact, I didn’t know it was possible to harbor such intense disdain for a year until 2016 gave us Donald Trump and took away some of our most beloved celebrities. So, as 2016 mercifully comes to an end, I don’t even want confetti, party hats, or champagne. In fact, I’ll likely be stuck in an airport when the clock strikes midnight — and it’ll still be the best New Year’s ever.
But, I digress — as the world unraveled before our eyes this year, the bookworms among us escaped into the pages of novels, memoirs, and riveting non-fiction tomes. Never underestimate the healing power of an amazing book — and, although this was a pretty rough year for women, female writers penned some of the most amazing reads of the year. So, as we look back on the past 12 months, let’s not forget about the good things — like the best books written by women in 2016.
1. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
This un-put-down-able thriller follows the story of Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful whose entire family has dedicated their lives to ensuring she brings home that coveted Olympic gold medal. But when a suspicious death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community, Devon’s Olympic dreams are put at risk and family secrets slowly begin to unravel. One caveat about You Will Know Me — don’t start reading it unless you have a full day ahead of you, because it’ll consume you in the best way possible.
2. All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister
In 2009, the proportion of married American women dropped below 50 percent, a statistic that inspired journalist Rebecca Traister to explore the phenomenon of the 21st century single woman. All the Single Ladies is the product of Traister’s extensive research and interviews with prominent single women and social scientists. As she traces the long history of unmarried women, Traister shares little-known information about how, when women have the option to remain unmarried, it has resulted in significant social changes throughout history, such as temperance, abolition, secondary education. (Don’t worry if you’re not a history buff — the writing is totally accessible.)
3. The Mothers by Brit Bennett
After her mother’s suicide, 17-year-old Nadia Turner begins a casual relationship with her local pastor’s son. But when she learns she’s pregnant, Nadia is desperate to conceal the truth — especially from her best friend Aubrey. The impact of the cover-up reverberates far beyond Nadia’s youth, and the novel’s theme is a deeply relatable one — the nagging question of how our lives would have turned out if we’d made different decisions or chosen another path.
4. The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner
Set on the Mediterranean island Castellamare, The House at the Edge of Night follows multiple generations of the Esposito family and their fellow islanders. Spanning nearly a century, readers are drawn into Castellamare’s community as it weathers two world wars, a recession, and the threat of fascism. Despite its wide scope, the novel maintains an impressive level of intimacy and the island itself feels like its own character.
5. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
In 2016, we heard the (deeply depressing) message loud and clear that ambitious, opinionated women are still perceived as suspicious and threatening. In her memoir, West tackles this topic with humor, authenticity, and candor as she recounts the fat-shaming she endured during childhood — and how she became an “accidental activist” after confronting comedians about rape jokes. West’s insight is incredibly valuable, especially during this dark time — we all weather painful experiences, losses, and setbacks, but women are strong as hell and we won’t be silenced. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being labelled “shrill.”
6. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Set in winter 1945, Salt to the Sea follows four teenage refugees as they desperately attempt to board the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises them a path to safety and freedom. Inspired by the greatest tragedy in maritime history, Sepetys expertly weaves the multiple perspectives of four characters who hail from different homelands and hold different secrets, but have one thing in common — the doomed Wilhelm Gustloff is their only hope.
7. The Girls by Emma Cline
In the late 1960s, lonely teenager Evie Boyd is intrigued by a group of seemingly carefree young women she sees in the park. She is quickly taken under the wing of Suzanne and brought into the circle of a cult led by a charismatic, dangerous man. Entranced and exuberant about her newfound “freedom,” Evie moves into the cult’s ranch — but it’s not long before things take a dark, murderous turn.
8. Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
Following the suicide of a high school athlete, “good girl” Hannah Dexter is befriended by “bad girl” Lacey Champlain, and the two quickly form an intense, passionate bond. Lacey transforms Hannah into a mirror image of herself and draws her out of her comfort zone. But when secrets from Lacey’s past begin to emerge, Hannah is confronted with her own worst nightmares — and far more than the strength of their friendship is put at grave risk.
9. Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
The Plumb family is seriously dysfunctional — we’re talking Arrested Development levels of dysfunctional. When four adult siblings meet in New York City to discuss the trust fund their late father left behind, they’re forced to confront long-simmering family resentments. By turns hilarious and heart-wrenching, Nest is an honest exploration of complex family dynamics and the effect that money can have on these relationships.
10. The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang
What happens when a wealthy immigrant family loses it all (lavish Bel Air home included)? They embark on a road trip across the United States, of course. During their abrupt transition from riches to rags, the family forges stronger bonds than ever — and we dare you to read this without laughing out loud multiple times thanks to Chang’s humorous approach to the Wang’s economic woes.