As I near the second half of my hopefully allotted century of life (thanks, genetics!), I have found that my preference in protagonists has shifted dramatically. I still enjoy young adult fiction, especially from authors who are doing wild and interesting things with the genre. And at the same time, I am discovering a new interest in stories about people who are older and still kicking — preferably kicking ass. The world we live in considers women over 30 “old,” particularly in Hollywood, unless they’re playing high schoolers (yuck). And women over 50? Forget it. For years, they’ve been relegated to playing crones and ancient aunts, both in books and in movies.
But in recent years, we’ve seen a reframing of older women by older women. Again I refer to Hollywood: Meryl Streep starred in Mamma Mia (2008) at age 59, kicking things off for her generation. Helen Mirren is a goddess, Maggie Smith is THE dowager countess, and Emma Thompson just starred in a stunning film about sexuality at age 63. My point here is that despite what culture tells us, the lives of women do not end when we get married or have a kid or turn 50 or retire. There is a whole world out there that — according to my mother and aunts — opens up once we are done with our “youth” and move into womanhood, whatever that means to an individual person.
To support this point, I’ve gathered 12 books featuring women over 50 whose lives are beautiful and full, and are, as requested, kicking ass.
Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn
The deadliest quartet of assassins in a secret organization have been given a cruise as their retirement celebration. But all is not as it seems, and when it becomes clear that someone at The Top has ordered their demise, they won’t take permanent retirement lying down.
An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten
Maude has lived in her apartment in Gothenberg rent-free for the last 70 years thanks to a small clause in her father’s contract with the building. She has no family left, no real friends, and very few — if any — qualms about a little bit of murder to keep it that way.
Violeta by Isabel Allende
Violeta was born in 1920 as the first girl in a family of five boys. Told in a letter to a beloved one, she recounts her life across the struggles of the last century, looking back with the wisdom and passion of a woman who has, above all, survived.
Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan
Mrs. Bertrice Martin is a 73-year-old widow with a Terrible Nephew. When she meets the youthful Miss Violetta Beauchamps, age 69, the two of them hatch a plan to make the Terrible Nephew terribly sorry, and perhaps learn a bit about themselves in the process.
Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
Vivian Forest jumps at the chance to join her daughter Maddy on a work trip to the UK. When she meets Malcom Hudson, the sparks begin to fly — but will they turn into a flame to keep them warm beyond the New Year?
Dot & Ralfie by Amy Hoffman
Dot and Ralfie have been together for 30 years, but as they get older together, their stable relationship begins to show some signs of age. This is a beautiful look at elder care in the LGBTQ+ community, and how difficult it can be to grow older outside of a heteronormative relationship structure.
Fishwives by Sally Bellerose
When Regina and Jackie met in 1955, women were jailed for dancing together or “dressing like men.” Now, decades later, they load their long-dead Christmas tree on top of their car to take it to the dump. This day is the day everything will change, recollections will be triggered, and the full humanity of this couple will come to light.
Two Old Women by Velma Wallis
In the Upper Yukon River Valley region of Alaska, Athabaskan women have passed the story of two old women from mother to daughter for generations. The women were abandoned by their tribe for complaining more than they contributed, and now must work together to survive the brutal winter.
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Hortensia and Marion live next door to one another, nurturing their shared hedge and enmity with equal zeal. When an unforeseen event brings them together, their loathing is challenged by proximity, and they may just find themselves friends after all.
Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley
Iona Iverson commutes from Hampton Court to Waterloo Station every day, and sees the same people. The rules of commuting are simple: no one talks to anyone else. But the rules are challenged when Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader chokes on a grape and nearly dies but for the intervention of Sanjay, a nurse.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
Evelyn is in the “sad lump” stage of middle age when she meets Mrs. Threadgoode, who tells her stories from the Whistle Stop Cafe. Life in 1930s Alabama was not easy, but Idgie and Ruth served up good coffee and barbecue with plenty of secrets in the sauce.
The Old Woman with the Knife by Gu Byeong-mo
Hornclaw is beginning to slow down now that she is 65, but the usual expectations of retirement are not for her. She is an assassin. But she has also slipped up and connected with a doctor and his family in a field where all emotions and connections are a liability — one that may be her last.
And there you have it: 12 books featuring women over 50. Maybe someday someone will write about my own exploits in my 50+ years…who knows?
If you’re looking for more, check out 50 Must-Read Novels About Older Women and 10 Mystery and Thriller Books Starring Older Women.