Historic photo: black and white image of a crowd of women suffragettes dressed in white marching on a city street lined by men in dark suits.

2 Novels to Read for Women’s History Month

In honor of International Women’s Day today, here are two novels that feature strong women.

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

  • Simon & Schuster, 2016
  • Paperback, 320 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-4516-8664-7
Book cover: The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

I reread the first 11 pages of this paperback to refresh my memory before writing this review. And immediately, I was right back as a passenger on the wild ride of this fictional world. The first clue to the nature of this world is the table of contents—a list of chapters, each someone’s name: Tanya Dubois . . . Amelia Keen . . . Debra Maze, etc. And then came the introduction of the first character, Tanya Dubois:

When I found my husband at the bottom of the stairs, I tried to resuscitate him before I ever considered disposing of the body . . . I poured a shot of Frank’s special bourbon, sat down on Frank’s faux-suede La-Z-Boy, and had a drink to honor the dead.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it . . . I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it . . .  I might be able to explain it away if I called the police and stayed put. But then they’d start looking at me real carefully and I didn’t like people looking at me all that much.

(pp. 3-4)

Who is this snarky woman called Tanya Dubois? Why does she even think about disposing of the body of her dead husband who has apparently fallen down the stairs “all on his own”? And why does she fear the police “looking at [her] real carefully”?

After this introduction, the reader watches Tanya Dubois become Amelia Keen, who then becomes Debra Maze, who will later turn into . . . Yes, it’s a wild ride, and, despite the occasional bits of snarky humor, it’s a ride that features a lot of bumps, many quite serious, even dangerous. It’s a ride through a world in which men call the shots, and in which women, to survive, must learn to manage on their own, albeit with a little help from a friend (another woman in a similar situation).

There’s a lot of food for thought here about life stories, personas, and the search for the most basic kernel of self-identity. The Passenger is a thoroughly enjoyable while also thought-provoking reading experience.


“I had fought so hard to forget my past, forget who I once was, that as I said my story, it felt like fiction” (p. 42).

“You can’t imagine how exhausting it is to spend your entire life in performance” (p. 140).

“I needed time to think, to weigh my options, to decide what kind of person I was, what kind of person I had become, and what kind of person I was going to be” (p. 149).

“When I began the first leg of my journey home, I decided it was time to shrug off all of my other lives” (p. 259).

“I only hoped that one day I might look in the mirror and recognize myself again” (p. 268).

© 2024 by Mary Daniels Brown

shelf full of books with pastel spines, no titles
Book cover: The Girls I've Been by Tess Sharpe

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

  • Hodder Children’s Books, 2021
  • Kindle Edition, 302 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-4449-6011-2

Like the main character of The Passenger, Nora O’Malley, the protagonist of this YA novel, has been many different girls over the course of her short life. Nora’s mother is a con artist who serially fooled wealthy men so she could get her hands on their money. Each time, Nora’s mother molded Nora into the perfect accomplice: “The girls I’ve been. The perfect daughters to the women my mother has become to con her marks.”

Five years ago Nora escaped from her mother. She’s been trying ever since to find her place in the world, but that adjustment hasn’t come easily: “Mom had too much time to get in my head to let me live a real life. I’ve been too many different girls to have a deep grasp on myself, and I don’t know what to do with any of the parts.”

But today Nora will have to fall back on the knowledge she’s learned from being all of those girls if she and her friends are to survive. Just after Nora, her best friend Wes, and her new girlfriend Iris arrive at the bank to deposit money from a fundraiser, a couple of goons arrive and declare a robbery. But those poor guys have no idea who they’re up against: “What didn’t kill me didn’t make me stronger; what didn’t kill me made me a victim. But I made me stronger. I made me a survivor.” 

Tess Sharpe ratchets up the suspense as Nora and her friends come up with idea after idea about how to outsmart the robbers. Sharpe skillfully doles out the backstories of Nora, Wes, and Iris bit by bit to keep readers turning the pages. Although the pacing seemed a bit too deliberately artificial and the characters of Wes and Iris were not as fully developed as I would have liked, the story is well conceived. The concept of assuming several identities is especially appropriate for a YA novel, as adolescents try out various identities as they work to find out how they fit into the world. Making that metaphor concrete as the central plot and character bones of the story is brilliant.


“Me, I was born into the con. Came into the world with a lie on my lips and the ability to smile and dazzle, just like my mother. Charm, people call it.”

“you can’t hide from your true self and the lessons you learned in the dark of night.“

© 2024 by Mary Daniels Brown

2 thoughts on “2 Novels to Read for Women’s History Month”

  1. I am reading a book about women set in 15th century China. Oh boy. Things were not good for women then. Yet, we still treat women like they don’t quite deserve as much as men. Sigh

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      It’s always interesting to read about the plight of women in cultures other than our own, especially those cultures that existed way before the U.S. came into being. Your China reference made me think of Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, from another culture pretty repressive toward women. Thanks for commenting, Anne. I hope all is well with you. We are looking forward to the opening of the Puyallup farmers’ market next month.

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