Why Is the Word "Girl" In So Many Modern Book Titles?

In the last few years, girls in titles have infiltrated bookstores and subsequently movie theaters. Why are they so popular? Why should (or shouldn’t) you give your novel one of those coveted Girl titles? Here's what you need to know.
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Girls, girls, girls. In the last few years, girls in titles have infiltrated bookstores and subsequently movie theaters. Sometimes they frame their husband for their murder, and get away with it with flair and a stylish bob. Sometimes they join a Manson Family-like cult and become infamous. Sometimes they’re the prom queen hiding festering secrets, and sometimes they barely get out of high school alive. All that, and they dominate bestseller lists on a regular basis. So why are they so popular? Why should (or shouldn’t) you give your novel one of those coveted Girl titles?

This guest post is by Nina Laurin. Laurin is a bilingual (English/French) author of suspenseful stories for both adults and young adults. She got her BA in Creative Writing at Concordia University, in her hometown of Montreal, Canada. You can learn more at thrillerina.wordpress.com and on Twitter @girlinthetitle. Girl Last Seen is her first novel. Photo by Mattias Graham.

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  • It shows readers exactly what they’re looking for.

Everyone knows that a certain type of cover (hot couple almost kissing, dark silhouette in the woods, a crown/sword/magical doodad) instantly draws readers because it gives them an idea what’s inside before they even read the description. Will there be spies, explosions, or happily ever afters? Same with Girl: as soon as you walk into a bookstore and see Girl on the cover, you know you’re in for a domestic thriller with a heroine in her thirties who’s best described as difficult.

  • Why not call her “woman”?

“Woman” has completely different connotations. Think The Woman in White (classic gothic mystery) or The Woman in Cabin 10 (psychological suspense). It’s mysterious and vaguely menacing; it makes you think of femme fatales from a film noir. Girl, on the other hand, is familiar—girlfriend, the girl next door. It conveys innocence and youth, two things women are told they must embody at all times, even if it requires extensive artifice. Girl is the one who’s cute and sweet at first glance, maybe a little naïve, and who turns out to be so much more underneath the foundation and blush. Sometimes complex and broken, sometimes outright evil—subverting society’s expectations of the good, kind, and pure creature she’s supposed to be.

  • Why has there been a surge in recent years?

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has been around for over a decade, and its protagonist Lisbeth is an archetypal title Girl, rebellious and morally ambiguous. But it was Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl that really set the trend in motion, and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train cemented it. What the three main characters of these books have in common is that they’re not nice people. They have their share of trauma and darkness in their pasts and are broken to different degrees. Many others followed, capitalizing not only on the title trend but also on the themes: The Good Girl, Luckiest Girl Alive, Girls On Fire, The Girls—all feature girls or young women who hide (or flaunt) a cruel, calculating, ruthless side of their personalities.

  • So why such an interest?

For the longest time, male writers dominated thrillers and suspense, but it would be unfair to blame them alone for the lack of nuanced, dark female protagonists. Women are often the harshest judges of other women—a theme a lot of the Girl books discuss or embrace outright; this is also true of women readers judging female characters. So it’s not surprising that a certain fatigue began to grow.

When the whole world expects you to emerge from all the trials of life with shiny hair, glowing skin, and an eager smile, like a love interest in a James Bond movie, something’s gotta give. So when a book with a flawed, angry, sometimes ugly, sometimes scarred heroine came along, readers were more than ready to embrace the trend.

Like it or not, but Girl in the title has come to mean nuanced, multifaceted, and true-to-life woman. Sugar and spice optional.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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