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Vengeance Becomes Her: 5 Great Thrillers About Women Getting Revenge

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I was born in 1972 into a family of women. We lived in the city and could walk anywhere: to school, to the store, to the huge park across the street, our bare feet burning on soft black asphalt or bruised from graveled alleyways. There were rumbling buses and singing ice cream trucks, crowded corner stores and constant foot traffic. The city was a paradise and it was a gauntlet, because my father left before I was born and we were alone, a mother and four daughters.

I don’t remember the first peeping Tom or obscene phone call, because I was still in the cradle, thrust into a world where my older sisters were already hunted. I remember a man calling me to his car to show me he wore no pants. I remember passing a guy in an alley as my big sister growled, “Don’t look.” Of course I looked, and the man smiled at my childish shock as he stroked himself. I was six, I was eight, I was ten, and then I was in puberty, and men would shout out all the things they planned to teach me if given the chance. 

This wasn’t violence, but it was fear. It was a grinding down, a daily reminder that I was prey. And of course, there were plenty of other indignities to witness too. Poverty and sexual harassment and daily inequality.

Whatever age I was when I first watched I Spit on Your Grave, I was far too young. Twelve or thirteen. But I was ready. That movie jolted me. I’d never been taught that women could also be scary. That we could dole out fear and pain if we wanted. Exploitative and voyeuristic as the film was, it flashed through me, imprinting me with the possibility that fear could expand into rage, and we could hunt too. 

After that, I never stopped wanting revenge stories, and there were better movie options with each passing year. Hard Candy, Revenge, Promising Young Woman. Still, there was something more I wanted: female vengeance not just as a result of rape or sexual abuse. I wanted female vengeance in all its glory, revenge for all kinds of wrongs, big and small. After all, every story of male revenge doesn’t start with a rape, does it? That’s not all we are either. (Eternal thanks to the cinematic glory that was 9 to 5.)

This is where books come in. There were revenge tales written by women when I was young, but there are so many now I couldn’t hope to read them all! It’s a golden age of vengeance, and I’m eating it up. I first wrote my own tale of vengeance a few years ago with Jane Doe. Jane wanted payback for the emotional abuse of her best friend, and I’m a little embarrassed to say it was the easiest book I’ve ever penned. By far. But I’m a little thrilled too.

Because for me, revenge stories are competence porn. It’s pure joy to watch a character carry out the righteous feats we wish we could manage. It’s power. It’s glory. So I’m more than a little thrilled that there are so many great reading choices for all kinds of female vengeance these days. I can only write one book a year, but I can read dozens! 

Here are a few of my recent favorites. I hope each is a revelation and you enjoy the hell out of every one.


Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Four female friends. The inevitability of time. A retirement celebration of their successful careers. Sounds fun and familiar, right? But these four women weren’t teachers or attorneys, they were assassins, and there will be hell to pay when the party is crashed by a killer sent by their own company. Sometimes revenge is dark and dirty, and sometimes it’s dirty and fun. This was one of my favorite reads of the year, and you’ll revel in the fantastic power of women who gave up on societal norms a lifetime ago. 


Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

This audiobook (narrated by Catherine Ho) was an absolute delight. A young college graduate moves back to Malaysia with her family, and three generations live together: daughter, mother, and grandmother. Except this grandma is a ghost. At first, the haunting feels almost cozy, but grandma isn’t back for a visit. She wants revenge… and she’s brought along a friend who wants a little payback for herself too. 


The Obsession by Jesse Q. Sutanto

The starting point of this story isn’t uncommon tragedy. A teenage girl with an abusive stepfather? Heartbreakingly familiar. A young woman with a stalker? Most of us have seen that in real life. But high school senior Delilah Wong is determined to change the script and seize the day. She’s tired of being a victim, and if she can’t quite make it all the way to hero, she’ll settle for villain. This book was tense, but it was also downright giddy. Give ‘em hell, Delilah. 


The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson

A modern day retelling of Stephen King’s Carrie? Yes please. This YA suspense is set in a small town with a segregated prom. (Yes, this STILL happens.) The twin menaces of old school religion and misogyny are deftly layered with the additional horror of racism in this town where “tradition” means knowing your place, and fighting back could be murder. 


The Change by Kirsten Miller

There’s a reason witches have been iconized as women-of-a-certain-age for centuries. There’s power in the peace of menopause. It’s a mantle of maturity and independence that society has tried to snatch away. In The Change, three women find revelation in shedding the last of their youthful years. New, dangerous powers grow beneath their skin, and while they work on righting a terrible wrong in their community there’s plenty of time to get payback for some old sins too. 



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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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