10 books to read after seeing Barbie (intelligent, immersive & fun reads)

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This is a guest contribution by Muna Nnamani that’s been reviewed by Lucy Fuggle.

Since my second grade days spent watching Barbie movies with my best friend, I’ve been the biggest fan of Barbie.

My favorite color was pink for years, because it was hers. I spent entire afternoons watching “Life in the Dreamhouse” on the library laptops each July.

For the majority of early elementary school, I wanted to be a popstar when I grew up – because “Barbie: Princess and the Popstar” was my favorite movie.

This is why as soon as Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie released last month, my friend and I donned costumes and flocked to the movie theater, expecting to watch a flick about friendship and pastel pink femininity.

Instead, we found a cinematic masterpiece about motherhood, gender roles, and the painful transition from girlhood to womanhood.

Because of the ever-relevant issues it addressed, Barbie had so many of us crying when the credits rolled. And even though we can’t expect a sequel any time soon, Barbie fans can capture the post-movie wistfulness with this list of Barbie-adjacent books.

The best books after seeing Barbie for intelligent, immersive and fun reads

Firefly Lane by Kristen Hannah

Read Firefly Lane to… cry about the beauties of female friendship.

A contemporary novel that’s so popular it inspired a Netflix show, Firefly Lane follows Tully and Kate, two best friends growing up in 70s suburbia.

Kate is plain and unpopular, viewing her stable family as just another embarrassment. Tully is beautiful and easily makes friends – but her mother’s abandonment pushes her to seek the approval of everybody she meets.

As the girls grow up over decades, their friendship is tested again and again. But what keeps these women together is the magic they found on Firefly Lane in 1974.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxanne Gay

Read Hunger to… regain a sense of autonomy over your body.

Hunger is so dark that it seems ill-fitting for a Barbie recommendation list. But even though it lacks Barbie’s bright pastel femininity, it champions women like no other book I’ve read.

It’s a memoir recounting Gay’s spiral into mental health and weight struggles. After experiencing unimaginable suffering as a child – and to cope with her shame and make her body less vulnerable – she over-ate to feel safer.

Gay is so emotionally intelligent as she brings ingrained feminine rage to the surface. With every word, she calls out society’s narrow view of what a woman should look like – and what happens when you don’t fit that image. Like Barbie, this book confronts societal beauty standards so perceptively.

The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm

Read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to… escape from the world for a while.

For the majority of us who had a book of fairy tales in our childhood bedrooms, Grimm’s Fairy Tales hold a special place in our hearts. The collection of tales recounts fantastic stories of fairies, princesses and witches. 

While the stories aren’t as light and airy as the Disney movie adaptations made us remember, their quirkiness made for memorable bedtime stories.

This book absolutely had to be on this list because of all the nostalgia it holds. Remembering the slow evenings spent reading fairy tales in our rooms also brings to mind the airy memories of Barbie playdates with our friends.

Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher

Read Reviving Ophelia to… heal your inner girl.

In the 90s, therapist Mary Pipher was frustrated by growing issues among teenage girls. As the media grew more and more toxic, young girls were being exposed to unrealistic beauty standards, too-high expectations in many areas, and marketing designed to make them hate themselves.

Structured to examine the specific cases of Pipher’s clients, Reviving Ophelia is a look at how the world crushes the sacred, gentle realm of girlhood too soon.

Despite being one of Greta Gerwig’s inspirations for the Barbie movie, Reviving Ophelia is very reminiscent of the montage of clips of girlhood that Barbie saw when she was becoming human. If this book were a song, it would be Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?”

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Read Beach Read to… take a break and cleanse your palate.

January Andrews and Augustus Everett are polar opposites. January is in the business of happily ever afters and writes romance novels – but she no longer believes in true love.

Meanwhile, Augustus churns out Great American Novel after Great American Novel because he enjoys writing somber stories.

Both are bestselling authors, but both are in a rut. When they wind up living in beach houses next to each other with a severe case of writer’s block, they strike a deal: January will write a deep piece of modern literature and Augustus has to write a love story.

They spend the summer planning field trips and adventures to inspire each other. By the end of the book, of course, they’ve fallen in love.

Unlike the other books on this list, Beach Read is a Barbie story simply because like the Barbie franchise itself, it’s so happy. It’s mostly good vibes here, and you leave the book feeling airy and satisfied. Very Barbie-core.

(For more books with relaxed Barbie vibes, you might also like this collection of the best beach reads for 2023, including Emily Henry’s new novel.)

Paper Towns by John Green

Read Paper Towns to… understand the toxicity behind thinking a woman can fix you.

Paper Towns is written from the point of view of Quentin Jacobson, a high school senior. Quentin has spent middle and high school pining after the very cool Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar.

Even though they haven’t spoken since elementary school, he is sure that if they ever got the chance to really talk, they would understand each other.

He gets his wish one night when Margo climbs through his bedroom window and takes him on a revenge campaign against her cheating ex-boyfriend. By the end of the night, Quentin starts thinking that things between him and Margo will be different.

But the next day, she’s not at school. Or the day after that. Weeks pass, and everybody has to accept the fact that Margo has run away for good this time.

However, Quentin doesn’t give up on Margo – or at least, the idea of her. He believes that he loves her, so he spends the last few weeks of his senior year putting together clues to find her.

Quentin’s arc in this book reminds me of Ken’s arc in Barbie. Like Ken, Quentin has to accept that the love he idealized for years isn’t real. And he has to discover who he is without it.

Popular: How a Geek in Pearls Discovered the Secret to Confidence by Maya van Wagenen

Read Popular to… reminisce about middle school popularity schemes.

When this memoir came out, it was intensely popular – because it was written by a teenager. Now, it’s one of the best books to read after seeing Barbie.

Maya is unpopular. In her school’s carefully construed ladder of popularity, she is at the bottom rung. But when she finds a 1950s popularity guide written by a former teen model, she begins a social experiment: spend the school year following it to a T.

Instead of reaching the popularity she hopes, Maya learns how to see the other kids at her school for who they are. She starts breaking social norms to befriend people, regardless of their social groups. Because of her confidence, her peers learn how to be kind to each other.

This is the perfect Barbie book, not just because of the 50s nostalgia, but also its themes of kindness.

Just like Barbie, Maya tries to bring positivity to the people she meets. And just like how Barbie learned to see all women as beautiful despite their adherence to modern beauty standards, Maya sees all of her classmates as valuable, despite their position on the popularity ladder.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Read The Bluest Eye to… gain perspective about the triviality of beauty standards.

Taking place in fall of 1941, The Bluest Eye follows eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola is Black in a time when it’s not easy to be Black – so she prays for her eyes to turn blue.

To her, blue eyes symbolize beauty. If she can get them, she can be like the blond, blue-eyed White children.

Amidst devastating life changes, Pecola’s interest in getting blue eyes becomes obsessive – to the point where she convinces herself that she has them.

Sasha’s speech in Barbie highlighted the fact that while Barbie dolls progressed women, they also affected their self-esteem. While The Bluest Eye takes place before Barbie was invented, it’s a prime example of the beauty standards that early Barbie models exposed to children

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Read The Joy Luck Club to… understand your mother.

The Joy Luck Club is a story of four families – four mother-daughter pairs – who are united by their immigration from China to San Francisco. In 1949, the mothers met every week to play mahjong and reminisce on their lives in China.

This group of mothers, who called themselves the Joy Luck Club, all loved their daughters and planned for better lives for them – even though they showed this affection in orthodox ways.

Even though the daughters initially saw their mothers’ wisdom as irrelevant to their new American lives, they start to fully appreciate it when they come of age.

This book is one about love that is strong, but sometimes not strong enough to translate itself across generational lines.

In Barbie, mother-daughter relationships are explored –  especially the bond between Gloria and Sasha. Just like Sasha realizes how much her mother loves her, the daughters in The Joy Luck Club eventually do too.

The Humans by Matt Haig

Read The Humans to… find the good in the world.

Unique and insightful, The Humans follows an alien whose home planet is a utopia – every being is omnipotent and immortal, so evils like murder and sickness are completely foreign ideas.

The alien arrives on Earth to observe the humans, taking on the form of Cambridge professor Andrew Martin. Used to his dream homeworld, the alien’s initial impression of human beings is negative. He wants to complete his task and go home as soon as possible.

But Earth grows on him. He finds beauty in small things, like music and literature. He grows emotionally invested in the personal affairs of Andrew Martin, whose life he stole. When he starts to find good qualities in humans, he rethinks his entire mission.

In Barbie, Barbie is able to make such insightful comments about humans because she has crossed over from a utopia to our world. She is a visitor. Because of these reasons, the alien is able to do the same. These parallels make The Humans a perfect book to read after Barbie, too.

Editor’s note from Lucy: If you paired Barbie with Oppenheimer at the cinema, another fantastic book to read next is American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. As the inspiration behind the Oppenheimer movie, it’s the perfect book to read if you loved that too.

For more inspiration for your reading list, head over to these collections next…

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