If I ever have a daughter, there are a few things I’m going to give her. One is a copy of “Exile in Guyville.” The other is a library of the books that really defined and enhanced my growth from little girl into young woman. This is a smattering of what she’ll get.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith– Francie Nolan grows up poor in 1900s Brooklyn but this is no dramatic sob story. Rather, little Francie has such a lovely view of the world around her, never dwelling on their unfortunate situation. She grows into a strong, smart young woman with the help of her family and especially her strong-willed mother, Katie. I read this once a year and it never stops surprising me.
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong– This book shook up the ’70s and is still talked about today. Isadora is 29 and stuck in a mediocre marriage and attempting to make her way in a male-dominated society. You have to read this simply to know exactly what the “zipless fuck,” a term coined by Jong and discussed early in the novel, means.
Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk– Marjorie Morgenstern is pretty girl with dreams of stardom who falls in love with a charismatic, talented but incredibly unmotivated man. What happens when you realize your dreams might not come true? What happens when Prince Charming is kind of an asshole? Are your values more traditional than you thought? What is settling? Marjorie reconciles with these questions as she moves into adulthood in ’30s New York.
Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding– Move over, Carrie Bradshaw. Bridget Jones is the ultimate single girl. No matter how calm, cool and collected you may be, you’ve definitely had a Bridget moment in your life.
Chocolates for Breakfast by Pamela Moore– Pamela Moore wrote this coming-of-age novel when she was only 18 and killed herself several years later. It’s about teenage Courtney who floats along, jaded, in Los Angeles. She, her glamorous friends and her actress mother are all living a fabulous life but nobody’s all that happy. Courtney experiences sex, love and disappointment and though it was written in 1956, everything she goes through happens to teenage girls today.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott– Some compare the girls of “Girls” to the Little Women and I totally agree. Maybe you identify with no-nonsense Meg or writerly Jo. I find something new and relevant every time I revisit this classic. Please don’t get me started on how much I cry when I watch the 1994 movie version.
Ariel by Sylvia Plath– Plath’s final volume of poetry is intensely personal, unflinchingly honest and a little bit terrifying. Plath was dealing with depression, a failed marriage and motherhood as she penned these poems and the book was published after she committed suicide.
Cherry by Mary Karr– Been a teenage girl who felt a) smarter than your surroundings and b) restless as hell? You’ll identify with Karr’s memoir Cherry, especially if you dipped on your hometown as soon as you were legal.
How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson– Say what you will about my girl Jenna, but she’s lived a very exciting life. Her sprawling memoir covers her early years running wild in Las Vegas, her transition from stripping to porn, a variety of up-and-down relationships and her struggle to build the Jenna Jameson empire. Even though Jenna makes some really bad decisions, you root for her. I still root for her!
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides– I don’t think anyone has captured both the lethal dreaminess of teenage girls and the beautiful angst of teen boys the way Eugenides did in this novel. The action centers around the Lisbon sisters and though they’re not really physically present in much of the book, Eugenides nails that aimless, lazy sadness and boredom you often feel as a teen girl.
Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty– My group of friends passed this book around countless times in high school and we all underlined and penciled in our favorite parts. My copy is priceless. All of us identified with whip-smart Jessica Darling as she travels the roads of shitty friendships, high school silliness and first loves.