30 Great Books Written by Women Under 30 (PHOTOS)

Kenrya Rankin | Feb 1, 2016 Other
30 Great Books Written by Women Under 30 (PHOTOS)

Who says old men are the only ones writing books worth reading? Not us! We refuse to subscribe to the notion that all the great works are long behind us, the dusty work of people who know nothing of the modern sensibility that drives the lives of young women. Nope!

These works prove that youth is a virtue when it comes to the written word. From clever tales that reimagine the origin of the earth to meditations on mental illness to inventive tales of dystopia, these 30 works from brilliant women under the age of 30 will make you dig out your library card.


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  • 'White Teeth' by Zadie Smith


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    British author Zadie Smith was still a 24-year-old student at Cambridge when she sold her debut novel. In fact, it was locked in a bidding war before it was even finished. White Teeth follows the stories of two unlikely friends -- who served together in World War II -- and the twisting stories of their families. The novel explores the themes of race, identity, and class.

  • 'The Tiger's Wife' by Tea Obreht


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    At 25, American author Tea Obreht was the youngest person to ever receive the Orange Prize -- now known as the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction -- which is one of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious literary awards. Her novel focuses on a young doctor as she navigates life in Yugoslavia. 

  • 'The Icarus Girl' by Helen Oyeyemi


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    Nigerian-born Helen Oyeyemi was only 22 when she published her first book (and 18 when she wrote it!). By the time she turned 29, she had written four more critically acclaimed novels and managed to study social and political science at Cambridge. The Icarus Girl follows a troubled 8-year-old girl as she's torn between two identities -- African and British -- and deals with her loneliness. 

  • 'The Luminaries' by Eleanor Catton


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    Somehow, Eleanor Catton managed to write an 832-page book by the time she was 28 years old. And she didn’t just write any old thing, she crafted a dazzling book deserving of a Man Booker prize, an award given to the best original novel published in the UK. It was the longest book, and Eleanor was the youngest author, ever to receive the award. The book explores the 1860s gold rush in New Zealand.

    More from The Stir: 10 Fun, Fabulous Book Characters That Every Little Girl Should Meet (PHOTOS) 

  • 'Half of a Yellow Sun' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


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    Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was 29 when she won the Orange prize for this book. It's set in the '60s in Biafra, a region fighting to secede from Nigeria. In the novel, a poverty-stricken 13-year-old boy who was drafted into the three-year war, and a set of wealthy twin sisters have their lives torn apart by the reality of the civil war.

  • 'The Bone Season' by Samantha Shannon


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    Not only was Samantha Shannon the first person in her family to attend college, but she was also the first to score a six-figure advance and a seven-book series based on her debut novel The Bone Season. This sci-fi book follows a 19-year-old clairvoyant named Paige, who lives in a world that is under the control of a security force called Scion. Her gift of entering other people's heads helps her fight the powers that be. 

  • 'Burial Rites' by Hannah Kent


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    Kent was 29 when her book hit shelves, but she had the idea at just 17, while on a student exchange trip to Iceland. The book tells the story of Agnes, a young Icelandic woman who is accused of a brutal murder, labeled a "witch," and sentenced to death. While waiting for her execution date, she is sequestered with a family at an isolated farm where readers slowly learn that there is more to her story than the rumors suggest.

  • 'Man Walks into a Room' by Nicole Krauss


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    Esquire called Krauss "one of America's best young writers" when the 28-year-old released her debut novel. It follows Samson, a young professor who is found wandering in a Nevada desert with zero recollection of his wife, his name, or any details of his life after the age of 12 -- the unfortunate impact of an undetected brain tumor. Readers take the journey with Samson as he not only discovers who he wants to be, but comes to understand what it means to be human.

    More from The Stir: 12 Gorgeous Coloring Books for Grown-Ups (PHOTOS)

  • 'Elizabeth is Missing' by Emma Healey


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    Born in 1985, Healey wasn't yet 30 when her debut novel made its appearance on the UK's Sunday Times's bestseller list in 2014. The story sparked a bidding war among a whopping nine publishing houses, and she sold the television rights even before the book hit shelves. The protagonist is Maud, an 80-something woman who is convinced that her bestie has disappeared. But it soon becomes clear to readers that Maud is perhaps an unreliable narrator, as dementia leads her to buy container upon container of peaches (she can't remember that she has a cabinet full of them) -- and lose herself in memories of searching for her sister after World War II.

  • 'The Devil Wears Prada' by Lauren Weisberger


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    It took just two weeks for Weisberger to sell her first book, which gives readers a behind the scenes look at life as an assistant at a "fictional" magazine publisher. In reality, it was based on the 10 months Weisberger spent working for Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. Women lined up to buy copies of the book, which was released when she was just 26. Already saw the movie? No worries, the hilarious tome provides a deeper look at her time in fashionista hell.

  • 'Among the Ten Thousand Things' by Julia Pierpont


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    Can you imagine selling your first book at the age of 28 -- for six figures? That was Pierpont's reality when Random House snapped up her book, which she wrote while completing an MFA program at New York University. In it, a woman attempts to quietly forgive her husband for infidelity, but when her children discover his transgression, she is forced to face it in surprisingly funny -- and heartrending -- ways.

  • 'Legend' by Marie Lu


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    When Lu sold the publishing rights to her first book, dystopian novel Legend, at 26, she already knew it was only the beginning. Over the next two years, she released sequels Prodigy and Champion, completing a trilogy that brings to mind the immersive worlds of the Hunger Games and the Divergent series. When 15-year-old military prodigy June's brother is killed, Day is the main suspect. Readers will quickly fall in step with leads June and Day, as they come together and realize that all is not as it seems. Read it before it hits the big screen. 

    More from The Stir: 7 Life-Changing Books That Should be on Your Must-Read List (PHOTOS)

  • 'Divergent' by Veronica Roth


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    The first book in Roth's New York Times bestselling young adult series invents a dystopian future Chicago where society is divided into five distinct groups, and to stray -- or diverge, if you will -- is to find yourself dangerously on the outside. Readers get to know protagonist Beatrice, later dubbed "Tris," as she learns how her own identity as divergent puts her in a unique position to impact the her family and society at large. Amazingly, Roth released the book-cum-film-series when she was just 22 years old.

  • 'The Encyclopedia of Early Earth' by Isabel Greenberg


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    Even if you think graphic novels aren't your thing, there's a good chance you'll find something to love in this book, written and illustrated by London-based Greenberg and released when she was just 25. Told via a series of funny, curious stories that earned it a nod from NPR as one of its 2013 books of the year, it follows the travels of an early explorer as he traverses the world and shines a light on the creation and evolution of the world as reimagined by Greenberg. Come for the witty illustrations, stay for the twisted, modernized versions of the histories you thought you knew.

  • 'Alif the Unseen' by G. Willow Wilson


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    At just shy of the big 3-0, G. Willow Wilson drew the attention of the literary world. Her novel stars Alif, a hacker who uses his talents to aid everyone from revolutionaries to bloggers to pornographers looking to stay a step ahead of police in the Middle East at the start of the Arab Spring. But when the state comes for him, he's forced into an underground world dominated by a spirit race and learns that the unseen has a larger impact on his life than he ever imagined. 

  • 'Swamplandia!' by Karen Russell


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    Published just five months shy of her 30th birthday, Russell's first book was one of the New York Times's best books of 2012 and a finalist for the Pulitzer. It tells the story of the Bigtree family, which runs a titular tourist trap in the Everglades where visitors can watch alligator wrestling matches. But when the family's fortunes turn, it takes 13-year-old Ava Bigtree to set out on an epic, magical quest through the swamps to save them all.

    More from The Stir: 15 Children's Books That Make Us Cry Every Time (PHOTOS)

  • 'Maine' by J. Courtney Sullivan


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    Maine is actually the second book Sullivan published before the age of 30. To date, she has had three novels appear on the New York Times's bestseller list. This book follows three generations of the Kelleher family during a summer at their beachfront home, as three women face turning points that impact their own lives and everyone else who is drawn back to the cottage each year.

  • 'Prep' by Curtis Sittenfeld


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    The Cincinnati, Ohio-born writer hit the literary scene at the age of 29 with her debut novel, Prep. She attended boarding school and later taught at a private school in Washington, DC -- drawing on her experience to tell the story of Lee Fiora, a 14-year-old girl who remakes herself to fit in at a Massachusetts preparatory school after she wins a scholarship. Readers may not relate to life inside the hallowed halls of a prep school, but they will remember how it feels to want nothing more than to fit in.

  • 'Special Topics in Calamity Physics' by Marisha Pessl


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    Another winning take on school life: Pessi penned Special Topics at just 27. Protagonist Blue van Meer arrives at the St. Gallway School and falls in a with a clique that idolizes teacher Hannah Schneider. What starts as cocktail parties at the professor's home ends in a murder, and van Meer casts herself as the only one who can figure out what happened -- and why. Book nerds (we say it with love!) will especially enjoy this read; each chapter is thematically linked to a famous work, from Othello to Deliverance.

  • 'Nobody Is Ever Missing' by Catherine Lacey


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    After spending time hitchhiking through New Zealand, Lacey started writing short stories based on her experience there. The then-20-something maintains that it was more an accident than a plan that led to her novel, as her stories coalesced into Nobody Is Ever Missing. The novel drops readers into the existential crisis of Elyria, a fictional 20-something who picks up and leaves her husband and their life in New York City and -- you guessed it -- hitchhikes her way around New Zealand. Darkly funny, the book explores the biting rage and escalating doubt that builds inside Elyria, unbeknownst to the people she meets on her travels, prompting her to wonder which her is the real her.

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  • 'Panic in a Suitcase' by Yelena Akhtiorskaya


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    Published before her 30th birthday, Akhtiorskaya's debut novel has been called "a virtuosic debut [and] wry look at immigrant life in the global age." It details the Nasmertov family's journey from Odessa to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where they discover that no matter how far they move away from the old country, they can't seem to shake their collective past.

  • 'Faces in the Crowd' by Valeria Luiselli


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    Mexico City-born Luiselli was 28 when her haunting debut about a writer who is writing her own novel hit the national consciousness. The book within a book looks back on the protagonist's time as a translator for an independent press in Harlem, before the pressures of motherhood made it hard to find time to write. In its second half, the book jumps back a century to explore the life of a writer the young mother was once fascinated with, blurring the lines between the present and the distant past.

  • 'The People of Forever Are Not Afraid' by Shani Boianjiu


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    Talk about an insider's view: After serving two years in the Israeli Defense Forces, 25-year-old Boianjiu pulls back the curtain on what it's like to be a woman amongst men in a war zone. It takes an episodic approached to telling the story of three girls who are unwillingly drafted for service, but soon find that their time shapes them -- and their friendship -- in profound ways.

  • 'Shatter Me' by Tahereh Mafi


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    Shatter Me is the first book in a young adult trilogy that explores the world of Juliette, a 17-year-old with a touch that kills the living in a time when birds can no longer take flight and food is scarce. The government wants to use her power to wage war, but she would rather be a hero. Mafi -- who was 24 when the book was released -- sold the rights to the award-winning story arc to 20th Century Fox, so it may be coming to a theater near you.

    More from The Stir: 15 Great TV Characters Based on Real People (PHOTOS)

  • 'New Girl' by Paige Harbison


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    Harbison was just 20 -- 20! -- when she published this uncommon tale of teen angst. It simultaneously tells the story of "New Girl" and Becca, the missing student she replaces at the exclusive Manderlay Academy. As the newbie gets close to Becca's old flame, she starts to wonder if the AWOL student whom her classmates can't seem to gossip about enough will soon return to reclaim her place on campus.

  • 'The Kissing Booth' by Beth Reekles


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    This British writer was -- brace yourself -- 17 when she made her debut. Those looking for a breezy read will appreciate the tale of Elle Evans, a popular and pretty teen who has her first kiss with a bad boy at her school's Spring Carnival. The twist: The bad boy is her BFF's big bro. Yup. Beach chair reading at its finest.

  • 'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath


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    More than 53 years after it first appeared in print, Sylvia Plath's seminal work still has the power to pull readers into the whirlwind of Esther Greenwood's downward spiral. Greenwood -- who tries to escape the influence of oppressive men while tumbling headlong into mental illness over the course of the work -- is a stand-in for Plath, who committed suicide just days after it was released at the age of 30. Its subject manner was so haunting and close to her heart that she actually used a pseudonym, "Victoria Lucas," to publish it.

  • 'Cinder' by Marissa Meyer


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    The 28-year-old's first book reimagines the Cinderella story, relocating the would-be princess to futuristic Beijing and remaking her into a cyborg. It's the first in a series of five books, each of which tackles a different classic story, from Red Riding Hood to Snow White. Meyer was 28 when she sold the first book; she got her start writing Sailor Moon fan fiction.

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  • 'Before Life Happened' by Isabel Curtis


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    Following a life-changing loss, 16-year-old Hayden is forced to grow up much too fast. With no true anchor, her grief pushes her into perilous situations and -- eventually -- depression. Readers will appreciate the strength she exhibits as she crawls her way back. Her story is continued in a second book, set to be released in 2016. Isabel Curtis self-published the title in 2015.

  • 'The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter' by Carson McCullers


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    At 23 years old, McCullers was hailed as a literary genius for her first book. Released in 1940, it follows deaf-mute John Singer as he forges relationships with other marginalized people -- including a black man in a time when segregation was the order of the day -- in a small Southern town reminiscent of the one McCullers grew up in. Need more convincing? It was featured as an Oprah book club pick. 

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