by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian
In the ‘90s, the term “chick lit” became popular, much like the movie term “chick flick.” Books like Bridget Jones’s Diary defined the new genre, which was generally written for women and featured young adult female main characters in the present day, struggling with careers and relationships.
After a while, people began to question the term: did it apply to every novel written by a woman with a female main character? Did it apply if the focus of the novel was mainly about a woman’s relationships with other people? Or if it was about finding success in a career and romantic love? Or whether the book was produced mostly as lightweight entertainment? I’ve noticed that the term has been used less and less in the past ten years.
There’s also the term “women’s fiction.” This is a less flippant name, and it sometimes is used interchangeably with “chick lit,” but it tends to be a broader term meaning books written about women for an intended female audience, mostly by female authors. The Women’s Fiction Writers Association defines women’s fiction as a story in which the plot is driven by the female main character’s emotional journey. They say these are layered stories about one or several characters, often multiple generations; the adult character struggles with world issues, which results in emotional growth; and, while it can include romantic elements, the plot is not driven by romance.
There are concerns about whether classifying a book as women’s fiction means that it’s taken less seriously, and whether most female-centered books get slotted into this category even though they may be high-quality literature that could appeal to men or women. There’s no equivalent term for books geared to men.
Regardless of this debate, women’s fiction remains a name for a general style of books. If you like to read about women “on the brink of life change and personal growth,” which is part of the Romance Writers of America’s definition of women’s fiction, the library has some new books that may appeal to you.
Her new book A Spark of Light just came out in early October. The novel is set during a hostage crisis at a women’s reproductive health services clinic, and it works backward in time to show the events that brought each of the characters to that place. The hostage negotiator arrives at the scene and discovers that his teenage daughter is inside. An undercover protester finds herself held at gunpoint by a man who shares her views on abortion. Picoult is known for writing about the human side of controversial topics.
The Ensemble by Aja Gabel is the story of four young musicians who form a string quartet and, because of the friendship that develops, become a family. They experience success and failure, as well as heartbreak, marriage, and parenthood. Reviewers have praised the way the characters seem so real.
The Late Bloomers Club by Louise Miller sounds like a perfect gentle small town novel. The owner of the Miss Guthrie Diner and her free-spirited filmmaker sister have been left a beautiful farmhouse and land by a beloved resident of the community, but they find out their benefactor was in the process of selling her land to a big-box store developer before she died. The sisters weigh out what would be best for the town as their neighbors freely share their opinions on the matter. And then one sister starts to fall for the store’s rep when he comes to town.
Fiction is good for helping us have compassion for others, and women’s fiction is especially concerned with that. May we all find ways to imagine the challenges that other people face and do some growing of our own as we read good books.