Compelling Reads: My Favourite Memoirs by Remarkable Women

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

best memoirs written by women

There's something so special about reading a compelling memoir. While I love reading fiction, memoirs remain one of my very favourite genres - especially those written by resilient women. 

The first memoir I remember reading was Geri Halliwell's first book, If Only. Released in 1999, I was a teenage girl navigating my own journey after the loss of my mom in 1998. I absolutely adored the Spice Girls, and was positively gutted when Geri left the group. I was riveted by Geri's story in her memoir - her journey to fame, the loss of her father, how the Spice Girls came to be, her decision to leave the band and where she saw herself heading next. I of course got her second book, Just for the Record, and my appreciation for the memoir genre continued into my 20s and 30s. 

I wanted to share a list of compelling, moving memoirs written by women. While each of these books are very different, there is a common theme of resilience, tenacity and grit woven between them. As I was compiling this list, I realized that many of my favourite memoirs also have a common theme of grief. I don't know that I realized this connection until I saw them all in a row, but it makes sense given that is something I think a lot about in my life. Up until now, there haven't been many people I know who share similar experiences of grief; Reading these stories in these women's memoirs have been a comfort to me, a reassurance, and have helped with my own processing throughout my grief journey. 

Here are some of my favourite memoirs, written by women:

I Shouldn't Be Telling You This (But I'm Going to Anyway) by Chelsea Devantez

Synopsis: In I Shouldn't Be Telling You This (But I'm Going to Anyway), Chelsea Devantez chronicles her challenging upbringing and rise in Hollywood as a comedian, screenwriter, and podcast host. Through a series of raw, humorous, and heartfelt stories, she explores survival, resilience, and the influential women in her life who shaped her journey

Themes: Resilience, survival, empowerment, identity and humour. 

Why It’s a Favourite: I actually squealed when I received the ARC notification for this book. I've been a fan of Chelsea Devantez and her podcast, Glamorous Trash for a few years now. With her podcast's focus on celebrity memoirs and her love of the genre, coupled with her excellent writing and storytelling abilities, I knew this book was going to be excellent; it did not disappoint! I Shouldn't Be Telling You This (But I'm Going to Anyway) is raw, compelling, candid and funny. Each chapter is named after a significant woman in her life, and the essays reveal the impact those women had on her, snippets of her life, and the moments that stuck with her. In my Goodreads review I said reading Chelsea's memoir felt like having a long overdue catch up with an old friend. You know the ones where you weave seamlessly between deep, intense conversations about traumatic experiences, sprinkled with gossip and advice, and the next thing you know you're in a fit of side splitting laughter and/or tears that won't stop flowing?! Just like that. In book form. I'm in awe of the grit, tenacity and humour she's embraced in her life. This book comes out today (June 4th) and I'm so excited for others to experience it. And if you love celebrity memoirs written by women, you should definitely check out Chelsea's podcast and become one of the cookies! 

Note: I received an advance reader copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Synopsis: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner is a heartfelt memoir that explores her grief and cultural identity following her mother's death. Zauner, lead vocalist of Japanese Breakfast, intertwines her Korean heritage with personal anecdotes and recipes, illustrating how food became a connection to her late mother and a way to navigate her loss. The book is an evocative exploration of family, food, and the complexities of reconciling one's cultural identity.

Themes: Grief, food, cultural identity, mother-daughter relationships and healing. 

Why It’s a Favourite: I had this one on my TBR list for awhile and then read it with my book club. I cried so much while reading Crying in H Mart, and it was very cathartic. As someone who lost their mom at 13, I deeply connected with the grief Michelle depicted, her story of healing, and the things we don't always talk about when it comes to grief. Like trying to repress the painful flashbacks and loops that sometimes pop up in our minds when it comes to our loved ones - it was so honest. I loved the discussion of food throughout the book, and and the candour with which the author discussed her connection to her heritage. This book was deeply moving, sincere and profound. 

I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

Synopsis: I'm Glad My Mom Died is a poignant memoir detailing Jennette McCurdy's tumultuous relationship with her abusive mother, who controlled many aspects of her life and career as an actor. McCurdy candidly recounts her struggles, and offers a powerful narrative of overcoming trauma and finding her own identity. Through dark humour and heartfelt reflection, she reveals the complexities of healing and self-discovery.

Themes: Child stardom, grief, abuse and control, mental health, mother-daughter relationships, eating disorders, self discovery and healing.

Why It’s a Favourite: I devoured this book in a day, while I was in a really difficult season of life. I was intrigued by her story and was grateful to be focusing on something outside myself during that season. There were many things that Jennette wrote about grief that struck a chord with me. She talked about trying to talk to folks who had no concept of loss, saying "I feel like the world is divided into two types of people: people who know loss and people who don't". And then went on to talk about disregarding people who didn't get it. Oof - I've been there. She also had some great perspective on how we romanticize those who have passed away and how we struggle to be honest about them. I was impressed with the candour and humour that the author was able to demonstrate throughout the book, and the title certainly got people's attention. 

Here After by Amy Lin

Synopsis: Here After is a heart wrenching memoir about love and loss from debut author Amy Lin following the death of her husband. Less than two weeks after her staggering loss, Amy finds herself in the hospital facing her own health crisis. The book shares Amy and Kurtis' love story through moving vignettes, coupled with an honest perspective on what we think the grieving process actually entails versus how it unfolds. 

Themes: Grief, loss, resilience, memory and legacy. 

Why It’s a Favourite: "How can grief be so universal, and yet still so wildly misunderstood?" This question in Here After echos so many of my own feelings about grief, and a theme I've been exploring for over 25 years. I resonated deeply with Amy's perspective, her questions and all the challenges she faced as she navigated devastating grief following her husband's death. I appreciated her honesty and candour, and how she not only talked about the grief, but the deep love that was the foundation for their relationship. 

Note: I received an advance reader copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

Synopsis: In her memoir Open Book, Jessica Simpson candidly shares her journey from pop star to business mogul, revealing the personal struggles and triumphs she encountered along the way. Through raw and heartfelt storytelling, Jessica offers readers an intimate glimpse into her life behind the spotlight.

Themes: Addiction, body image, the pressures of fame, faith, love and self-acceptance. 

Why It’s a Favourite: In 1999, I remember seeing Jessica Simpson (and her sister Ashlee, who was one of her backup dancers) open for 98 Degrees at Massey Hall. Jessica's talent was so apparent, but the way the media treated her throughout the 90s and 00s was appalling. Her memoir really delved into that time and the years that followed - through her marriage, divorce, challenges with body image, addiction and growing her business. I love how she quoted her journals from over the years, and the perspective she had on the other side of so many ups and downs. I adore the message she ended the book with, about having the courage to be honest with ourselves, "...because we know that honesty with lead to somewhere". (This was also the first episode of Chelsea Devantez's podcast that she released, and it's such a good one!)

These memoirs only scratch the surface of the genre, and I definitely had some recency bias when I was putting this list together. There have been many other memoirs by women that have made an indelible impact on me including: 

As I mentioned, Geri Halliwell's If Only is the first memoir I remember reading (celebrity or otherwise) and remains a dear one in my heart. I should probably go back for a re-read one day to see how it feels now. Janet Mock's Redefining Realness is a powerful coming of age memoir that details her experience as a trans woman of colour, growing up in a challenging environment and exploring her identity. I'd also like to read her second book, Surpassing Certainty, which details the lessons she learned in her 20s. (And if you haven't watched Pose, you should do that!) Yes, I included Britney in there. I wanted it to be like 400 pages longer than it was, but still I had to include it on the list. Perhaps one day she'll release a sequel. And Michelle Obama is truly an icon - I really enjoyed learning more about the experiences that shaped her, her time in the White House, and her relationship with husband. 

I've also got some other memoirs sitting on my shelf/kindle waiting for me to read them, as well as my TBR list including Ali Wong's Dear Girls, Leslie F*cking Jones, Nicole Chung's All you Can Ever Know, and the Many Lives of Mama Love by Lara Love Hardin.

There truly is something so special about a memoir, and I feel grateful to have gained so much wisdom, strength, and courage from these women's stories. I know that some of these books will be ones I return to for a re-read, and can't wait to see which memoirs impact me deeply in the future. 

Do you have a favourite memoir? I'd love to hear about which women's memoirs have stuck with you or any you're looking forward to reading. 


Disclosure: Some of the memoirs shared in this post were received as advance reader copies (ARCs) from the publishers. All opinions expressed are my own. Additionally, this post contains affiliate links. This means I may earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links, at no extra cost to you. 

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