Not Your Dream Girl

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Not Your Dream Girl

Fall in love with some weird, rude, gross and otherwise complex ladies in these insightful page-turners, all written by female authors.

Podcaster Whitney Reynolds lit Twitter on fire when she suggested that women describe themselves as a male author would. The responses are hilariously over-dramatized for comedic effect, but they nonetheless contain a grain of truth: male authors often struggle to write real, complex female characters.  Take Raymond Chandler’s glossary of blondes, for example, in his 1988 novel, The Long Goodbye: “There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very, very tired when you take her home." and his classifications go on and on. It is in novels like this that for so long women readers have had to find themselves: within the clumsy, shallow, sexist descriptions of women who are as unrealistic as any of Chandler’s blondes.  Even in films like 500 Days of Summer, 50 First Dates and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, we have been introduced to a new kind of trifling, uncreative heroine written by men: the manic pixie dream girl. Men love her and women wonder why they aren’t more like her. She is perfectly quirky and beautiful in an unthreatening way, but she is a flat piece of cardboard who exists only in men’s imaginations as something to project onto real-life women whose flaws men are unwilling to see.
If you, like me, are sick of reading books whose female characters are too perfect, idealized or ogled and turned into nothing but objects of male desire, then please read a selection from this list of complex feminine stories that have real depth and meaning. (All written by women of course!)

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Dark humor, mystery and a touch of gore meet in this stunning debut about a woman whose sister has a nasty habit of killing her boyfriends. Korede followers her murderous sister around Nigeria, cleaning up blood and stuffing bodies in her trunk, all while the beautiful, perfect, favorite child, Ayoola, floats about her leisurely life unconcerned. She posts photos of parties on Instagram the day after her boyfriend goes “missing,” she flirts unabashedly with every handsome man around, and she always has Korede there to keep her from getting in any real trouble. That is until she sets her sights on the man Korede has a secret crush on. Will Korede sit by and let the man she loves fall for a serial killer? Or will she support her sister until the very end, whatever that end may be?
 
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
The Christmas season has little cheer to offer Eileen Dunlop, a lost and disturbed young woman caught between her lonely day job at a boy’s prison and her abusive, alcoholic father who can barely stand up, let alone take care of himself. She fills her dreary days with perverse fantasies, self-loathing, shoplifting and dreams of abandoning her father and moving to the city. When the prison hires the cheerful and beautiful Rebecca Saint John, Eileen believes she has finally found a friend to make her life a little more exciting. But when Eileen’s budding friendship with Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicacy with a crime more horrible than even her own imagination, Eileen must think about what she truly wants to do with her life.
 
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Keiko Furukura has always been a strange child. She never fit in anywhere and was considered odd by all her neighbors, so when she got a part-time job at a convenience store during college, her family was delighted. Furukura was able to find a predictable world in the convenience store where everything was mandated by the store manual and she could mimic the speech and dress of her young coworkers to play the part of a normal person. But when one year at the store turns into eighteen, people begin to raise their eyebrows. Why hasn’t Furukura moved on to a better job? Why has she never had a boyfriend? Why does she only have a few friends that she rarely sees? For Furukura, she is content with her life and likes her job at the convenience store, but she is also aware that her family is worried about her and that the careful façade she has created to make herself seem “normal” is beginning to crumble. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work at the store, he upsets Furukura’s contented stasis—but will it be for the better? And is a “normal” life really what Furukura wants?
 
The Girls by Emma Cline
Loosely based on the thrilling lore surrounding Charles Manson and his infamous cult of young women, The Girls follows troubled teenager Evie Boyd as she struggles through her summer vacation at the end of the 1960s in Northern California. Enthralled by a clique of carefree older girls she discovers dumpster diving after her only friend ditches her, Evie is soon wrapped up in the dangerous world of Suzanne, the mesmerizing clique leader who’s affections Evie is desperate to win. She soon finds herself at the center of a cult living at a run-down, filthy ranch on the outskirts of town, full of strange, antisocial people. But Evie thinks the ranch and her newfound freedom are exciting, and as she moves further from her parents and her hometown and closer to the violence of Suzanne and the cult, Evie suddenly finds herself at the cusp of womanhood and face-to-face with a killer.  

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Freshwater is Akwaeke Emezi’s debut novel, centering around Ada, a troubled young woman who was born “with one foot on the other side.” Beginning as a strange, volatile child in Nigeria, Ada’s personality fractures into multiple distinct selves after she moves to America for college. A traumatic event forces the real Ada back into the recesses of her mind, leaving her most hostile, violent and angry personalities at the front. The more powerful these personalities get, the more Ada’s life spirals in a dark direction. With remarkable prose and an unflinching examination into what makes up a person’s identity, Freshwater is an insight into a rare way of experiencing the world.
 
And one Young Adult selection:
Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
The follow up to Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, (though it can be read as a stand-alone), Leah on the Offbeat follows Simon’s best friend, the bold and musical Leah. The drummer of an all-girl band, Leah has always been the outlier of her privileged friend group as the only daughter of a young, single mom. She loves to draw but is too afraid to show anyone, much like she is too afraid to admit, even to her closest friends, that she is bisexual. So when Leah’s friend group starts to crumble as her last year of high school is drawing to a close, she doesn’t really know what to do. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high and for once, Leah isn’t sure she can keep up with the beat.