Non-fiction by Non-men: Women Who Went to Hell & Back Again

Read on to find nonfiction by and about women that depict true stories which are a testament to the power of resilience and the human capacity for perseverance.

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black background, but most of it is covered is bright orange flames. 3 book covers are lined up in the middle: one fore I am a Bacha Posh, one is Mothertrucker by Amy Butcher, and the third is Brain on Fire by Susanna Cahalan - all of whom are featured in the article for more details.

Creative nonfiction blends storytelling with factual accuracy to tell real stories with compelling narratives that promise authenticity – and in all corners of the world, there exist some stories that defy ordinary experience. March is Women’s history month and hosts International Women’s Day, so let’s celebrate true stories from women who have stared into the abyss, endured unimaginable trials, and emerged transformed. Their narratives are a testament to the indomitable spirit that resides within us all, waiting to be ignited by life’s crucibles.

In this collection of non-fiction books, we delve into the lives of some of the coolest she’s and she/they’s out there who navigated hellish landscapes — both internal and external — and came out the other side as beacons of strength. From shattered dreams to unexpected betrayals, they have faced it all, and their stories resonate with the power of survival, resilience, and the fierce preservation of one’s true self. Here are the stories of a few remarkable women who went to hell and back again!

Content Warning: Please read with caution as there is mention of drug abuse, human trafficking, and domestic violence.

From Junkie to Judge: One Woman’s Triumph Over Trauma and Addiction by Mary Beth O’Connor

She transforms from meth-head to magistrate!

black background that is a little faded straight down the middle. It says the title is From Junkie to Judge, One woman's triumph over trauma and addiction. The word Junkie looks like it was writing with lines of white powder and the word Judge is spelled out in a string of pearls. Along the bottom in red text it says the author is Mary Beth O'Connor.

This powerful memoir chronicles a woman’s remarkable journey from the grasp of a monstrous addiction to the height of success as a federal judge. Triumph, indeed! Mary Beth O’Connor is wide open about her childhood trauma and her descent into the underbelly of intravenous drug addiction that consumed her life. Against all statistical odds, O’Connor not only finds a path of recovery leading to 30 years of sobriety but goes on to become one of the ultimate testaments for human redemption and determination.

In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park and Maryanne Vollers

From trafficked-human to human-activist!

classy gray background and a portrait of a young Korean woman with long brunette hair, wearing a plain black shirt and diamond earrings and cosmetics. Across the top in white font it says: Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers. Across the bottom in the same white text it says: In Order to Live A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom.

Yeonmi Park was born in 1993, during a time when North Korea was suffering from famine. Her father was an affluent smuggler, but the family fell into destitution and disillusionment with the regime when he was eventually arrested and imprisoned. By 2007, Yeonmi and her mother were desperate to find a way out. They follow a promise and escape to China, but instead of the safety they expected, they find betrayal- and are sold into sexual slavery! Despite the horrors of the psychological and physical suffering they endured, they survive and manage to find their way to Seoul, South Korea, where they finally find freedom. And now, Yeonmi Park is a famous human rights activist who isn’t afraid to confront her painful past and share her story with the world.

Mothertrucker: Finding Joy on the Loneliest Road in America by Amy Butcher

One companion’s tribute to a badass lady and the power of friendship!

Background showing a narrow highway with the snowy Alaskan mountains in the background below a starry night sky that is lit up with the bright green of the aurora borealis. Across the middle of the cover in bold pink text is the title: Mothertrucker. Below that in smaller white text it says: Finding Joy on the lonliest road in america. Across the bottom in small white text it says Author of Visiting Hours and below that in large bold blue lettering it says Amy Butcher.

Amy Butcher, growing ever more terrified of her partner’s escalating abuse, finds her escape with the help of Joy “Mothertrucker” Wiebe — Instagram celebrity, wife, mother, and the nation’s only female ice road trucker — whose invitation to ride shotgun along one of the world’s most dangerous highways changes the course of her life. On a perilous and snow-covered 400-mile journey, full of white-knuckling moments and near plummets across Alaska’s beautifully treacherous landscape, this new companionship becomes an iron-clad bond. While documenting Mothertrucker’s uniquely hazardous life, Amy faces her own fears on and off the road. Along the way, she also ponders current issues like domestic violence, indigenous rights, and environmental concerns. Blending personal narrative with social commentary, this book is a terrific tribute to an unforgettable woman and the power of female friendship.

I Am a Bacha Posh by Ukmina Manoori

When your true self doesn’t fall in line with the societal expectations of gender norms, it takes balls to defy them!

Close up of a person's face wearing a rich two-toned blue headdress covering everything except the eyes. The eyes are a pretty greenish color. Across the top it says in white lettering: I am a bacha posh. Below her eyes, in smaller white text, it says: My life as a woman living as a man in Afghanistan. Below that in larger lettering is the authors name: Ukmina Manoori. Below that in smaller lettering it says: with Stephanie Lebrun translated by Peter. Finally, across the bottom is a strip of white flowered filigree.

In Afghanistan, there is a secret practice of girls dressed as boys — known as the bacha posh — who play the role of a son with the freedom to shop and work and sometimes save their families from the shame of not producing a male heir. Once they reach adolescence, they are expected to revert to a female life and marry, have children, and give up their freedom. But there was one little girl who was different. When the time came to enter tweenhood, Ukmina Manoori defied those societal pressures and bravely kept wearing the dude-clothes anyway. And yet, this resilience was just the start of their extraordinary life. Ukmina continued to challenge gender roles by living as a man into adulthood — by then using she/they pronouns. They fought the Soviets, assisted the mujaheddin in resisting the Russian invasion of Afghanistan by working as a scout, and ultimately became an elected council member of their province, where they now participate in decision-making and local governance.

Educated by Tara Westover

A wild struggle to get an education!

The background is of a faded paper color. There is a close up of a red number 2 pencil, sharpened. On the top left corner is a black sticker denoted this is a new york times bestseller. Across the center of the cover is the title in blue lettering and then smaller black lettering: Educated A Memoir. Across the bottom in white lettering is the author's name: Tara Westover. There is also an orange sticker saying this was a #1 bestseller.

By the time Tara set foot in a classroom for the first time, she was a seventeen-year-old young adult. Born to survivalists, Tara’s family was isolated from mainstream society, formal education, medical care, or intervention. Despite her father’s extreme disapproval, Tara was inspired to pursue an education when her older brother left home for college. In her determination to become educated, she did have to leave her family. Still, she worked tirelessly and gained college admission — and she didn’t stop until she got a PhD from Cambridge University. In her pursuit of knowledge, she discovered that understanding the socialized world around her was just as important to her education as the books and lectures. Caught between self-discovery and extreme family beliefs, Tara faced significant challenges just to get educated.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

The real-life horrors of a rare medical mystery!

The top half of the cover is a black and white portrait of a young woman with long blonde hair and bangs. There is a red sticker that says #1 New York Times Bestseller. Across the bottom of the cover is a bright yellow background. In alternating lines of dark orange and black lettering it says: Tenth Anniversary Edition, Brain on Fire, My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan, over 1 million copies sold.

Imagine waking up in a hospital, strapped to the bed, with no memory of how you got there. Then what if they told you you have been there for an entire month already and you’ve been delusional and violent this whole time? Oh, and you almost died. Well, that’s what happened to Susannah Cahalan. She was working as a journalist at the New York Post, and she had a common healthy stable relationship and a common healthy stable family. Her living nightmare comes to life for the reader as she reconstructs what happened to her during her month of madness, relying on her journalistic skills to investigate hospital records, surveillance videos and conduct interviews to collect personal accounts from her family, friends, and healthcare providers who witnessed her decline. No one could figure out what was wrong with her, and the doctors were racing against time to solve this medical mystery in time to save her life.

Part memoir — part journalistic investigation — part medical thriller, Brain on Fire combines factual reporting with a harrowing narrative to capture one amazing woman’s journey to hell and back again as patient zero of a scary new medical discovery.

When it comes to non-fiction, the truth is often way more astonishing than fiction!

These were just a handful of remarkable people who shared their harrowing journeys. Difficult and exciting escapes, surviving a horrifying undocumented disease, defying everything to stay true to yourself — these narratives form a first-rate anthology of courage, resilience, and the indestructible spirit of femineity found inside those who have gone through hell and returned stronger. Their stories remind us that even in the deepest dark, there exists a glimmer of hope — a beacon guiding us toward survival and the relentless pursuit of truth.

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