9 Books Where Women Take Charge

Susie Dumond

Senior Contributor

Susie (she/her) is a queer writer originally from Little Rock, now living in Washington, DC. She is the author of QUEERLY BELOVED and the forthcoming LOOKING FOR A SIGN from Dial Press/Random House. You can find her on Instagram @susiedoom.

the Award-Winning Bestseller: Athena's Choice.

What if a viral pandemic put women in charge of the planet? Athena Vosh lives just like any other teenager from the year 2099. She watches reality shows with her friends, eats well, and occasionally wonders to herself: what would life be like if men were still alive? It has been almost 50 years since an experimental virus accidentally killed all the men on earth. However, a controversial project is currently underway to bring men back. There's just one catch. The project has been sabotaged. "One of the Best Books of 2019" -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

There’s nothing I love more than an HBIC. That’s a Head Bitch In Charge, for those of you who don’t pay enough attention to Tiffany Pollard. An HBIC is a boss, a powerhouse, a woman who knows how to take charge and get shit done. If you also love HBICs, then this list of books where women take charge is for you!

We’ve got a little bit of everything: fiction, nonfiction, YA, speculative fiction, comics, a little romance, and a lot of queerness. These books feature women who took charge by force, women who grew into their leadership roles, and women who stepped up begrudgingly and found they were pretty good at being a boss. Check out these books to celebrate the HBICs that make the world go round, and to gain a little inspiration to find your own inner boss.

The Power book cover

The Power by Naomi Alderman

I couldn’t make a list of books about women taking charge without including The Power. It’s literally true, but also the pun was right there for the taking. Around the world, strange stories begin emerging about teenage girls with a newfound power: an electrical current that allows them to cause extreme pain or even death. And with that physical power change comes a surprising shift in gender dynamics around the world. Multiple stories and perspectives from across the globe come together to paint a complex picture of the phenomenon. It’s a thought-provoking, enthralling tale. And since Margaret Atwood served as a mentor to Alderman as she wrote this book, you know it packs a fantastic feminist punch.

surpassing certainty by janet mock

Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me by Janet Mock

Janet Mock is a prolific writer, TV host, and trans advocate. In this memoir, Mock explores how her 20s helped her become the powerful icon she is today. She started her 20s as a student at the University of Hawaii who worked nights as a dancer at a strip club. By the end of her 20s, she was a powerhouse on the road to big success. Focusing on her talents, her identity, and her voice, she built a career in the competitive magazine publishing industry. Her writing dives into the experiences and choices that formed her career, but it also inspires readers to take charge of their own lives.

the low low woods by carmen maria marchado cover body horror comics

The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado, Dani, and Tamra Bonvillain

After waking up at an empty movie theater, best friends El and Vee realize they’re missing some memories. This is a somewhat common experience in Shudder-to-Think, Pennsylvania, a mining town with a variety of strange occurrences, dangerous creatures, and hellish fires barely underfoot. But as they dig into the source of their missing memories, El and Vee learn of a much deeper, darker danger to the women in their town. And as they uncover their town’s mysteries, they know they’re the only ones who can make things right.

A Wild and Precious Life book cover

A Wild and Precious Life by Edie Windsor and Joshua Lyons

Edie Windsor rose to national fame as an LGBT activist in 2013 as the lead plaintiff in United States vs. Windsor, the Supreme Court case that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. But before becoming the queer icon many remember her as today, she led what is truly a wild and precious life. In this memoir, she looks back on exploring her identity, queer life in 1960s New York, and her decades long relationship with her wife, Thea Spyer. At a time when it was incredibly dangerous, Windsor was unafraid to live exactly how she wanted to live. And when someone needed to step up and challenge the laws that prevented her from marrying the love of her life, Windsor took charge with gusto.

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim cover image

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

Natalie is devastated when her estranged mother passes away. But with her grief comes a big opportunity in the form of an old restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown. With her grandmother’s old restaurant and cookbook, she can finally achieve her dream of being a chef. But as she works through the cookbook, she realizes her grandmother’s recipes have mystical powers to do more than just fill your stomach. Can she use those powers to help her community and save the restaurant from the creeping gentrification changing the Chinatown she knew as a child?

Mostly Dead Things book cover

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

One morning, Jessa finds her father’s body in his taxidermy shop along with a suicide note. While dealing with her grief and trying to keep the shop running, she also must try to keep her family together as they fall to pieces. Her mother has taken to rearranging the animals in the window into bawdy sex scenes, while her brother, niece, and nephew grapple with life after Jessa’s sister-in-law walked out on them. And if she’s being honest, she’s not over her secret love affair with her sister-in-law either. When Jessa steps up to take charge of the taxidermy shop, she finds herself in charge of a much bigger disaster: her own family.

On the Come Up book cover

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Bri is an aspiring rapper with big talent and a lot to say. And as the daughter of an underground rap legend who died when she was just a baby, she has to decide if she wants to follow in her father’s footsteps or pave her own way. But when her mom loses her job and her family is faced with homelessness, Bri faces a decision about how to make a big debut that might change their lives. By living her own dream, she takes charge of her entire family’s destiny.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota book cover

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

Minnesota sisters Edith and Helen never really understood each other, and as they grew older, they only grew farther apart. Edith focused on building a family while Helen’s love of beer inspired her to build the best-selling beer company in the state. But life can take you by surprise, and by the time they reach their 70s, Edith and Helen find themselves to be competitors in the beer industry. Helen set out on a path to change the beer industry, fighting to become HBIC. And although Edith never imagined herself taking charge of a beer company, she finds that she has what it takes to be a great leader.

The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang cover image

The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang

When you’re worth more dead than alive, who can you trust? Since Cora was born with two hearts, rumors of her existence have been circulating in the world of anatomists and those curious about physical anomalies. As an adult, she’s a skilled grave robber who often poses as a man to access forbidden spaces, allowing her to make money and have her ear to the ground for when people with bad intentions come looking for the girl with two hearts. Dressing as a man allows Cora to take charge of her black market business in a way unavailable to her as a woman—and helps stay one step ahead of her pursuers.

We hope you enjoyed this list of books where women take charge! Looking for more? Try these other recommendations from Book Riot:
24 Popular Books by Women Writers from Around the World
5 Inspiring New Books to Read During Women’s History Month
7 of the Best Books About Women in Politics
50 Must-Read Novels About Older Women