Awesome women doing awesome stuff
June 4, 2014 3:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books in any genre with only three limiting factors. They have a female protagonist, NO sex and NO romance.
posted by 1066 to Media & Arts (63 answers total) 95 users marked this as a favorite
Can I ask you to clarify your "no romance" comment? What if the romance is not the main plot? Does the protagonist need to be single, then?
posted by mitschlag at 3:36 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well. It's a comic. Featuring talking animals. But it's epic! Majority female cast to boot (though not necessarily obvious). The omnibus collection of all volumes is a deal.
posted by Ky at 3:37 PM on June 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Any genre? Or just any genre of fiction?

For my non fiction suggestion:

Children with Emerald Eyes

Written by a woman who worked with special needs kids. It impressed me and I think it's about an awesome woman, doing awesome things. And has an awesome message in part of it where she worked with troubled teen girls that I think fits with what you are asking here.
posted by Michele in California at 3:48 PM on June 4, 2014

How about A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki? Female protagonist on all three levels of story, no romance or sex, and one of the three female protagonists is happily married but no sexytime.

Also, while I'm thinking of it, A Fine Balance has four protagonists in three separate but intertwining story lines. One is a woman doing awesome things and while there is a courtship, there is no romance in the way we normally market books.

There's one other tickling at the back of my brain and I wish I could come up with it. I may possibly be back.
posted by janey47 at 3:51 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Harriet the Spy
posted by anonymisc at 3:57 PM on June 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
posted by bleep at 4:02 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Westing Game (if having many, many protagonists, multiple of whom are awesome and female, counts)
posted by augustimagination at 4:05 PM on June 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm more than halfway through On Basilisk Station. So far, it's a pretty typical scifi space opera, except the main character, and plenty of minor characters, just happen to be female. No romance or sex yet.
posted by Metasyntactic at 4:08 PM on June 4, 2014

Oh man, the BEST book about an awesome woman who did awesome stuff is Beryl Markham's West with the Night, which details her career as a bush pilot in 1920s East Africa and her goal of being the first person to cross the Atlantic east to west. It's my absolute favorite, I've read it tens of times, and I don't recall any sex or romance at all.
posted by stellaluna at 4:13 PM on June 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy (young adult fantasy) comes close. There may be some peripheral romance or hints at romance, can't remember for sure. If so, it's not central to the story. Good books, quite readable for adults.
posted by mattu at 4:22 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ronia the Robber's Daughter.
posted by tilde at 4:28 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just finished reading The Rook after seeing it recommended in a number of AskMe threads. It's a fun supernatural mystery/thriller and fits your qualifications well.
posted by duien at 4:32 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, I remember now, this is a fantastic one. American Fuji, by Sara Backer. It looks like chick lit, but it's not. It's a very thoughtful and lovely book about grief and loss and isolation, and what it takes to reach across the gulf to another person in friendship, not in romance. There are very funny moments and situations, and it's a quick read, but it has stayed with me for years, and I've given it as a gift many times.
posted by janey47 at 4:43 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

mitschlag. They don't have to be single. I don't mind it being acknowledged that they're in a relationship -- just no romancey stuff. SO is part of the story = cool (here, babe, let me help you shine that McGuffin). SO and protagonist doing relationship stuff = not cool (here, babe, let me give you a sexy foot rub while you shine that McGuffin).

Michelle in California, fiction and non-fiction welcome, please.
posted by 1066 at 4:44 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

There is a fascinating book about early 20th century dentist Leonie von Meusebach-Zesch called Leonie: A Woman Ahead of Her Time. Taken from her journals, it describes her travels through Alaska, CA, and other places, her life and her work.
posted by veerat at 4:50 PM on June 4, 2014

carl sagan's "contact"
posted by bruce at 4:53 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead. I think there was some very minor flirting (like 1940s flirting -- no time period is specified) but certainly no sex or romance.
posted by jabes at 4:54 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh and We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson.
posted by jabes at 4:55 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe some of the cozy mystery series like Josephine Tey or Agatha Christie's Miss Marple.
posted by travertina at 5:00 PM on June 4, 2014

I admit that I have not read this one, although I own it and it has been warmly recommended to me, so I don't know how much romance/relationship is in it, although I don't get the sense that there's much -- Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--and the Journey of a Generation
posted by janey47 at 5:20 PM on June 4, 2014

Seconding Beryl Markham's West With the Night. She sounded pretty indomitable.

Gossip: She does not discuss it at all in the book but I recall reading elsewhere that she was in a bit of a romantic triangle thing with Isak Dinesen and Denys Finch-Hatton, of Out of Africa fame.
posted by ambrosia at 5:33 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also: A Wrinkle In Time.
posted by ambrosia at 5:34 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I really loved Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel, Flight Behavior. Strong, independent female protagonist just taking care of business all over the place. She does develop a platonic crush on her mentor but there's no romance and the way it's handled just makes her stronger. Highly recommended.

If I recall correctly, her earlier works like The Bean Trees and Animal Behavior might fit your requirements but The Poisonwood Bible, while excellent, has one of the daughters fall in love with a native.
posted by danabanana at 5:39 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Haha, danabanana, I also was going to suggest The Bean Trees/Pigs in Heaven! (Although I believe there's a bit of non-primary-character sex in the latter.)
posted by the_blizz at 5:40 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, with the potential caveat that all the characters are presumed female by the narrator whether they are biologically female or not; as I recall though the protagonist is verified to be a woman via the dialogue of other characters.
posted by trunk muffins at 5:42 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for stepping in and clearing that up, the_blizz! I read her early books so long ago and I really just remember them being about women and/or women trying to get away from men. Not to be too evangelical, but if you haven't read her latest, omg you should. It's incredible!
posted by danabanana at 5:54 PM on June 4, 2014

> I'm more than halfway through On Basilisk Station.

Honor Harrington will eventually find herself in a relationship or two, but she will never cease to kick ass. I did bail those books when she got a telepathic cat, though, but that's some 10-12 books away from where you are now.

The book "Wool" by Hugh Howey is apocalyptic SF, and it's sectioned into 5 novellas, with 2 women as the POV characters and protagonists in 2-5. The meat of the story is 3-5, in which Juliette, an engineer, is selected as the sheriff of the Silo, apparently the last remaining habitat for all of humanity, a cylindrical 200-story-deep bunker that just barely peeks out on the uninhabitable surface of Earth. Juliette does start up a relationship, but it's so far in the background that if they'd cut it out, it wouldn't leave a hole in the story.

The following books, "Shift" and "Dust" add a mix of male and female characters with stories of their own. There's some sex in Shift.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:08 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Code Name Verity (which meets your criteria but does have a sad ending).
posted by WidgetAlley at 6:20 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Connie Willis: Doomsday Book and Bellwether.
posted by mgar at 6:31 PM on June 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Wild Life by Molly Gloss
The Everlasting Story of Nory by Nicholson Baker
The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (hint of romantic/sexual feelings but no overt romance)
posted by Redstart at 6:39 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Many favorites listed already (Willis, Markham, Muriel Barbery, & Louise Fitzhugh). I'll recommend Octavia Butler. My favorite, "Lilith's Brood" was a trilogy when I read it. It does, obviously concern itself with reproduction so if that disqualifies it try something else of hers.
posted by cleroy at 6:40 PM on June 4, 2014

off the top of my head...

The Golden Compass
The Spellman Files
posted by j_curiouser at 7:28 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not a fan of the mystery genre under normal circumstances, but part of what I loved about Sara Gran's Clair DeWitt and the City of the Dead is precisely what you are looking for: a kickass female protagonist who has no romantic entanglements. Nada.
posted by msali at 8:23 PM on June 4, 2014

Torey Hayden's nonfiction; she discusses her relationships in some of them, but the focus is on her work with special needs kids
posted by brujita at 9:56 PM on June 4, 2014

Ursula Le Guin's The Telling.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:16 PM on June 4, 2014

My favorite, "Lilith's Brood" was a trilogy when I read it. It does, obviously concern itself with reproduction so if that disqualifies it try something else of hers.

Reproduction, but not romance.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:17 PM on June 4, 2014

Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy (young adult fantasy) comes close. There may be some peripheral romance or hints at romance, can't remember for sure. If so, it's not central to the story. Good books, quite readable for adults.

There's a bit of romance in the first book, Sabriel. Essentially none in the sequels.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:18 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

MeFi's own Charlie Stross has a few good female protagonists worth a look. The first one that comes to mind is Halting State, set in a new-future independent Scotland, and has 3 protagonists, 2 of which are women. One of them is a midlevel police officer, and she returns in the sequel Rule 34. IIRC the other two protagonists eventually find an attraction, but this really isn't a relationship story in the least, it's a technothriller in an SF future.

Halting State is about a strange theft in an MMO game which leads to an elaborate threat of technoterrorism, while Rule 34 is about a series of murders caused by spammers. Yup.

The latter book has a bit of sex-related crime in it, including a sexual threat to Sue's lover, but the lover in question is out of the picture most of the time, and her relationship is mostly just a distracting bit of stress-- the relationship's not part of the novel. Hmm, looks like the third book in the trilogy has been canceled, apparently because real-life revelations have crapped on his inventions about online practices by government spy agencies.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:59 PM on June 4, 2014

Cayce Pollard and Hollis Henry from William Gibson's excellent Pattern Recognition, Spook Country and Zero History fit the bill.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:44 PM on June 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Anne Holt's 1222 is an unusual locked-room mystery with a female protagonist and definitely no sex or romance.

Carol O'Connell's Mallory series, starting with Mallory's Oracle, is a detective series that also fits the bill (unless it would bother you that one of the secondary characters has an unrequited crush on the protagonist).

On the fantasy/SF side, the first to come to mind are The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein (the first of, so far, four books, all of which are excellent, but be aware that volume 2, The Outskirter's Secret, has a strong romantic subplot), Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon (in which a grandmother finds herself in a first-contact role), and Emilie and the Hollow World, a steampunkish YA adventure story by Martha Wells.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:08 AM on June 5, 2014

The two first books of Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall trilogy, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, feature a young female protagonist. Both are YA fantasy or scifi (I've had looong discussions about this), and there's no sex or romance as far as I remember.

(The third book in the trilogy focuses on a male protagonist, although the same female character still plays a part, and there's a tiny bit of sex and romance.)
posted by rawrberry at 12:40 AM on June 5, 2014

The Juniper trilogy by Monica Furlong: Juniper, Wise Child, and Colman (which was published after the author's death). You might have some trouble tracking it down (I finally got a hold of them through a local bookstore) but I love them and think it would be worth it. They're about magic - the wiccan kind - but the author was actually quite Christian and progressive. Set in a medieval realm that kind of sounds like England (they mention Cornwall) so think King Arthur kind of thing. Lots of really strong, vivid, varied female characters.
posted by like_neon at 1:36 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

True Grit
posted by Wantok at 2:31 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta is a fantastic book and I love it even though it made me cry. It's classified as YA but I'm not that young anymore, and every other adult I've shared it with (including my mom) has been pretty blown away.

Seanan McGuire's urban faery fantasy October Daye series has a couple of relationships but nothing I'd call romance? And October ("Toby") is an awesome protagonist in every single way.

For more YA recs, Frances Hardinge writes amazing young ladies having fantastic adventures. See for example Fly By Night, Gullstruck Island/The Lost Conspiracy (different titles in the UK & US) and A Face Like Glass.

Also seconding duien's rec of The Rook by Daniel O'Malley. You can even read the first chapter online here to see if it strikes your fancy.
posted by harujion at 2:33 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Most of Tove Jansson's adult fiction would be applicable. Particularly The True Deceiver, The Summer Book and Art in Nature. Fair Play is about a relationship between two women but it's not romance and there's no sex.

Donna Tartt's The Little Friend.

Terry Pratchett's Discworld series has many protagonists, some of which are female and all of whom are badass. No romance. The Tiffany Aching books are particularly good, starting with The Wee Free Men.

Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series probably mentions relationships but they're not what the books are about. Precious Ramotswe is a fantastic protagonist.
posted by mymbleth at 3:11 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Deed of Paksenarrion is about a female paladin.
posted by elmay at 3:26 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a caveat, the Deed of Paksenarrion contains two instances of attempted/completed rape. It seems to be generally held as a well done usage of it, i.e. a "terrible thing that happened to her" over a "defining moment" and she is a pretty awesome woman doing awesome stuff.

2nding Seanan McGuire's October Daye series.
posted by bookdragoness at 4:36 AM on June 5, 2014

Diary of Anne Frank mostly fits the bill
The Story of My Life - Helen Keller
Beloved - Alice Walker
Mists of Avalon is female driven, not sure if it has any romance it's been a while
Cujo - Stephen King
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon - Stephen King
Bossypants - Tina Fey
The 100 Dresses - Eleanor Estes
Little House on the Prairie up to the last few books
Emily of New Moon
Anne of Green Gables up to the last books
Life on the Refrigerator Door -Alice Kuipers
There is a little romance in The Hunger Games, but no sex
Kira-Kira - Cynthia Kadohata
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood - I don't remember romance?
Charlotte's Web - EB White
State of Wonder - Ann Patchett mostly fits the bill
My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult mostly fits
Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Dreamers of the Day mostly fits the bill with some light romance - Mary Doria Russell
posted by mazienh at 6:14 AM on June 5, 2014

STRONGLY seconding West With The Night, it's one of my all-time favorite books. In a similar vein, the memoir Portrait of Myself by Margaret Bourke-White is extraordinary (though a bit harder to find). She was a major photographer (and war photographer) at a time when women really didn't do that.
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:32 AM on June 5, 2014

I"m currently reading the Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr. Anna is a park ranger who kicks ass, and while she does get married, it's very peripheral to the story of her catching the various bad guys. They're definitely airport novels, but so far highly entertaining.
posted by csox at 7:34 AM on June 5, 2014

Zoe's Tale by MeFi's own John Scalzi.
Mirabile and Uhura's Song by MeFi's own Janet Kagan (sadly, deceased).
posted by plinth at 8:35 AM on June 5, 2014

I just started reading a biography about Beryl Markham called Straight on Till Morning, by Mary Lovell. There are romantic entanglements, but so far it's not about those relationships. They're mentioned, things happen because (or in spite) of them, and then the next part of her life unfolds. It's really very interesting, both because of her extraordinary character, and because of the time and places in which she lived.

This book, by the way, does good job of teasing out the places in West With the Night where Markham took literary liberties for the sakes of story and expediency.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:54 AM on June 5, 2014

The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty. Very strong female protagonist dealing with all sorts of life's oddities in a Southern Gothic classic.
posted by danabanana at 10:11 AM on June 5, 2014

I really liked Crudrat by Gail Carriger, which fits these criteria. (Only available as an audio book for now due to some odd licensing issues, but it's a full-cast audio production which is very well done.)
posted by JDHarper at 10:51 AM on June 5, 2014

If you like Madeleine L'Engle and are up for some nonfiction, her Crosswicks Journals series is really lovely. They are basically just her musings on life - family, relationships, religion, home, death, marriage, love - across the last 40-ish years of her life. As someone who is non-religious myself, I find her discussions of religion especially wonderful as she comes from a very liberal Christian tradition and is willing to critically question her own beliefs. Plus it's just wonderful learning more about an amazing woman whose work kind of defined and expanded my childhood and adult interests.
posted by augustimagination at 11:27 AM on June 5, 2014

The Silence of the Lambs
posted by K.P. at 12:44 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to 2nd Code Name Verity. That book was so damn good I went through all my goodreads ratings and knocked every 5 star down to a 4 so that I could give it a 5.
posted by magnetsphere at 2:56 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fantastic responses so far. Thanks everyone.

I'm going to leave this open for a bit to give late-comers a chance to respond.
posted by 1066 at 3:01 PM on June 5, 2014

A couple of non-fiction offerings for you from Victorian women, both of which make my heart sing just to think of them:

Frances Willard, Wheel Within a Wheel - how I learned to ride the bicycle (1895) - One of the first women to ride a bicycle describes the experience and reflects on the bike's potential to emancipate women (via this MeFi post by julen).
Excerpt here.

Isabel Gill - Six Months in Ascension: An Unscientific Account of a Scientific Expedition (1878) - Wife of esteemed astronomer accompanies him to a remote mid-Atlantic island to help him carry out astronomical measurements; saves the day by finding a second location for him to measure from when the first was blighted by heavy cloud; camps out with him for the duration of the expedition; writes about the whole experience in terms she hopes fellow Victorian ladies might understand: "I myself do not understand mathematical terms, so how could I use them with the hope of explaining these things to my readers? However, I can use knitting-needles, and perhaps they may do just as well." (more in my first ever MeFi post back in 2004!) Edited to add: In case this makes Isabel sound like a bit of a girly assistant to her husband - she's not, she's awesome and capable and eloquent!
posted by penguin pie at 7:04 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Flavia de Luce novels by Alan Bradley feature an extremely precocious 11yo girl solving mysteries. Her older sister is a flirt, but Flavia's only interest in these minor romances is finding ways to leverage them for her own purposes.
posted by sibilatorix at 10:00 AM on June 8, 2014

So many excellent recommendations! I don't want to mess up the post by marking tons of answers as best.

I forsee many happy months of reading without stress. Thank you all.
posted by 1066 at 3:09 PM on September 10, 2014

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