Win a copy of So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman

This week, Cara Hoffman’s debut novel So Much Pretty comes out in paperback, and today, we are giving away copies of this remarkable book to five lucky Feministing readers.

I reviewed So Much Pretty last year:

… this is a book about how every one of us colludes in rape culture. It’s about how we close our eyes to it, or make excuses for it, even when it’s right there in front of us. And it’s a book about the different ways that people try to stop colluding and decide to do something, whether it’s through the career they choose, or the way they raise their children, or by writing about it honestly and openly.

That’s exactly what reporter Stacy Flynn does: she writes, in a brutally honest way, about violence against women. And it’s exactly what Hoffman has done here. She has drawn a detailed and unsettlingly realistic picture of a small community in which violence against women happens every day, in big, headline-making ways, and in small, barely perceptible ways. And she has imagined what it might look like if some women simply decided that they weren’t going to tolerate that violence for a moment longer.

To celebrate the paperback release, we’re giving away five copies of this breathtaking, gut-punching book to the first five commenters to answer this question:

What’s the best piece of contemporary woman-penned fiction you’ve read in the last year, and why? And no, you do not get extra credit for saying So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman.

If you aren’t lucky enough to win yourself a copy, I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy in some other fashion. Also, if you aren’t reading Hoffman’s blog, a mix of feminist news analysis and reflections on the writing process, you should be. And, look for her new book, out later this year.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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Join the Conversation

  • Brenna Cook

    I recently read Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers. It was an amazingly gritty and realistic look at the life of a semi-historical 17th century woman sent from France to help populate the new world. An excellent book, it’s apparently the product of the author’s master’s thesis on the subject of using fiction to teach history. I highly recommend it!

  • Susannah

    The “Hunger Games” series by Suzanne Collins. Maybe that’s cliché of me, but those books are so much more than their popularity. From a purely feminist standpoint, they’re fascinating. I can’t remember the last time I read such a capable, flawed, real-feeling female protagonist in sci-fi. They aren’t the most profound books in the world, and the writing isn’t the most sophisticated, but to have an author treat a teenage girl like not just a real person but a hero brought tears of gratitude to my eyes, especially in this world where we teenage girls are treated fictionally as vicious stereotypes. And the fact that the first movie is already selling out is a testament to the series’ power.

  • Eden

    “This Child Will Be Great” is the autobiographical novel by the first female president in Africa. Sirleaf recants with both intellect and charisma when recalling the moments in her life. It’s so empowering to read a book about fearlessness; it’s amazing to know women like Sirleaf truly exist.

  • Natalie

    The best…wow, that’s so difficult. Plus I don’t really know what qualifies as contemporary. I love Margaret Atwood, but is that contemporary?
    I guess I’d have to say The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I read it just before the hype hit a few years ago and it’s stayed with me ever since. Her writing has a way of infecting your mind (in a good way!) with the possibility of total disaster as well as inescapable hope. Her books beautifully illustrate both human tenderness and their cavernous capacity for evil. Her characters are very well developed, showing both vulnerability and unbreakable strength, often in the same paragraph. Katniss is a role-model, to say the least, but only an accidental one. Her devotion to those she loves sparks a rebellion against a cruel and powerful government, making her both an incredible badass and a loving older sister and daughter. Her male characters often show a vulnerability and sensitivity absent from so much young adult fiction, as well as their own personal fortitude that’s not all about physical strength or good looks. Ultimately, a bittersweet read that claws at your heartstrings.
    What’s not to love?

  • Alison

    I’ve had this book on my “to-read” list for a while, so this is awesome!

    I’ve read a lot of good fiction over the past year, most of it by women authors, but one that really stood out for me in interesting ways was Commencement, by J. Courtney Sullivan. I say “in interesting ways” because when I first read the summary of it, I didn’t think it would be a book I’d enjoy. The novel follows four young women who meet as new students at Smith College, through their schooling years and into their lives post-college. At first glance, it seemed like light beach reading, and it is, but without any negative connotation that might imply. The characters, that I worried would be cliched or flat, are drawn quite realistically – there is a good mix of expected traits (the rad fem with wild hair, the prim and preppy girl hiding her pain) and surprising individuality and depth. The friendships are not absolute but follow some of the same ups and downs many of us experiences in our real lives. None of the women are perfect, but they are imperfect in plausible ways, and the challenges they face supply drama, but it’s real drama, and they handle things in ways I think we can all identify with.

    (I’m purposely being vague so as not to spoil! Haha)

    I would definitely suggest this book to anyone who enjoys tales of female friendships and the struggles of finding your way in the world when you’re not even sure where you want to go, who you want to be, what of you is real and what was a facade for others’ sakes. I definitely saw some of myself in the book and I think many young women will too.

  • Genie Leslie

    Well, I’m not finished with it, but I’m currently reading We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and loving it. I love reading about a woman’s doubts about motherhood, and even admitting that she didn’t want to have children, didn’t plan to, and might even regret it. It’s a perspective that gets ignored, and if one admits to it (or any part of it) she is seen as less of a woman. I’m interested to see the movie once I finish reading it.

  • Danielle

    I reread “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. The first time I read it I was only in 5th grade and did not fully understand L’Engle’s poetic, yet incredibly scientific tale. Now, over a decade later, I have come to appreciate not only how novel this book really was (published first in 1962), but also how awesomely feminist the book is with a talented, smart, clever, and compassionate female protagonist who saves the MEN in her life rather than the usual other way around.

    • Tiffany

      I love the entire Wrinkle in Time series! I was surprised and excited when I saw your post. Meg totally saved the day. She was a shero!

  • Bev

    The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch ripped my mind & heart to shreds and put it back together in the most amazing use of language I’ve ever experienced. Her crazy writing skills and unbelievably raw honesty convinced me that I was experiencing her life, not reading about it. That book is A.Maz.Ing and everyone should read it. P.S. Adored So Much Pretty!

  • Liz

    I am just finishing up Room by Emma Donoghue. It is smart and thoughtful and engaging. I really appreciate the way in which the author describes the different reactions of the 5 year old protaganist, Jack, and his mother to their situation of being held captive in a room. For Ma, who was kidnapped, it is a prison. But for Jack, Room is all he knows. The story is told from Jack’s point of view and provides the reader with a very interesting, and important, perspective.

  • Jennifer tench

    “The Hand That First Held Mine” by Maggie O’Farrell is an amazing love story, clever and touching without being sentimental. It’s actually two stories taking place in different times that collide in an unexpected way in the end. Love it.

  • Iva

    I’m not sure whether you’ll count it as contemporary, but for me The Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison left a very strong impression.

    I suspect that if I read it earlier in life, I might not even have noticed, but reading it after these issues became personal for me, the always present authority of men over women, just jumps out. No, that’s not why I liked it so much (and is probably true of many other books that I’ve read in the past and didn’t care about it), but it might explain the following:

    I loved it for her writing, especially the flying metaphores for breaking free (at least that’s how I interpret them).

  • Emily

    My favorite book I read in the past year by female author was a tie between Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler and The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Octavia Butler is such a gripping story-teller. The title story, Bloodchild, is an emotionally raw and honest look at the complexities of relationships with gross imbalances of power. It had me in tears while I was reading it, and provoked some very fruitful discussion afterward. the rest of the stories in the collection are also brilliant. Of course almost everyone knows about The Color Purple. I can’t believe it took me this long to read it. What I loved about The Color Purple is that hope and friendship somehow overcome all the ugly and terrible things that happen. It manages to be uplifting without being too easy. I also very much enjoyed books by A.S. Byatt, Alice B. Sheldon, Toni Morrison, and Muriel Spark.

  • michelle-j

    I’m currently reading “Saving Fish from Drowning”, by Amy Tan (author of The Joy Luck Club). It’s a (fictitious) story set mainly in Burma with a group of (mostly) American tourists. Everything from the numerous cultural missteps at the hands of well meaning tourists, to the various roles played by the handful of women in the group (the “lover”, the “mother”, the “compulsive worrier”, the “little girl”) have kept me racing towards the last page. I hope not having finished this excellent novel yet does not disqualify me from winning!

  • Larissa

    I read mostly non-fiction, but I recently picked up Julie Otsuka’s novel The Buddha in the Attic. It was a quick and poetic read about the lives of Japanese women who were shipped to the US as “picture brides”. I would highly recommend because of the multi-faceted way Otsuka addresses the issues these women faced. So Much Pretty sounds like an excellent read and I will definitely put it on my “to be read SOON” list!

  • Master Arach

    I was pleased to be given an advance copy of Rachel Kramer Bussel’s new book “Women in Lust”. It is a book of short stories hovering around my chosen theme of the BDSM lifestyle as seen through the eyes and hearts and lusts of women (oh my).

    While a few of the early stories give an impression of being more about what the author would wish would happen rather than that of which they had experience, there were some that really hit the note. Lucy Hughes’s “Bite Me” just made my jaws want to clench. Biting is a favorite sport of mine. Amelia Thornton on a picnic wearing “Something to Ruin”. Aimee Herman’s “Ode to a Masturbator” with touches of wish fulfillment inspired by a view through a window. Jacqueline Applebee’s beautiful “Orchid” on a woman’s desire that her vanilla partner be far more flavorful and his enthusiastic exploration once he knows. Then Donna George Storey’s lovely tale of the last day of a vacation, and the fantasies and realities of a discussion with the Chef who is so good at creating “Comfort Food.”

    Wishes and thoughts, ideas and machinations of women in the throws of lust, for men or women, release or adventure, be it to take or be taken. It was an enjoyable and recommended read. Read aloud to your lover, ideas will flourish.

    The Eroticist

  • FarmerDyke

    Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K LeGuin. A little older but I love her examination of how a society would be structured in the absence or gender and/or sex as we know it. Also Lathe of Heaven, also by her. Highly reccomend!

  • nicole mercier

    Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.
    A female friend loaned me this book during my first year in California after moving from my home of Maine.

    Olive is a female character who has been written like an actual human being. She is herself, for better of for worse. She is like a real person to me. She embodies a woman who is not the perfect mother, is not the perfect wife, is not the perfect teacher, is not the perfect friend….she is all of us, doing our best, which isn’t always a neat, pretty little story.

  • Caitlyn

    I read The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel, which I absolutely adored. Not only was it an incredibly compelling story, but it focused on the complexities of female friendships among three distinct young women in graduate school together. Each was imperfect but compelling and real in ways that I haven’t seen in a lot of other fiction lately. This book also challenged what the traditional understanding of what it means to be a family and how sometimes we have to make our own. Really loved it and would definitely recommend it to others! (Also Laurie Frankel teaches Women’s Studies, so you know it’ll have some great gender commentary in it too :)

  • michelle

    I just finished the Changeling of Finnistuath by Kate Horsley. Set in 14th century Ireland right before the Plague hits, it follows the girl Grey, who was raised as a boy, and her changing identity and sexuality. It was fantastic, and I couldn’t put it down.

  • Martina

    I’m not one to gush unless I feel very strongly about something, but I feel very strongly about Anna North’s America Pacifica, so I’m going to gush a little. Not only is it a remarkable well realized dystopia that features both the Island at the End of the World and the Next Ice Age tropes, but it is one of the best character studies I’ve ever read. And unlike the Hunger Games (which, no joke, I loved while reading), I feel like the description of a young, female protagonist just learning that she has power as a woman and as a symbol was both organic, believable, and had feminist power to it, instead of devolving into an excuse to not give a woman real agency (which is my final assessment of Hunger Games even though — I’ll say it again — I loved Collins’ whole series). Anna North’s insights into her protagonist’s power — Darcy’s ability to perceive and imagine her way into other people’s lives, which allows her both empathy and manipulative control — is so seamless and elegantly crafted that I never felt surprised at Darcy’s abilities, never felt like she wasn’t headed for something big even when she herself didn’t know it. It’s hard to describe the skill with which North writes without giving away the plot and that’s something I absolutely don’t want to do, because the plot is so brilliant, but I will say that the basic premise — the whodunnit-style search for Darcy’s mom — very skillfully gives way to a larger story with really amazing insights about the human condition and the state of humanity “after the end.” I’m absolutely convinced that this book is doing something amazing and certain that North is going to become a real powerhouse over time.

  • Calvin

    A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. It won last year’s Pulitzer and totally deserved it. The characters were believable, very human, and the writing was top quality. I loved the parody of David Foster Wallace’s writing hidden in the middle and the transformation of the woman who begins the book. It’s told in non-chronological short stories following different interconnected characters and deals with being young and getting older–both as individuals and as a society.

  • Siobhan

    I think my favorite thing from 2011 was the conclusion of N.K. Jemisin’s startlingly amazing Inheritance Trilogy. The second and third books weren’t better than the first in any particular way (and actually, the second was probably the weakest, though still quite good), but the complete story just makes it all the more fantastic. It has all the sweeping majesty and echoing greatness of world that characterizes some of the very best vintage fantasy and all the humanity and cleverness that characterizes the contemporary greats of the genre. And, well, I already reviewed it once here. No need to do it again.

    I’d also like to note I’m surprised by all the votes the Hunger Games in this thread, but mostly because of the flat, uninteresting, and totally atonal way the series ended. It was all good up until then, but all of a sudden we had to finish on a note of vaguely contented heteronormative fecundity? I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough.

  • joeyyy.

    I tend to read almost exclusively non-fiction, so my choices here are limited. I’m going to say “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold. That book was so frustrating! Parts of it were very uncomfortable to read, but it was even more difficult to put the book down. As much as I hated the powerlessness of the main character, it really stayed with me and that is a sign of fantastic writing. Even as I type this I am still feeling conflicted and angry about the ending. It wasn’t the closure I wanted. Kudos Ms. Sebold, kudos.

  • natasha

    Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell was truly astonishing for me. In a collection of short stories, she evoked more emotion and sense of place than some of the longest 1,000 something page books I’ve read. It really took my breath away in a way I’ve never experienced from a book, and I’m an avid reader.

  • Savannah

    Definitely the best contemporary fiction I recently read was both Fledgling and Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Her sparse writing style, ability to full multiple complex characters, and themes central to African mythology and the African American experience are rarely found in most other contemporary American fiction. Central to both novels was an argument fro different notions of community, women-centered leadership, sexuality and intimacy, and how race functions in the modern world. The alternative world in Fledgling and the dystopia in Parable of the Sowers allow for a vibrant, unique world for women to function which is radically different from anything in most contemporary fiction.