While many people still see fiction and non-fiction books beyond textbooks as entertainment, storytelling is and can be a vehicle for framing, reinforcing and transmitting culture and beliefs. More than that, stories have the power to fire the imagination and inspire new thoughts and ideas to shape – or reshape – the perspectives of individuals, communities and cultures about everything from tradition to gender.
In recognition of the power of storytelling to catalyse change, The Pixel Project has curated our sixth annual selection of 16 books that tackle the issue of violence against women and girls. Some of these are popular genre fiction novels, while others are hard-hitting non-fiction books. All of them will educate the reader in some way about sexism, misogyny and violence against women in the past, present and sometimes even the future.
Our 2023 fiction recommendations feature courageous female protagonists who have experienced VAW and whose stories show the aftermath of the violence in their lives, and how they have coped with it. This year’s list is dominated by the non-fiction and true crime genres with nods to autobiographies, contemporary romance, historical romance, horror poetry collections, contemporary feminist YA, children’s fiction, science fiction, supernatural thrillers and women’s fiction.
This list is by no means complete as there are hundreds of books out there that deal with violence against women in its various forms. However, we hope that these 16 books and series will be a starting point for you (as they have for others over the years) to push for change in your community and culture.
Introduction by Regina Yau; Written and compiled by Anushia Kandasivam and Regina Yau.
Inspired to support The Pixel Project’s anti-violence against women work? Make a donation to us today OR buy the audiobook edition of our 1st charity anthology, Giving The Devil His Due OR buy our 1st poetry collection, Under Her Eye. All donations and net proceeds from book sales go towards supporting our campaigns, programmes, and initiatives.
Book Selection #1: Dear Wife (2019) by Kimberly Belle
In this suspenseful thriller, the successful Sabine goes missing from her home, leaving her husband Jeffrey confused and kicking off a police investigation. A few hundred miles away, Beth surfaces, clearly afraid and on the run, obsessively following the media coverage of the missing Sabine. Connecting the two narratives is a third – the dogged detective who is looking for a missing woman. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Beth is trying to rebuild her life after escaping from an abusive relationship. Meanwhile, Jeffrey tries to come to terms with the media’s aggressive coverage of his marriage’s shortcomings. But nothing is as it seems in this novel and soon it is not clear if the two women are the same person. Belle (who is also a Read for Pixels alumna) effectively portrays the fear and helplessness of a woman living with the trauma of domestic violence – as well as her determination to survive without becoming pedantic – while creating a thrilling and punchy story.
Book Selection #2: Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive (2019) by Stephanie Land
In Maid, Stephanie Land tells her story of how she stayed with an abusive boyfriend after she accidentally got pregnant and then finally left him as his violence escalated, taking her baby daughter with her. She moved in with her father but left for a shelter when he also became violent. Land started cleaning houses and doing gruelling and tedious labour for very little money, while trying to survive the trauma of an abusive relationship and caring for her daughter. Land recounts how she hardly survived on government assistance, as well as the demoralising procedures she had to go through to get that help, and the endless mathematics of budgeting every little thing she needed to live. This book inspired the Netflix drama series Maid, which made it to last year’s 16 Films list.
Book Selection #3: On A Dark, Dark Night (2009) by Sara B. Pierce
One dark night, a young polar bear cub witnesses his father strike his mother. He seeks help and support from his friends, who help him make sense of what has happened. This book on domestic violence is designed to help very young children understand and cope with their experiences and the feelings that arise from them. With beautiful and colourful illustrations, the book addresses a difficult subject with the hope of helping children get through the trauma of violence in their homes. This book is recommended for children aged 4 years and above.
Book Selection #4: Our Bodies Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women (2019) by Christina Lamb
Christina Lamb is the chief foreign correspondent for The Sunday Times and has extensive experience reporting on war and what it does to women. In this book, Lamb compiled thousands of interviews with women directly affected by sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. The women come from all over the world – from Europe to Asia, Africa and the Americas – and their stories show that nobody is safe and how rape is perpetrated systematically and deliberately. While giving a voice to these women, Lamb underlines how women are written out of history and victims of rape are ignored over and over again.
Book Selection #5: Reckless (2020) by Savannah Kade
In this contemporary romance novel by award-winning Romance author Savannah Kade, Grace Rodriguez attempts to leave her abusive boyfriend behind once and for all by going on the run. In her bid for freedom, she meets Tyler Preston, a former athlete whose hopes of a career as an NFL football player were dashed by a blown knee in college and who is travelling cross-country on his Harley Davidson to sort out his future. He helps her escape by offering to take her with him. Along the way, they both learn a lot about themselves as Grace works through her trauma and Tyler, though initially reluctant, helps her even as he is dealing with his own issues. What makes Reckless a standout is that Kade skillfully uses the trope of a road trip to explore the ramifications of domestic violence on victims through Grace’s character and to show, through Tyler, an example of what men can do to step up and help the women in their lives who are dealing with domestic violence.
Book Selection #6: Searching for Savanna: The Murder of One Native American Woman and the Violence Against the Many (2023) by Mona Gable
California-based journalist Mona Gable was delving into her Native American heritage on her late paternal grandmother’s side when she noticed, to her shock, that Native American women and girls were disappearing at alarming rates. She said: “The more research I did, the more I saw there were so many of these cases that had never been solved, where women had never even been found.” This issue of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) was what spurred her to write Searching For Savanna. The book is a ferociously gripping investigation into the 2017 disappearance of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind when she was eight months pregnant. The book spotlights the horrific, ongoing epidemic of violence against Native American women in the US, and what Native American women and girls have endured since colonisation. Gable also exposes the societal ramifications of government inaction on this gender-based atrocity.
Book Selection #7: See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Violence (2019) by Jess Hill
See What You Made Me Do is a multi-award-winning non-fiction book by Australian journalist Jess Hill that shines a light on the ways abusers exert control over their victims. The book takes the reader through all the key issues related to domestic violence and the men who perpetrate it including: What do we know about perpetrators? Why is it so hard to leave? What does successful intervention look like? The resulting book is not only an insightful investigation into the violence experienced by so many women at the hands of their male partners and spouses, but also an interrogation of how that violence can be enabled and reinforced by the judicial system that fails victims on so many levels. Combining exhaustive research with riveting storytelling, See What You Made Me Do challenges victim-blaming culture and dismantles everything laypeople think they know about domestic violence.
Book Selection #8: Surviving Domestic Violence: Voices of Women Who Broke Free (2004) by Elaine Weiss
Surviving Domestic Violence is a non-fiction book that tells the stories of twelve women who have each been a victim of domestic violence, escaping from their abusers and rebuilding their lives and dignity. Author Elaine Weiss is a domestic violence educator who has worked at the University of Utah Department of Family and Preventive Medicine and has spoken and written about the topic of domestic abuse. For readers seeking to learn more about domestic violence, these stories will provide a powerful entry point to learning about everything from how difficult it is for victims to leave, why they stay and the long-term ramifications abuse can have on women’s lives. As one reviewer points out: “[The book] left me with two lasting impressions on helping victims – every women in this book mentioned that if only one person had validated that DV was wrong, they may have gotten out sooner. And, instead of asking “why does she stay?”, maybe we should be asking “what does he do to keep her there?”
Book Selection #9: The Daughters of Madurai (2023) by Rajasree Variyar
India has one of the highest female infanticide rates in the world. Australian-Indian author Rajasree Variyar was nine when she was introduced to the issue through an evening news segment about a case of female infanticide in Bengaluru, where she was born. She decided right then that she would one day write a novel about female infanticide. The manuscript for her debut novel, The Daughters of Madurai, was shortlisted for Hachette UK’s 2019 Mo Siewcharran prize. This heartrending novel, published in 2023, follows two timelines in a family – Janani in 1992 who was allowed to keep her first baby girl but had subsequent daughters immediately taken away to be killed; and Nila in 2019 who accompanies her parents from Australia to Madurai, where she discovers harrowing family secrets about female infanticide and how the mothers in her family went against all odds to ensure that their daughters survived and thrived.
Book Selection #10: The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State (2017) by Nadia Murad
In 2014, when ISIS invaded northern Iraq, Nadia Murad lost six of her brothers and her mother. In addition, she and her sisters – along with other women and girls from her village – were rounded up and forced into sexual slavery by the ISIS fighters. In this book, she shares her story, how she escaped her captors and her determination to survive the trauma of war, assault and injustice. Murad makes clear that she believes ISIS militants must face justice for their war crimes and the genocide of the Yazidi people. A human rights activist, Murad jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 with Denis Muwege for their advocacy to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Murad was also one of our 16 Female Role Models in 2016.
Book Selection #11: The Matrimonial Advertisement (2018) by Mimi Matthews
Award-winning author Mimi Matthews is one of the foremost feminist Historical Romance authors today. Her novels tackle everything from coverture to Victorian women’s fight to work in male-dominated professions, to domestic violence. In The Matrimonial Advertisement, her heroine, Lady Helena Reynolds, fights to escape her uncle’s attempts to have her declared mentally unfit and to lock her away in an asylum in order to claim her inheritance after her brother allegedly dies in India. She answers a matrimonial advertisement posted by the steward of ex-army captain Justin Thornhill and accepts a marriage of convenience with him based on the fact that his army background means he is able to physically protect her. While Matthews’ trademark swoony Victorian romantic vibes are in full force throughout the book, what makes the book essential reading is how she seamlessly weaves in her well-researched treatment of women being declared insane and locked away by greedy guardians and relatives.
Book Selection #12: The Nowhere Girls (2017) by Amy Reed
The Nowhere Girls is a powerful contemporary YA novel that tackles rape culture, victim-blaming, violence against women and misogyny in a story about how female friendships can empower girls and change the communities they live in for the better. In the story, the new girl in town, Grace Salter, just wants to be left alone. That is, until she learns that Lucy Moynihan (the former occupant of her new home) was run out of town after accusing the popular guys at school of gang rape. The story kicks off when Grace decides to get justice for Lucy by convincing Rosina Suarez and Erin Delilo to join her in forming an anonymous group of girls at her new high school to push back against the misogynistic culture there, starting with pulling a Lysistrata move – boycotting sex of any kind with the male students. The Nowhere Girls soon swell in numbers and become a fledgling feminist movement that transforms the lives of its members, their school and the entire community.
Book Selection #13: Triste tigre (2023) by Neige Sinno
This French-language book recently won the Prix Femina 2023 and was shortlisted for the Goncourt Prize, France’s most prestigious literary award. Triste tigre (Sad tiger) is the author’s deeply moving personal account of being sexually assaulted by her grandfather as a child, and is also an essay on sexual violence and incest. Sinno sets out to break the silence and taboos around incest, examining her own trauma and the reverberations of the trauma through her family and friends, as well as society’s inability or unwillingness to face and address the problem of incest. She does not offer remedies, but rather explores her own humanity and understanding of the issue along with the humanity of perpetrators. In asking these questions, she posits that the way she and others can protect others from rape and incest is by speaking up and asking questions.
Book Selection #14: Under Her Eye: A Women In Horror Poetry Showcase (2023), Edited by Lindy Ryan and Lee Murray
Under Her Eye is Black Spot Books’ second annual Women in Horror Poetry Showcase, which focuses on the theme of domestic horror and violence against women. Edited by Lindy Ryan and Lee Murray, the volume includes poems by 112 acclaimed female and non-binary poets. The collection kicks off with Know To Be True by Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ-winner Stephanie M. Wytovich and The Writing Assignment by HWA Lifetime Achievement Award-winner and SFPA Grand Master, Marge Simon, and closes on a powerful note with A Map of the Backyard by Bram Stoker AwardsⓇ-nominee Jessica McHugh. Under Her Eye is the first charity poetry collection under the Read For Pixels campaign. The collection is published in partnership with Black Spot Books and proceeds from the sales of the book will go towards supporting The Pixel Project’s anti-violence against women programmes, campaigns and resources.
Book Selection #15: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (2004) by Jon Krakauer
This true crime book recently experienced a resurgence in popularity because of the excellent Hulu TV series based on it (which is on our 16 Films list this year), but has been quite popular since it was published because of its in-depth and provocative look at Mormon fundamentalism in the US and the church’s role in modern-day communities. The crime it recounts is the murder of 24-year-old wife and mother Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter by her brothers-in-law, who insisted that they were commanded to kill her by God and who believed Brenda was questioning dogma and had been responsible for one of the brothers’ wives leaving him; in essence she had overstepped her boundaries and had to be “removed”. Krakauer weaves the crime together with his research into the early days of the Mormon church and raises questions about the patriarchal authoritarianism of the faith and how fundamentalist followers resort to faith-based violence to keep women and detractors in line.
Book Selection #16: Women Talking (2018) by Miriam Toews
Author Miriam Toews describes this novel as “an imagined response to real events” and this interesting premise makes for a unique examination of violence and subjugation of women in a rural religious colony. The book is based on real events in a remote Mennonite community in Bolivia in the mid-to-late-2000s, where women and girls were systemically and repeatedly drugged with cow tranquilisers and raped by men in the community. Toews’ “imagined response” sees eight women gathering in a hayloft to debate what to do after the men are jailed and the community elders go to post bail – stay and do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. In a series of dialogues, the women examine the ethical conundrums of their three options, their relationships to their men and how they can remain faithful to the tenets of their religion and the system they were raised in while seeking justice. The book was adapted into a film, which is also featured on our 16 Films list this year.
Book Cover Credits
- Dear Wife – From “Dear Wife” (Amazon.com)
- Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive – From “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive” (Amazon.com)
- On a Dark, Dark Night – From “On a Dark, Dark Night” (Amazon.com)
- Our Bodies Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women – From “Our Bodies Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women” (Amazon.com)
- Reckless – From “Reckless” (Amazon.com)
- Searching for Savanna: The Murder of One Native American Woman and the Violence Against the Many – From “Searching for Savanna: The Murder of One Native American Woman and the Violence Against the Many” (Goodreads.com)
- See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Violence – From “See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Violence” (Amazon.com)
- Surviving Domestic Violence: Voices of Women Who Broke Free – From “Surviving Domestic Violence: Voices of Women Who Broke Free” (Goodreads.com)
- The Daughters of Madurai – From The Daughters of Madurai (Goodreads.com)
- The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State – From “The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State” (Amazon.com)
- The Matrimonial Advertisement – Courtesy of Mimi Matthews
- The Nowhere Girls – from “The Nowhere Girls” (Amazon.com)
- Triste tigre – From “Triste tigre” (Amazon.com)
- Under Her Eye – Courtesy of Black Spot Books
- Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith – From “Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith” (Goodreads.com)
- Women Talking – From “Women Talking” (Amazon.com)