13 novels featuring female characters in STEM

An array of genres centering female characters working in STEM that will satisfy your every reading mood.

I love to discover a good story, well told—in any genre. And I especially love it when a good book opens my eyes to a whole world of writing I hadn’t previously thought to purposefully seek out, such as the increasing number of stories centering women working in STEM fields.

STEM stands for the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. According to the Office of the Chief Economist 2017 report, women make up 47% of the workforce in the US but hold only 24% of STEM jobs. There are now efforts to encourage young girls to consider STEM as a future career path but that certainly wasn’t the case when I was growing up. That might be why I enjoy reading about female characters working in those fields.

We’ve gathered an array of genres centering female characters working in STEM, from historical fiction to YA and romance to science fiction. One of the books is this month’s selection in Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club. Bonnie Garmus will join us on July 26 as we delve into Lessons in Chemistry so be sure to mark your calendar.

I hope you enjoy this selection of some books I adore and some I can’t wait to read; please share your favorite female characters in STEM in the comments.

13 novels featuring female characters in STEM

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Cinder

Cinder

Author:
Each book in the YA fantasy series The Lunar Chronicles puts a new spin on an old fairy tale. In this first installment, Cinderella is a kickass mechanic, despised by her mother and stepsisters because she’s a cyborg. Though it’s clear where the story is headed, spotting the imaginative ways Meyer reinvents the old fairy tale keeps the reader turning the pages. Fresh, fun, surprising, and compulsively readable. I loved these first as an adult reader, and then my tween and teen daughters blew through the whole series. More info →
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When Dimple Met Rishi

When Dimple Met Rishi

Author:
This YA novel is bubble-gum feel-good Bollywood—tons of fun and surprisingly insightful. Dimple and Rishi are destined to marry—their parents arranged it years ago. And when both teens independently decide they want to attend the same residential summer program for aspiring web developers, their parents think there's no harm in letting them get to know each other. Rishi can't wait to meet—and woo—his future wife over the summer. But, unbeknownst to Rishi, Dimple's parents haven't told her anything. Can you say awkward? When they meet, sparks fly—and not the good kind. At least not at first. More info →
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A Princess in Theory: Reluctant Royals

A Princess in Theory: Reluctant Royals

Author:
The first book in Alyssa Cole's excellent contemporary Reluctant Royals romance series introduces Naledi, a stressed out epidemiology grad student who relies on logic to guide her in every situation. When she gets an email from Prince Thabiso of Thesolo declaring his intentions to fulfill their childhood betrothal, Naledi writes it off as spam. She grew up in the foster system of NYC, not a faraway country she's never heard of. But when the prince shows up in the city with romantic proposals and a different version of her life's history, Naledi starts to follow her heart. What ensues is a modern day fairytale between a self-sufficient science nerd and a crowned prince who's determined to be a great leader. I loved reading their story and meeting delightful side characters who show up in subsequent books. (This is open door.) More info →
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The Chai Factor

The Chai Factor

Author:
Calling all enemies-to-lovers fans! Things aren’t going as engineer Amira planned and she’s heading home to finish her grad school thesis in peace. When a fellow train passenger sexually harasses her, with a side of racism to boot, a white man intervenes but Amira is not pleased. And she’s even less pleased when she arrives at her grandmother’s house and learns that same white man is part of a barbershop quartet who is now renting the basement. So much for silence! Amira and Duncan have banter and sparks aplenty, despite the initial animosity. As their relationship evolves, they have to be honest about their differences. Grumpy Amira goes on a real journey with her anger as she figures out the kind of person she wants to be. A humorous, heart-warming contemporary romance that doesn’t shy away from hard topics, like racism, religious homophobia, and workplace sexism. (This is closed door.) More info →
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The Boyfriend Project

The Boyfriend Project

Author:
I devoured this fun and thoughtful romance. After witnessing many live-tweet moments on Twitter over the years, Farrah Rochon decided to turn live-tweet-gone-viral into a fabulous rom com premise. Samiah Brooks catches her three-timing boyfriend after seeing a live-tweet of him on a date. When the three "girlfriends" Samiah, London, and Taylor go viral, they meet up, become best friends, and vow to focus on their single selves by not dating for six months. With her newfound free time, Samiah pours herself into developing her passion project, a friendship app. Just as her dream app starts to take shape, she meets Daniel Collins, a charming coworker who might be perfect boyfriend material. Steamy, smart, and centered around friendship, I’m so glad London and Taylor get books, too. (Open door.) More info →
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Slay

Slay

Author:
At school, Kiera Johnson is an honor roll student, math tutor, and one of the only Black kids in her classes. But in the world she's created for herself, she is one of hundreds of thousands of Black gamers dueling in the online role-playing card game, Slay. Kiera is the game developer, but no one in her "real life" knows about the project, and her identity is a secret online. When Slay is mentioned in relation to the murder of a Kansas City teen, Kiera is distraught. News of the game and its Black-players-only rule reach media outlets, and Kiera's safe haven becomes a point of national discussion. When an anonymous troll enters the game and threatens to sue over discrimination, Kiera is determined to protect herself, her game, and her Blackness in a world that doesn't understand. More info →
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Remedial Rocket Science

Remedial Rocket Science

Author:
I breezed through the entire Chemistry Lessons series over the course of a few weeks one memorable summer. Each installment features a female protagonist who works in STEM, from chemists to biologists to engineers. When this first book opens, Melody is having a terrible night. First her date stands her up, then the creepy guy at the bar won't leave her alone. When a handsome stranger offers her an escape, it leads to one fabulous night—and that's all it can be, because the next day Jeremy has to fly home to L.A. But then three years later, Melody graduates and lands her dream job at an aerospace company—in L.A., where she reconnects with Jeremy and discovers not only is he as charming as ever, he's the CEO's son. And a billionaire. (This series—with the exception of book 6—is closed door, but that's not true for all of Nix's work.) More info →
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The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel

The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel

This sci-fi series opener, loosely inspired by Hidden Figures, has a fabulous premise: what if an asteroid slams into the earth, eventually leading to the founding of a colony on Mars? In this alternate history of the 1950s, the world may soon become uninhabitable, and so a group of female scientists led by WASP pilot and mathematician Elma York race against time to find a way for earth's residents to survive the cataclysmic fallout from the blast. There is A LOT of science in this book, but Kowal keeps it both easy to read and emotionally relatable. The series currently stands at three books, with a fourth planned. More info →
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The Echo Wife

The Echo Wife

Author:
I've so enjoyed discovering Sarah Gailey's work these past few years: I'm in awe of their range! In this 2021 novel, renowned researcher Evelyn Caldwell has to face her cheating ex-husband at a black tie awards dinner meant to honor her, but soon discovers that’s the least of her problems. If her colleagues find out he unethically used Evelyn’s research to clone a more agreeable version of her for himself, her career is over... and that desire to cover up the truth leads Evelyn into more and more trouble, as she scrambles to cover-up a crime while questioning her right to “play God” in her work. The intimate first-person narration amps up the tension—and the enjoyment. A fun, thoughtful, and satisfying genre mash-up. More info →
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To Be Taught, If Fortunate

To Be Taught, If Fortunate

Author:
Our team is packed with passionate Becky Chambers fans, thanks to her impeccable world-building, memorable characters, and feel-good vibe. In this novella, astronaut Ariadne and her fellow crewmates have a different way of doing things. They subtly transform themselves so they can study other planets and send their findings back to Earth. Each place they visit is an experience all its own and they’re not all welcoming. Still, the crew carries on with their mission, focused on their relationships with each other and what they might learn. More info →
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Honey Girl

Honey Girl

Author:
Grace’s life has always gone according to her strict driven plans, including finishing her Ph.D in astronomy, until she graduates and her job search goes nowhere. While on a girls' trip to Vegas, her carefully constructed life is upended with one spur-of-the-moment (and intoxicated) mistake, waking up married to a complete stranger. She could rush to reverse it all, but her new wife Yuki takes her by surprise. Needing a reprieve from her father’s expectations and feeling burned out, Grace decides to see where this relationship might go and follows Yuki to New York for the summer. While they navigate their budding romance and their respective pasts, Grace has to face some hard truths about herself. Supported by a great cast of secondary characters, this is one engaging, memorable read. More info →
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Lessons in Chemistry

Lessons in Chemistry

Author:
Our Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club July 2022 selection is a life-affirming tale of a chemist ahead of her time, a life-changing love affair, a dog with a huge vocabulary, and the combustible combination of chemistry, cooking, and afternoon television. Elizabeth Zott only ever wanted to be a scientist—but because she’s a woman in the 1960s, she has to go begging for beakers despite being the smartest researcher in the building. After Elizabeth is ostensibly fired for being unwed and pregnant (but really for being smarter than her boss and dating a rival scientist he loathes), she can’t make ends meet. Out of desperation she accepts a job hosting a tv show called Supper at 6. She loves to cook, because cooking, after all, is chemistry. The producers want her to smile and look pretty, but Elizabeth is much more interested in teaching housewives not just how to make dinner, but how to change their lives. Lively and life-affirming, with an unforgettable protagonist. Content warnings apply. More info →
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The Countess Conspiracy (The Brothers Sinister Book 3)

The Countess Conspiracy (The Brothers Sinister Book 3)

Author:
Violet is more than the emotionless Countess and Sebastian the mindless rake they present to the world. They’ve been friends for years…and Sebastian has secretly been in love with her all that time. He’s also been presenting Violet’s scientific discoveries as his own—at her request—since society won’t recognize women in the field. She would rather have her knowledge out in the world, even if it won’t be attributed to her. But Sebastian wants to end their arrangement and Violet can’t have that, even if it means she’ll have to risk her heart. This is the third book in the Brothers Sinister series but it stands fine on its own. Note: Violet experienced infertility and miscarriages during her abusive marriage; exercise caution as needed. (This is open door.) More info →
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What are your favorite novels about female characters in STEM? Please share in comments.

P.S. 15 absorbing nonfiction books to inspire your inner scientist and 15 books for budding botanists.

13 novels featuring female characters in STEM

54 comments

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  1. Debbie says:

    I would add Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. In non-fiction I enjoyed these books about/by women in STEM: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, and The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone.

  2. Amy says:

    The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood (plus she has some others being released as well). Loved the mix of rom-com with STEM!

  3. Louann Y says:

    The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict. A story of Einstein’s wife, a brilliant physicist in her own right. An engaging and maddening story.

  4. Michelle says:

    Just finished Lessons in Chemistry last week. SO GOOD! Will have to go add these to my reading list as well🎉

  5. Julie R says:

    I love the Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn. Veronica is a Lepidopterist with a secret family history who solves mysteries with her handsome side-kick Stoker who is obsessed with taxidermy.

    • Debbie Burke says:

      In addition to many of the other good suggestions, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi, Give Me your Hand by Megan Abbott

  6. Juile R says:

    Also adding the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley. Flavia is am 11 y.o. chemistry prodigy with a special interest in poisons.

    YA novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly is about 12 y.o. Calpurnia who is more interested in natural history and medicine than learning her “proper place” on her family’s Texas pecan plantation.

    • Carolyn says:

      Great list. And additions. Thanks! Getting the Becky Chambers book immediately.

      Side note/off topic related to previous post this week about the reviews for the new Persuasion movie. Loved the new version. Can’t figure out why all the negative reviews. Well acted, beautiful scenery. Some modern terminology. Nothing that distracts. My favorite Austen book and this movie brought it to life again for me. I’ll definitely watch it again. Check it out.

  7. Helene M Watt says:

    Unfortunately I can not remember the name of the book about the periodic table in chemistry. If any one can pass the title on so I can give it to my granddaughters.
    Thanks.

    • WordTrix says:

      Camille Minichino wrote the Periodic Table series. She also has a cozy mystery series under the name Ada Madison, the Sophie Knowles series, about a female college math professor. I haven’t read the first, but love the latter.

      For another romance option, _Get a Life, Chloe Brown_ features a computer programmer.

  8. Stacey Conley says:

    Her Hidden Genius, by Marie Benedict. Tells the story of Rosalind Franklin, the woman who did the lion’s share of scientific research on DNA, and how male scientists took credit for it.

  9. Roxane says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed The Unseen World by Liz Moore about a young lady raised by her father in a computer lab and inherits his legacy project.
    Similar genre to The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd about map making and a young woman’s quest to learn the value of a 1930 road map of gas stations in NY state.

  10. Delanie says:

    I loved the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley! Also the Mistress of the Art of Death series by Ariana Franklin, which is about a female medical examiner during medieval times.

  11. Terry says:

    Hi! I’m so grateful you posted this list! I’m 69 and just retired from my STEM career. I longed for role models in my young life, and except for Madame Curie there was little to nothing. I drifted toward books where women solved puzzles or faced adversity (Helen Keller and Anne Frank were HUGE for me.) I so agree with Roxane’s comment about Unseen World, I also recommend The Radium Girls, Hidden Figures, Atomic Women, and Hedy’s Folly. It’s wonderful there are so many encouraging books today about women in science. I’ve always tutored or counseled young women (men too if they ask)—without a lot of societal support, that was the best way to encourage science-minded women and let them know they are not alone. Our country has a long way to go to truly provide equal opportunities, but being able to read about women in science is immensely important.

    Happy Reading!

    • Katherine says:

      Yay, this is one of my favorite genres; I can’t wait to see everyone’s suggestions. Here are my favorites as well as books in my TBR pile.

      MYSTERIES/THRILLERS
      (1) A Calculated Risk, by Katherine Neville (ecommerce)
      (2) The Eight and its sequel The Fire by Katherine Neville (computer expert and chess)
      (3) The Magic Circle by Katherine Neville (toxic materials expert)
      (4) The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart (botanist)
      (5) A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari

      FICTION
      (1) Easter Island (botanist)
      (2) Lessons in Chemistry (scientist)
      (3) The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (code breaker)
      (4) The Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver (Entomologist & Mary Treat who worked with Darwin)

      SCIENCE FICTION
      (1) Contact by Carl Sagan (astronomer)
      (2) The Themis Files Trilogy by Sylvain Neuvel (physicist) – These are hands down the best audio books I’ve ever listened to and they’re great audio books for road trips.
      (3) The Lady Astronaut Series by Mary Robinette Kowal

      HISTORICAL FICTION
      (1) The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan (botanist)
      (2) The Plant Hunter by T.L Mogford (plant illustrator who probably would have become a botanist if given the opportunity)
      (3) The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown (astronomer)
      (4) The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn
      (5) Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (paleontologists)

      YA
      A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood (future botanist)

      NONFICTION
      All books by Sylvia Earle, Jane Goodall, and Rachel Carson

      TBR FICTION
      (1) The Call by Edith Ayrton Zangwill
      (2) Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy
      (3) Lady of the Butterflies by Fiona Mountain
      (4) Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini
      (5) The Kew Gardens Girls by Posy Lovell
      (6) The Engineer’s Wife by Tracey Enerson Wood
      (7) The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley
      (8) Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer
      (9) The Naturalist’s Daughter by Tea Cooper
      (10) The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

      TBR NONFICTION
      (1) The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe by Glynis Ridley
      (2) All the Matter We Cannot See: The Life and Work of Astronomer Vera Rubin by TAR Ashley Jean Yeager
      (3) Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut’s Story of Invention by Kathryn D. Sullivan

  12. Leland Burnham says:

    Unseen World has something for everyone in it. Particularly life in an academic science lab but also a great family story. Much more depth than a rom-com if that matters. Liz Moore is a brilliant writer.

  13. Michelle Wilson says:

    I would like to add, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is nothing like Eat. Pray, Love…it is better, a gem. Nominated for the Bailey’s Prize (now, Women’s Prize) It was released in 2013 and is the story of Alma Whitaker. She is a botanical explorer who specializes in moss. Based on a real woman, excellent historical fiction. This book is actually one of my lifetime favorites.

    • Caitlin King says:

      Yes, I thought of this book as well! I was so surprised by it and I loved the main character. Her obsession with studying moss and how she excelled as a scientist, but was met with so many barriers was such a compelling story. Great addition to the list!

  14. Carrie says:

    Loved “When Dimple Met Rishi.” Such a good, fun romantic read AND message for teenagers about being true to yourself and pursuing your passions!

  15. Jennifer says:

    Alice Henderson’s Alex Carter series. Eco-mysteries in far flung places with main character who is a wildlife biologist.

  16. Julie Burenga says:

    The Rose Code by Kate Quinn is awesome. Set in WW2, women fill in roles they previously wouldn’t have been allowed in as code breakers, using math and language skills to break enemy encrypted messages.

  17. Kristen says:

    My Mechanical Romance is the YA debut of Alexene Farol Follmuth (previously self published author) set during the senior year of high school when the robotics club finds a new recruit in the transfer student Bel who never saw herself as particularly gifted in the sciences or math but finds a place among fellow students who show her it is okay to aim for a goal and that she is more skilled than she believes. YA romance amidst college applications, family divorce, and, of course, robotics. Full of heart, humor and physics with exploration of girls/women in STEM and what they’re up against. Very satisfying and entertaining with characters to root for and a sweet teenage romance. I read it in one sitting. A.F. Follmuth is one of my favorite authors with a self-published backlist to explore

  18. Lisa says:

    There are a lot of great books on that list 🙂
    Have you read anything by Six de los Reyes? I especially liked the books about marine biology. Reminded me of my studies <3

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