6 Novels With Emotionally Complex Female Protagonists

Posted on October 3, 2017 by

Colleen Hoover

Colleen Hoover is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen novels, including Goodreads Choice Award winners Confess and It Ends with Us. In 2015, Colleen and her family founded The Bookworm Box, a bookstore and monthly subscription service offering signed novels donated by authors. All profits are given to various charities each month to help those in need. Her new novel, Without Merit, is out now.


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My favorite characters are complex female protagonists whose narratives are driven by their passion and emotional depth. Characters that are multi-layered tend to hold my attention better as a reader, so as a writer, I find inspiration in those characters that are interesting, but also interestedWithout Merit features a 17-year-old character struggling to find her place in a family she feels out of touch with. Withdrawn and prone to making bad decisions, Merit’s complex (and often problematic) behavior and unassuming strength are what drive the narrative. For your enjoyment, I’ve pulled together a list of a few of my favorite emotionally complex female characters that portray great strength through their many layers, while also providing entertainment and models for reflective growth.


Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

This book focuses on the lives of three vastly different women who are embroiled in a murder mystery. Every time you think you have each character figured out, more secrets are revealed that prove just how multifaceted this story and the female leads are. What I found the most enthralling about this novel is the overall sense of female empowerment the characters left me with after it was over.


Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie seems downright unlikeable when we meet her, but that’s only because she doesn’t know how not to be passive aggressive. It’s how she was trained to be. But as she ventures out on her own, she starts to understand herself and her own desires better. Her perfectionism turns into care for others and her OCD becomes charming. This is a woman who felt like many older women I know, who you end up rooting for despite her less than appealing narrative start.


The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Evelyn Hugo is an aging and reclusive movie star who sits down with a reporter to reveal the truth about her life and the image she portrayed to the public. Having lived life in the spotlight, the world assumes they know all the layers to Evelyn, but once truths are revealed, it becomes clear just how little the world actually understood about this larger-than-life character.


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The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert

Simplicity of Cider

This is a charming novel about a prickly but gifted cider-maker whose quiet life is interrupted by the arrival of a handsome man and his young son at her family’s careworn orchard (by the author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake and Luck, Love & Lemon Pie). Sanna is strong-willed and set in her ways: a hermit, if you will, that needs some nudging to come out of her self-induced shell.


April and Oliver by Tess Callahan

I devour friends-to-lovers stories, and April and Oliver is at the top of the list because of April’s emotional journey. After suffering a devastating tragedy, she becomes the jaded wild child, completely opposite of her best friend Oliver’s straight-forward, narrow path through life. April’s tragedy changes her, and Oliver is forced to try and break through the walls she’s put up as a result. Their conflicting personalities create a fascinating dynamic that I couldn’t get enough of.


Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher

Senna Richards is one of my favorite female leads to date. She wakes up in an unfamiliar cabin with a familiar person and no way out. A psychological suspense novel, Mud Vein captures Senna’s complicated personality in the past and present. Coupled with the chilling setting, Tarryn Fisher created a gripping read that I couldn’t put down.

Who are your favorite fictional leading ladies? Tell us about them in the comments!


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