Introducing novel-tea: why I love 'disaster girl' literary fiction

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If you are a BookTok resident (the TikTok book community), then you may be familiar with the incredible up-and-coming genre “disaster girl” fiction or “female manipulator” books. The genre is characterized by its feature of unlikeable, unhinged, and unreliable women who struggle with self-destruction and a toxic, strained relationship with their society.

The most famous “disaster girl” fiction author is Ottessa Moshfegh who rose to BookTok fame with her novel “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” which follows a narrator who describes herself as “young, thin, pretty” and is shocked she remains unhappy, so logically she slowly increases her drug usage in an attempt to sleep through an entire year. Other books in this genre include “Boy Parts” by Eliza Clark, “Mona” by Pola Oloixarac, “Happy Hour” by Marlow Granados, “Luster” by Raven Leilani, “Disorientation” by Elaine Hsieh Chou, and “Nobody, Somebody, Anybody” by Kelly McClorey. Basically if you loved Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag,” you’ll love this genre.

But, why? Why are “disaster girl” books so incredible? As early as Lady Macbeth, people have been fascinated by girlboss queens who make problematic decisions. However, in the past, these characters were interpreted as cautions against feminine rage or even feminine agency, but now they are being reclaimed as feminist icons who have something truly meaningful to say about their relationship to social structures.

I love “disaster girl” fiction not just because the characters are fascinating, but because it is nice to see women screw up for a change. At Carnegie Mellon, but also throughout my life, the need to seek perfection has been drilled into me in such a way that leads to immense fear and anxiety. But, these women give me permission to not strive for perfection and rather just be messy the way humans are.

In an article for the blog Write Through the Night, writer Jocelyn describes that it is not that readers should romanticize mental illness in these novels but rather in seeing the less favorable aspects of the human psyche in these characters women can be released from the constraint of perfection other media often places upon them.

“Disaster girl” books have such a hold on me because seeing women struggle deeply with their place in society is real: more real than the image of the perfect-on-paper girl next door, the manic pixie dream girl who fixes every man’s life, the mom who is simultaneously CEO and an ingenue.

The media we are force-fed since childhood villainizes women who embrace their dark side, who embrace their agency, or who are anything less than perfect in all aspects of their lives. For once, it is relieving to see women struggle with that in a way that is messy and immoral and terrible. The human brain is complicated, and giving yourself the space to be a wreck occasionally is important. I love “disaster girl” books because they can finally let women forgive themselves for imperfection.