This post is a bit of a departure from the premise of my web site. The novels featured below are not published by small publishers, nor are they specifically for young people. Nevertheless, I thought they would be of interest to teachers, parents, and teens looking to read and recommend novels featuring women scientists.
The following novels are ones that I’ve enjoyed and consider to be “good literature.” The novels below are realistic works of fiction—not science fiction. The science in these books is prominent and a main part of the story.
Interestingly, most of these books feature two women scientists who are friends and/or colleagues.
If you have other books to add to this list, please feel free to leave a comment below.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier — A historical novel based on the lives of two real women fossil hunters in the early 1800s: Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot. Anning, from a working-class family, started hunting fossils to sell as a way to increase her family’s income, and ended up finding several large skeletons of extinct marine reptiles. Philpot, a middle-class lady, hunted fossils to pass the time, and amassed a respected collection of fossil fish. The novel chronicles their friendship, as well as their efforts to be noticed and included in the male-only scientific community of the time. This book would be a good companion read with Persuasion by Jane Austen. Remarkable Creatures takes place in the English seaside town of Lyme Regis at the same time that Jane Austen lived and wrote. A portion of Persuasion also takes place in Lyme Regis.
The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh — A beautiful, absorbing, unusual book about an Indian-American cetologist (dolphin researcher) working in the Sunderbans, a group of tropical, tiger-infested islands off the coast of India. Piya, the cetologist, befriends an illiterate fisherman, Fokir, who has an amazing self-taught knowledge of river dolphins. Although they don’t share a language, they manage to communicate enough to collaborate on tracking the movements of these dolphins. The final storm scene is gripping and poignant.
Intuition by Allegra Goodman — Two of the main characters are women scientists: Robin, a single 38-year-old post doctoral student researching cures for cancer, and Marion, a married mother who is co-director of the lab where Robin works. The story revolves around Robin’s attempt to prove that the remarkable results produced by her former boyfriend are the result of false data. Is Robin motivated by jealousy, or by a dedication to scientific rigor? Why does Marion fail to support Robin in her quest for accuracy and truth? The characters in this novel are complex and the lab scenes are full of detail. This would be a great book to spark discussions of issues like jealousy, competition, ambition, and collaboration.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver – There are two women scientists in this book: Deanna, a 47-year-old wildlife biologist who studies coyotes, and Lusa, a twenty-something entomologist interested in moths. During the summer of this story, these two women, who happen to live in an isolated Appalachian town, attempt to engage with and educate the farmers and hunters in their area about the importance of wildlife and nature. The story also deals with the fertility, mating, and reproduction that goes on among humans and animals during this one “prodigal summer.”
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett — again, two women scientists are featured in this novel. Forty-two-year-old Marina Singh is a pharmaceutical researcher who is sent to the Amazon rainforest to track down 73-year-old Annick Swenson, an aloof researcher who has been living with an Amazon tribe for years, researching a fertility drug. Annick is a former medical school professor of Marina’s, but while Marina revered her teacher, Annick doesn’t remember her student. While in the rainforest, Marina also wants to investigate the mysterious death of her colleague Anders Eckman. This novel has a strong plot and a fascinating setting.