There is nothing more magical than curling up with a cozy read. The only thing that might come close to this magic is navigating womanhood in your 20s. Trying to find the “right” path to womanhood might be difficult to do; simply because there is no “correct” path. Though you might feel lost in the unpredictable ether of life, it’s nice to know that you are most definitely not alone. Literature is the ultimate bestie when it comes to figuring out the important philosophical questions, to trying out a recipe the main character ate that you haven’t tried before.

Are you in search of the perfect read that encapsulates how it feels to be a woman? How unnerving it can be to really grow up? Whenever I feel lonely, I pick up one of these comforting reads because literature has a beautiful way of being your friend-in-a-pocket. If I were asked to recommend any literary works to my fellow women, it’d have to be one of these (if not all). Read ahead to get the inside scoop on which novels function as a womanhood handbook.


Why Novels About Women in their 20s Matter

The main reason novels touching on womanhood are significant is because women often lack relatable representation in popular media. Oftentimes, stereotypes and archetypes are what sells because mockery is popular (especially in happy-go-lucky media such as Friends or Disney Channel original television shows.) Sometimes, us women do not see ourselves in the written characters because they feel too different from us. Whether this is a result of debilitatingly lacking representation in digital media or because we feel so lost in ourselves that we think nobody can understand us, there are so many novels that can cater to every kind of woman’s needs and desires.

The key themes in these specific reads are what makes them immensely special for every woman. One woman-reader might feel culturally connected to their family roots, but another woman might deal with trying to figure out how their life fits into their ancestors’ past. One woman might feel confident in her career, but could very well be struggling with a toxic relationship that no longer serves them. See what I mean? There are infinite ways women can see themselves in the leading characters that are written into these novels; this is true especially when said novels are written by women who know exactly what it’s like to exist in the world as such.

These novels can touch upon:

  • Relationship anxieties
  • Career struggles
  • Dissonance in religious faith
  • Exploring new interests
  • Cultural exile
  • Identity introspection
  • Lack of familial connection
  • Dealing with misogyny

Feeling Lost Doesn’t Feel So Scary Anymore

The immensely talented writers in this list do a superb job of writing in characters that relate to the reader, which in turn, allows the reader to feel comforted by someone (though fictional) that is going through similar ruminations on life and love. Concepts like the “quarter-life crisis” have started popping up in online discussions, and I think it’s because social & digital media have provided us an outlet to “show off” a perfect life that likely doesn’t exist as perfection is 99 times out of 100 unattainable. Let’s be honest with ourselves: how many people do we see daily on Instagram or TikTok who display the trials and tribulations of life — with an emphasis on the “bad” or difficult.

With literature, dating back to the earlier centuries, women yearned to write about their experiences with misogyny, love, careers (or lack thereof) because they likely hoped they’d be able to reach other women who felt similarly. The good and the bad. Of course, social media has the ability to do a lot of good, but sometimes seeing too much good without any of the bad makes one feel even more lonely in their own confusion. Reading women-oriented coming of age novels is essentially the equivalent of a warm blanket on the nights you need a little extra comfort.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh


The unnamed protagonist of Moshfegh’s best-selling novel takes us through a year in her life during the years 2000 and 2001 in New York City. She attempts to sleep for a year with the help of prescription medication, to which she finds that running away from trauma and hurdles only buries her further into a nihilistic hole.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath


Plath’s classic novel illustrates the protagonist’s descent into mental illness and trauma, while simultaneously navigating issues with her self-image, relationships, and career. I’ll add that the book speaks in depth about eating habits, body image, and gender discrimination in particular.

The Idiot by Elif Batuman 


This novel follows Selin, a Turkish immigrant, and her navigation through her first year at Harvard University. The protagonist struggles with identifying her needs and wants while attempting to understand her place in the world. The book is sarcastic and humorous in nature, but equally adds just the right amount of introspection for women who want to laugh and cry.

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks


bell hooks is a profound feminist scholar and critic whose main focus in her works is love and relationships. This book in particular touches on childhood trauma and how it manifests itself in relationships with the self, family, romantic partnerships, and more. hooks’ prose style is inclusive because she writes like a mother would speak to her daughter. I heavily admire this work because it feels like a handbook of sorts.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple


Over the course of a single day, Semple’s character Eleanor is faced with mishaps that ultimately force her to reflect on her past and resolve the unresolved. Semple focuses mainly on family dynamics and the retainment of the self when faced with motherhood. How do we preserve our identities in motherhood when society expects us to sacrifice ourselves?

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Normal People by Sally Rooney


I’m sure you’ve seen this book everywhere. Rooney’s second novel in the roster focuses on the very turbulent relationship between Marianne and Connell, two protagonists who are navigating life from highschool through the end of university. It is up for debate whether the two are star-crossed lovers or simply cannot remove themselves from a cyclical relationship that only ends with hurt. This is a beautifully written book that shows the immensely candid side of womanhood in love (and manhood, as well).

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë


Another classic novel, written by Charlotte Brontë, touches on the protagonist Jane’s yearn for female agency in the 19th century. She is is working as a governess at her superior Mr. Rochester’s estate, to which the two find great admiration for one another. Rochester’s internalized misogyny becomes clear and Jane is forced to unpack the need to be heard, seen, and understood. Her childhood is constantly brought up throughout the novel as it is necessary for her to understand why she is the way that she is in the novel’s present day.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner


Michelle Zauner, the frontwoman of Japanese Breakfast, takes us on a stroll through her early and present life as a Korean American woman. She talks about cultural dissonance, compartmentalized identity, and qualms regarding her complex relationship with her mother. Through food and culture, Zauner takes us on a journey through grief, biculturalism, and coming to terms with the things you cannot change.

Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton


Aldteron, a journalist and podcaster, talks about her life regarding the navigation of relationships in the age of digitalism and hook-up culture. Her candid conversations about her career struggles, relationship failures, and identity confusions are comforting because of their honest nature.A main takeaway from the novel is that self-love and platonic relationships are just as significant (if not more) than romantic ones.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are the four sisters that’re focused on in Alcott’s Little Women. Taking place in the 19th century, the classic novel focuses on family relationships, struggles in love, and the desire to take the wheel in your own life. This book is a classic for a reason.

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These are my favorite books that make me feel less alone in my own womanhood, especially when it can be scary to face my own struggles head-on. If you’re ever feeling similarly, I suggest you order one of these cozy introspective reads. You’ll be surprised at what new things you might find out about yourself!

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