If you’re a mom who has ever been in a book club with other moms (especially moms of children your child is friends with), this scenario may ring familiar: We get together to talk about the book. This lasts for a solid 12 – 17 minutes. The ensuing two hours of conversation are devoted to discussing our children.
To be clear: I’m not knocking this. It’s only natural since our children are fascinating, as are their experiences, their challenges, their relationships. Literature can help us work through and better understand all of the above, which is why we thought to start the book club in the first place! In honor of Mother’s Day, and in the spirit of reading as self-exploration, how about a list of book club books tailor made for moms?
I realize my list is slanted by my suburban, middle class mother experience. I would love to hear suggestions for further and broader reading in the comments.
The Unfinished Life of Elizabeth D. by Nicole Bernier
The secret longings of a young mother are revealed after her death in a plane crash.
Elizabeth bequeathed her journals to her friend Kate, believing she would know how to read them with an open heart. The journals reveal an Elizabeth Kate doesn’t recognize, causing her to question how well she knew her friend and to rethink her own marriage and choices. Sensitively written and quietly compelling, the novel raises thoughtful questions about balancing motherhood with work, about the sacrifices we make, and the consequences of those sacrifices.
Those We Love Most by Lee Woodruff
The aftermath of a family tragedy reveals the fault lines that lie beneath the seemingly idyllic marriage between Maura and her husband Pete.
Maura’s parents, Roger and Margaret, have been married 40 years, but they too have secrets that, once exposed, threaten the assumptions on which their marriage is based. The novel raises a host of discussion-worthy questions for moms, chief among them: How can families heal after catastrophic, life-altering events expose the flaws and limitations of each member? To what extent can we forgive ourselves our own mistakes and imperfections as well as those of our loved ones?
Little Children by Tom Perrotta
Perrotta’s novels are known for their spirited, and often hilarious, explorations of suburban life, including how motherhood changes us. Though not his most recent, Little Children may be his best, especially for sparking heated debate.
Sarah has grown weary of her older husband Richard and embarks on a passionate affair with Tom, the “prom king” househusband of filmmaker Kathy. Against the backdrop of these suburban intrigues, another narrative plays out. Sexual predator Ronnie McGorvey moves in with his widowed mother May, inviting vengeful protests from concerned neighbors, fueled by his being a suspect in the unsolved disappearance of a child. Delving deeply into Ronnie’s psyche, Perrotta achieves the near impossible: he invites readers to sympathize with a lonely, deeply troubled soul who may or may not have committed a heinous crime. A deeply thought-provoking and unsettling novel.
This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
In this engrossing and disturbing novel, one bad decision has far-reaching consequences.
An unsolicited, sexually explicit video arrives in 15-year old Jake Bergamot’s in-box from a 13-year old friend. Jake forwards it to a friend, who then forwards it to four friends, and so until, until the video has gone viral. The book explores the ramifications—legal, moral, and familial—of one thoughtless moment, raising questions that defy easy answers. For those of us who grew up in an age when privacy still existed but who parent children growing up in age when it does not, this is an especially compelling novel to dissect and discuss.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Shriver won the 2005 Orange prize for this disturbing epistolary novel, adapted for the screen in 2011.
The story unfolds through a one way correspondence: Two years after her son, Kevin, carries out a school massacre that leaves seven students and two adults (including a beloved teacher) dead, Eva Katchadourian writes letters to her estranged husband, Franklin, as a way to process her emotions. Difficult to put down but also devastating to continue reading, the novel explores troubling questions about what causes a child to go so off the rails, with plenty to talk about but no easy resolutions.
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
Stedman’s mesmerizing novel explores the ramifications of one woman’s desperate longing to become a mother.
In the wake of World War I, vivacious Isabelle and stoic Tom, a principled veteran, fall in love and move to a remote island in Western Australia, where Tom will serve as lighthouse keeper. The two set up house and their own secluded but cheery world. Their island idyll begins falling apart as Isabelle suffers two miscarriages and a stillbirth. When a small boat washes ashore carrying a baby and a lifeless man, protocol dictate Tom record and report the incident. But Isabelle persuades him to grant her one day with the baby, which quickly turns into more as Tom cannot bear to aggrieve his wife. In their isolation, Tom and Isabelle dispel thoughts of a grieving mother elsewhere. What happens next in Stedman’s nuanced story will invite discussion and debate.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
In this revision of Snow White, a father’s secret unravels a family in mid-20th-century Massachusetts.
Eponymous Boy is a 20-year girl when she flees her abusive father in New York circa 1953, landing in Flax Hill, Mass. There, she meets and eventually marries the widowed Arturo Whitman, whose daughter Snow enchants everyone she meets, including Boy. The birth of Boy and Arturo’s daughter, Bird, reveals that the Whitmans are African-Americans passing as white. Troubled by how light-skinned Snow and dark-skinned Bird may be compared to one another, Boy sends her light-skinned stepdaughter away to live with Arturo’s sister, Clara, banished by her family because she was too dark to pass. Boy’s decision—indefensible but born of fierce motherly over-protectiveness—has long lasting repercussion on both girls in this charged and lyrical examination of race and conceptions of beauty and their perils, one that mothers of daughters may find particularly compelling.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Eighth grade prodigy Bee tries to piece together what happened to her mother, who has vanished.
At turns laugh-out-loud funny, moving, and bittersweet, the novel begins with what appear to be a random collection of correspondences—a report card, a school fundraising letter, emails the eponymous Bernadette exchanges with her India-based personal assistant and those exchanged between an obstreperous woman and a landscaper. As the story unfolds, carrying Bee from Seattle to California to the icy waters of Antarctica, a portrait emerges of a troubled woman, whose love for her daughter couldn’t prevent her being undone by her personal demons. Mothers may have much to say about how Bernadette handles those demons and the impact on her bright, devoted daughter. Semple also offers much to marvel at with her fresh and inventive narrative construction and whimsical, compassionate voice.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
Moriarty has deservedly made a name for herself crafting equal parts cutting, hilarious, and heartbreaking portraits of suburban motherhood.
The Husband’s Secret revolves around the stories of three mothers unwittingly connected by a tragedy: devoted wife, mother, and Tupperware saleswoman Cecilia Fitzpatrick; advertising executive Tess O’Leary, whose son attends the same school as Cecilia’s children; and school secretary Rachel Crowley, whose teen-aged daughter was murdered decades earlier. Their three narratives move, in excruciatingly perfect pacing, toward an explosive collision. Through the lens of each mother, readers are invited to consider how far they would go to protect the ones they love and, with slightly more sinister undertones, how far they would go to protect the lives they’re living. Plot twists and turns come in spades, along with moral quandaries.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Moriarty’s most recent opens with a brawl at an elementary school fundraising event, ending with a (unnamed) parent’s death.
The story rewinds six months to the chance meeting of three kindergarten moms, Madeline, Celeste, and Jane, whose growing bonds of friendship set the tragic events at the fundraiser in motion. Brassy Madeline is juggling the needs of a spirited blended family. Celeste’s seemingly perfect life with her husband and twin sons is not what it seems. Young single mom Jane is hiding a secret about her son Ziggy’s parentage. After mild-mannered Ziggy is accused of bullying, battle lines are drawn between Madeline, Celeste, and Jane and a rival group of mothers. Moriarty leads readers up to and through the ill-fated fundraiser with breathless pacing. The moral and ethical questions the story raises create opportunities for both discussion and self-discovery.
Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
A teen suffering from an autoimmune disorder lives a sheltered life with her mother and housekeeper.
Maddy is allergic to everything, and her mother, a doctor, keeps her at home in a sterile environment. After a new family moves in next door, Maddie longs to push the boundaries her mother has constructed. So as not to spoil a major reveal, I’ll say this mother-daughter relationship provides copious discussion fodder.
2 Replies to “Book club books for moms”
True story: The day before Mothers Day, I was desperately trying to come up with a book to send my step-mom via her e-reader (I like to do it the day of – it’s like, “BAM! You now have a new book that appeared out of thin air!”), and I couldn’t think of anything and I said to myself, “I wonder if Sally’s blog might help”, and I came here and saw this list and was so grateful! (I didn’t leave a comment because, well, the gift-giving panic was all I could think of.)
In the end, I’m realizing my stepmom and I have diverged in terms of our once sometimes-similar reading interests, so I decided to go with another option. But your list gave ME a lot of books I now want to read. 🙂 And I am always so happy when you mention “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”, which was so delightful and fun but also surprisingly moving – when I read it last year, I saw so much in it about motherhood in general and about some of my experiences as both a daughter, and a mom. I think you’re right that it makes a great Mothers Day gift – I actually gave it to my mom last year (albeit just after I’d finished reading it; I was too moved to wait for Mothers Day).
I hope you and any other fellow moms reading this had a wonderful Mothers Day – that hopefully included some time to read!
I loved “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” for just the reasons you state. If you haven’t read 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas, you might enjoy it. It had some of the same mood and feel for me. I’m sorry you didn’t find books for your mother-in-law, but I love to hear you found something for you!
And thank you – I did get to read. We went into the city to spend the day with my parents, and I enjoyed two hours of reading time there and back. 🙂
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