No Tudor England here—these four novels transport readers to less familiar but no less fascinating historical settings.
In Asha Lemmie’s debut novel, Fifty Words for Rain, young Nori Kamiza—daughter of a well-born Japanese woman and her lover, a Black American soldier—is raised by her abusive grandmother in post-World War II Japan. Kept in the attic because her grandparents are ashamed of her, Nori becomes accustomed to a lonely existence. But her world widens when she bonds with her half-brother, Akira, and senses the possibilities for a new life. Lemmie constructs a moving, dramatic narrative that examines family, loyalty and prejudice through both Nori’s coming-of-age and her experiences as a biracial woman.
Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera is an unforgettable tale of female friendship set in the small town of Branchville, South Carolina, during the 1920s. Single mother Gertrude is desperate to provide for her children. She’s aided by Annie, a member of a powerful local family, who gives her a job, and by Annie’s Black housekeeper, Retta, who offers to look after Gertrude’s children. The novel’s Southern backdrop and indomitable female protagonists will draw readers in, and Spera’s exploration of race, class and history will provide plenty to talk about.
Set in 1918 Dublin, Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars tells the story of Julia Power, a nurse struggling to help pregnant female patients who have become infected and subsequently quarantined during the influenza epidemic that devastated the city. Julia’s narrow life of work and survival is forever changed by the arrivals of volunteer Bridie McSweeney and Dr. Kathleen Lynn, a possible Irish nationalist who may be wanted by the authorities. Donoghue’s compelling, compassionate novel unfolds over three days as the women face incredible challenges together. With its themes of female bonding, Irish politics and the nature of identity, this novel makes for a rewarding book club selection.
Christina Baker Kline’s The Exiles is a powerful tale of female friendship set in 19th-century Australia. After being falsely accused of theft, London governess Evangeline Stokes—pregnant and alone—is sent by ship to the Australian penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land. Facing a future of uncertainty and hardship, Evangeline connects with Hazel Ferguson, a teenage midwife, and Mathinna, a young Aboriginal woman adopted by the governor of Van Diemen’s Land. From the intertwined stories of the three women, Kline spins an epic saga that book clubs will savor, with excellent discussion topics such as female agency and the rights of Indigenous communities.