“Girls” Is Over; Long Live the Girls

BY LENORE SKENAZY | If you’re thinking of writing a bestseller, I’ve got a word of advice for you: Girl.

Put “Girl” in the title and you almost don’t have to do anything else, except figure out a plot, some twists, and an ending. And don’t forget to put a girl character in there, of course. She can be doing anything: kicking a hornet’s nest or sporting a dragon tattoo, like in Stieg Larsson’s epic sellers. Or she can be on a train, like in Paula Hawkins’ bestseller (turned into a leaden movie described by one Rotten Tomatoes reviewer as “Less like hopping on board a train and more climbing onto the bandwagon of dozens of Lifetime movies”… though that didn’t stop it from making $170 million.)

Or the girl can be gone, like in Gillian Flynn’s chilling thriller. Or she can have a pearl earring, or marry a lion, or fall from the sky, chase the moon, play with fire, or be interrupted. She can also love Tom Gordon. And recently I really enjoyed “The Girl You Left Behind,” by Jojo Moyes. All those girls made it big on the bookshelves.

To make it big on television, apparently all a girl has to do is hang out with a bunch of her tormented friends who are trying to grow up, like in “2 Broke Girls,” in “New Girl,” or with Lena Dunham’s squad. Or she can have grown up so long ago that now the “girl” part is ironic (see “Golden Girls,” which, come to think of it, may have started something).


Just a few years before all this girlishness, the book trend was “wife,” as in “The Paris Wife,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (best book ever), “The Kitchen God’s Wife” (also the best book ever, weirdly enough). Not to mention, on television, “The Good Wife.” But clearly the wives have been ditched for someone younger.

Last year, an author named Emily St. John Mandel looked at 810 non-children’s books with the word “Girl” in the title. She crunched some numbers and found that 79 percent of those were written by women, and yet 65 percent of the time the “girl” in the title is actually a woman.

So why call the woman a girl?

One theory holds that when we see the word “girl” we automatically feel protective and worried — more than we’d feel about a grown woman. But another theory is that mega bestsellers tend to inspire publishers to copy them slavishly and often. So once you have “Gone Girl” plus “Girl on a Train,” nobody’s going to bother with a “The Comedienne with the Lower Back Tattoo,” or, “Young Female in Hyacinth Blue.”

Mandel noticed one other trend: When women write “Girl” books, the girl ends up alive 90 percent of the time. When men put “Girl” in the title, only 68 percent make it out alive. Gee, thanks guys.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a title for that bestseller of yours, I’ve got some suggestions:

  • The Girl Last Seen Running Away from a Bunch of Angry Hornets
  • The Girl with the Misspelled “Pougkeepsie” Tattoo
  • The Girl You Last Saw in the Dairy Section
  • The Girl Who “Forgot” to Call Her Mother’s Friend’s Super-Nice Son
  • The Girl Whose “Be Mindful” Lululemon Tote Took Up a Whole Seat
  • The Girl with the Greenish Incisor
  • The Girl Who Mistook Her Hat for My Hat
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Girl
  • The Girl from Iwo Jima
  • The Hardy Girls
  • I Am the Coppertone Girl
  • The Girl with the Squirrel Earring
  • The Squirrel with the Girl Earring
  • The Girl with the Wagon Tattoo: A Laura Ingalls Wilder Update
  • The Other Other Boleyn Girl
  • The Little Mulch Girl
  • Even Cowgirls Get Sick of Beans
  • The Girl Who Chased Viggo Mortensen (And Who Can Blame Her?)
  • I Am Melania: The Story of a Girl who Stood Up for Trump
  • Too Many Girls, Not Enough Kombucha (from the “Wild in Williamsburg” series)
  • The Girl on the D Train
  • The Girl still on the D Train, Because of a “Sick Passenger” on the Train Ahead of Her
  • Girl Meets Girl
  • Girl, Interrupting
  • The Girl Who Knew Too Much about the Kennedy Assassination
  • The Girl Who Sat on a Mound of Scorpions Because She Was Livestreaming Her Desert Vacation
  • The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Down

Lenore Skenazy is the author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids” and a contributor at Reason.com.