You and your mom love traveling together, cooking together and venting about your respective spouses together. It only makes sense, then, that you’ll adore reading together. You could of course read any book with the woman who brought you into this world, but certain titles are just begging to be tackled in tandem. Read on for a list of 22 books that capture the deep, complex bond between mothers and their children—and would make the perfect book club pick for two.
The Best Books to Read with Your Mom to Make You Laugh, Cry & Reflect on Your Relationship (Just in Time for Mother’s Day)
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Carol wasn’t just Katy's mother; she was her best friend and first phone call. Now, when Katy needs her the most, she is gone. Even worse, the trip the two had planned to Positano is quickly approaching. Katy has been waiting years to go with her mom, and now she’s faced with embarking on the adventure alone. But as soon as she steps foot on the Amalfi Coast, Katy feels her mother's spirit, and in turn feels herself coming back to life. And then Carol appears as she did at 32. Over the course of one Italian summer, Katy gets to know Carol, not as her mother, but as the young woman before her.
Jane Wong (How Not to Be Afraid of Everything) describes her debut memoir as “a rallying cry for radical Asian American women who are restaurant babies and tender daughters and rats like me who want to do more than just survive.” Wong spent much of her childhood at her family’s restaurant on the Jersey shore. When her father disappeared into the casinos of Atlantic City, losing the family restaurant and leaving her family destitute, Wong’s mother showed her what it takes to make a life beyond just surviving. Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City is about growing up working class, Wong’s path to forgiving her father, dealing with abusive and toxic men and the beauty of mother-daughter relationships.
Deborah Tannen’s 1990 New York Times best-selling book You Just Don’t Understand was about the myriad ways men and women speak different languages. While mothers and daughters, she argues in You’re Wearing That?, do speak the same language, they still often misunderstand each other as they struggle to find the right balance between closeness and independence. Why do daughters complain that their mothers always criticize, while mothers feel hurt that their daughters shut them out? Why does each party overestimate the other's power while underestimating her own? In this 2006 book, she examines every aspect of this complex dynamic, helping mothers and daughters understand each other and how to improve their relationship. Even if your biggest fights are behind you (my curfew is what?!), there’s likely still room for growth.
In this finalist for the 2023 Southern Book Prize, Taylor Harris illustrates how America’s current health and education systems that can be hostile to Black mothers and children. One day, out of the blue, Harris's happy and healthy 22-month-old son, Tophs, wakes up listless, barely lifting his head for water. She rushes him to the doctor, where it’s confirmed that something is wrong—though no one can tell her why. Elaborating on the challenges of raising a Black son in America and how the healthcare industry fails people of color, Harris’s debut memoir is so much more than the story of a perplexing medical mystery.
This first novel by Gabriela Garcia, the daughter of immigrants from Cuba and Mexico, is set in present-day Miami (Garcia’s hometown) and follows the daughter of a Cuban immigrant determined to learn more about her family history. When she travels to Cuba to see her grandmother, secrets from the past are destined to erupt. Consider this one a haunting meditation on the choices mothers make, the legacy of memories and the tenacity of women who choose to tell their stories.
For too long, society’s picture of the perfect mother was thin, blonde and perfectly made up. Her kitchen was immaculate, her meals restaurant-worthy and her children perfectly behaved. As much as we know how unrealistic this picture is, New York Times opinion writer Jessica Grose argues that we’ve probably internalized much of it. (She knows she did.) After she failed to meet every one of her own expectations for her first pregnancy, she devoted her career to revealing how morally bankrupt so many of these ideas and pressures are. In Screaming on the Inside, she weaves together her personal journey with scientific, historical and contemporary reporting to be the voice for American parents she wishes she'd had a decade ago, explaining how we got to this moment and how we can move forward. Mothers and daughters who have children of their own will find solace in commiseration.
This historical novel centers on the Price family (especially matriarch Orleanna), a group of Southern Baptist evangelists who move to the Belgian Congo in 1959 to convert a village during massive political upheaval in the region. Except—surprise, surprise—everything goes so horribly wrong, forcing the deferential but strong Orleanna to try to hold things together. Thanks to alternating chapters told from the perspectives of Orelanna and her four daughters, you'll each get a taste of the other's point of view.
In this latest from the author of Little Fires Everywhere, 12-year-old Bird lives with his loving but broken father. For a decade, their lives have been governed by laws written to preserve “American culture” after years of economic instability and violence. Laws that include allowing authorities to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and forcing libraries to remove books seen as unpatriotic—including the poems of Bird's Chinese American mother, Margaret, who left the family when he was nine years old. But when Bird receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he’s pulled into a quest to find her in this story about the power of art to create change. A poignant and timely commentary on anti-Asian hate, child separation and book bans, but also a celebration of the power of words and stories and the love between mothers and their children, Our Missing Hearts is a gut-punch of a novel that should serve as a cautionary tale.
Mother-daughter relationships are at the center of Tan's classic novel about four Chinese-American families in San Francisco. Starting in the late 1940s, a group of recent immigrants starts meeting up for mahjong and dim sum. Tan explores their relationships with one another and with their daughters, who aren't as interested in keeping up their mothers' traditions.
A mother doesn’t have to be someone who gave birth to you, as proven by Bennett’s incredible 2017 novel. Nadia, Luke and Aubrey are three young people coming of age in a tight-knit, Black community in Southern California. After moving across the country for college and law school, Nadia returns to her hometown, where she’s forced to confront unfinished business from her youth. Told partly by Nadia and partly by a judgmental chorus of women from church, Bennett’s novel is sad and wise, tackling themes of secrets, loyalty and the lasting impact of the decisions we make when we’re young.
Bernadette Fox is talented, hilarious and a little unhinged. A reclusive architect, opinionated partner and loving mother, she goes missing before a family trip. As her daughter tries to find her, she compiles a funny and touching portrait of a woman who is misunderstood and unfairly maligned. Read the book together before seeing the Cate Blanchett-led film adaptation, and take solace in the fact that your relationship never got quite that crazy.
The unnamed narrator of this novel by Elizabeth McCracken (Bowlaway) is a writer who, reeling from the death of her mother ten months earlier, takes a trip to London, her mother’s favorite city. There, she wanders the streets, reflecting on her mom's life and their relationship. Even though she wants to respect her mother's nearly pathological sense of privacy, the woman must come to terms with whether making a chronicle of this remarkable life (she’s a writer, after all) constitutes an act of love or betrayal. At turns darkly funny and heartbreaking, The Hero of This Book is about grief, renewal and the relationship between mothers and daughters.
Lahiri’s first novel (after her Pulitzer-winning story collection, Interpreter of Maladies) follows the Ganguli family from Calcutta to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they attempt—with varying degrees of success—to assimilate to American culture while holding onto their roots. Moms will relate to Ashima's struggles to steer her children down a path she's deemed acceptable, while daughters will recognize the frustrations that come from being steered.
In this heartfelt collection of essays, journalist Connie Wang (Refinery29) reflects on the adventures she's had traveling with her mother, Qing Li. From going to a Magic Mike strip show in Vegas to taking edibles in Amsterdam, the two try to find their place in the world amid hijinks, capers and lots of growth. Through their adventures Wang also reveals the story of two women learning that once we're comfortable with the feeling of not belonging, we can experience a kind of freedom.
Lamott (Hallelujah Anyway) was 35 and single when she had her son in 1989. From finding out that baby is a boy to finding out that her best friend, Pam, had cancer, she chronicles—with candor and self-deprecating humor—her first year as a mom and the friends, neighbors and strangers who helped her survive along the way. A must-read for anybody who maybe just a little bit takes their own mom for granted.
Poet Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is written as a letter from a son, Little Dog, to his mother, who can’t read. The letter unearths the family’s history, and is simultaneously a story about the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son and a broader exploration of race, class, and masculinity.
Inspired by a true story, this haunting novel follows a woman, Sethe, and her daughter after they escape from slavery and run to Ohio. As we find out about Sethe's deceased daughter, Beloved, we see the lengths mothers go to to protect their children. Maternal love with a powerful message of perseverance—from one of America's best writers.
Reeling from the loss of her mother and the end of her marriage, then 22-year-old Strayed decided to heal by hiking the length of the Pacific Crescent Trail, from the Mexican border through Oregon. It’s a thrilling, scary and unforgettable journey—filled with female strength and busted hiking boots. And it just might inspire the two of you to do something adventurous together.
When Ingrid, a brilliant yet eccentric poet, is imprisoned for murder, her daughter, Astrid, jumps between a series of Los Angeles foster homes—each with its own laws, dangers and hard lessons to be learned. When she’s asked to testify on Ingrid’s behalf and possibly help release her from prison, Astrid is forced to decide whether or not to help the mother by whom she feels abandoned. As Astrid struggles to define herself against her biological mother and her various foster mothers, her life becomes a redeeming and surprising journey of self-discovery.
Many different types of mothers and daughters are featured in Girl, Woman, Other which, in 2019, became the first book written by a Black woman to win the Booker Prize. The multi-voiced novel is about interconnected group of Black British women—including Amma, a theatre director, and her daughter Yazz; immigrant Bummi and her daughter Carole; and Hattie, a 93-year-old farmer, and her grandchild Morgan. Girl, Woman, Other paints a vivid portrait of the complicated relationships between women, the state of contemporary Britain and the legacy of Britain’s colonial history in Africa and the Caribbean.
Before their daughter starts college, Franny and Jim bring her, their other adult son and a few assorted friends and significant others for a two-week vacation in Mallorca. As tends to happen, secrets come to light and relationships are tested. It’s family dysfunction at its most entertaining (and with just enough heart).