100 Must-Read Books About Mothers and Motherhood

Just like in life, mothers in literature vary in every way imaginable. They vary by race, nationality, and religion. They vary by personality. They vary by sexual orientation and gender identity. Some have always wanted to be mothers. Others had other, conflicting goals. Depending on the genre of book, their stories vary wildly too. Romance novels promise mothers happy endings. Memoirs attempt to tell some difficult truths. Suspense fiction put mothers or sometimes the children they love in danger. Picture books seek to assure both parent and child about the unconditional nature of a mother’s love. Not every mother on this list is a Marmee or a Ma Ingalls, which is to say they are not all perfect. In fact, none of them are. Instead, they are something better; they are human.

May is Mother’s Day month. It’s the perfect time to dive into a book featuring one of the difficult, dynamic, nuanced mothers from this list.

  1. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: A multi-perspective novel set against the backdrop of Biafra and the Nigerian Civil War during the late 1960s.
  2. Paula by Isabel Allende: A memoir from the celebrated Chilean-American writer about the experience of taking care of her adult daughter Paula, who fell into a coma.
  3. Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou: The author’s seventh and final autobiography focusing, as the title suggests, on her fractured relationship with her mother who abandoned her as a small child then came back into her life a decade later.
  4. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson: This novel weaves together the story of Ruby Lennox, a middle class English girl, with flashbacks featuring six generations of women from her family.
  5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: An eerily relevant dystopia novel set in a near-future United States where a theocratic military dictatorship is in power and has stripped women of all their rights. In this society, Offred is a handmaid, meaning she’s assigned to reproductive purposes, remembering her life before when she lived with her husband and daughter.
  6. The Law of Loving Others by Kate Axelrod: This YA novel tells the story of Emma handling the realities of her mother’s schizophrenic breakdown.
  7. Those Bones Are Not My Child by Toni Cade Bambara: Zala Spencer, a single mother, desperately searches for her missing son against the backdrop of the Atlanta Child Murders, when more than forty black children were kidnapped, assaulted, and killed in the span of two years.
  8. Daughter by Asha Bandele: A mother reminisces over her past while keeping vigil at the hospital bed of her black daughter who’s been shot by a white police officer.
  9. I’m the Vampire, That’s Why by Michele Bardsley: This humorous paranormal romance follows single mother as she juggles taking care of her two children with transforming into a vampire.
  10. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel: A graphic memoir exploring the relationship between the artist and her complicated, creative mother.
  11. Away by Amy Bloom: An epic novel following Lillian Leyb who journeys from New York City to Alaska to Siberia in search of the daughter she was separated from in a Russian pogrom.
  12. Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan: The memoir of a transgender woman transitioning from a father to a mother and the time in between.
  13. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë: This classic novel written by the lesser-known Brontë hinges upon the mystery of a beautiful, but reclusive, young widow who moves into the neighborhood with her young son.
  14. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd: This beloved picture book tells the story of a young bunny who keeps running away and his mother who finds him every time.
  15. Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler: In this science fiction trilogy, the few survivors of the Earth’s nuclear war are saved by aliens. Lilith, a black human female, must decide if she will crossbreed with the aliens in order to return to Earth and survive.
  16. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang: Blending memoir and biography, this book tells the stories of three generations of women living through the tumult of twentieth century China.
  17. Sustained by Emma Chase: This hilarious and steamy romance novel shows the coming together of a hardened defense attorney and a woman caring for her six orphaned nieces and nephews.
  18. Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros: In this multigenerational family story, Lala examines her grandmother’s life as she grows up traveling between Chicago and Mexico City.
  19. Ramona and her Mother by Beverly Cleary: Beloved seven and a half year old Ramona, adjusts to both her parents working, squabbles with her sister, and a misunderstanding about a very special pair of pajamas.
  20. Little Bee by Chris Cleave: An unexpected and fraught friendship forms between a Nigerian refugee and British widowed mother.
  21. Know the Mother by Desiree Cooper: A collection of short stories exploring various incarnations of the mother archetype.
  22. Worth the Fall by Claudia Connor: A Navy SEAL and a single mother of four meet each other and find romance during a week-long beach vacation.
  23. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat: Twelve-year-old Sophie leaves Haiti to live with the mother she barely remembers in New York City.
  24. The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life by Jasmin Darznik: As an adult, the author discovers her mother had a secret and abusive first marriage in Iran before her family moved to America.
  25. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen: In this young adult novel, Auden enjoys the freedom of being away from her controlling mother while spending the summer at the beach with her dad and young stepmother, who’s just giving birth and is having a hard time adjusting to new motherhood.
  26. Blue Nights by Joan Didion: An honest exploration of motherhood and grief centering on the death of Joan Didion’s adult daughter, Quintana Roo.
  27. Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: A novel about three generations of mothers and daughters as the family moves from Bengal, India to America.
  28. Room by Emma Donoghue: A kidnapped girl raises her son in the captivity of a single room while planning for their escape.
  29. The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta: Nnu Ego is a Nigerian woman giving birth and raising her children in a time when colonial influences are beginning to challenge the accepted tribal gender roles.
  30. The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich: In this novel, Faye Travers, a woman in her fifties who’s recently moved in with her mother to help run the family’s estate business, finds a ceremonial drum from the Ojibwa tribe and works to give it back to its rightful owners.
  31. The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante: After getting divorced, middle-aged Leda is alone for the first time in years when her daughters move in with their father.
  32. White Oleander by Janet Fitch: When Ingrid is imprisoned for murder, her daughter Astrid is placed in a series of foster homes.
  33. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn: In this thriller, journalist Camille must return to her hometown and estranged mother to investigate the murder of two young girls.
  34. The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick: The first in a middle grade series, four girls and their mothers begin a monthly book club, starting with the classic Little Women.
  35. The Ladies of Managua by Eleni N. Gage: Maria Vazquez goes home to Nicaragua for her grandfather’s funeral and must face her grieving grandmother and the mother who abandoned her to be a revolutionary.
  36. Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin: A stay at home mom and a single working mother’s lives intersect after one of their children experiences a tragic accident.
  37. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda: This novel tells the stories of Kavita, a poor mother living in India who decides to give her newborn daughter away, and Somer, a married physician living in San Francisco who adopts Kavita’s baby.
  38. Another Piece of My Heart by Jane Green: After marrying a divorced father, Andi hopes that his two daughters will accept her. One of his daughters refuses to accept her and takes the whole family on a twisty, emotionally complicated journey making Andi question her beliefs about love and motherhood.
  39. Home/Birth: A Poemic by Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker: A poetic conversation between two women about motherhood, gender, and giving birth.
  40. Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly: The first book in the Winterlands series, Lord Aversin and Jenny Waynest, a self-taught sorceress and mother of Aversin’s sons, set out on a quest to kill the Black Dragon.
  41. Chocolat by Joann Harris: Made famous by the film adaptation, this novel portrays the transformation of a small French village after a young single mother and her daughter move to town and open a magical chocolaterie.
  42. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: In seventeenth-century Puritanical Boston, Hester Prynne is ostracized after giving birth to an illegitimate child.
  43. Hush! A Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho, illustrated by Holly Meade: In this rhyming picture book, a mother asks various animals to be quiet to they don’t wake her sleeping baby.
  44. Bettyville by George Hodgman: In this memoir, a gay man leaves Manhattan for Paris, Missouri to take care of his aging, homophobic mother.
  45. Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Barbara Lavellee: This picture book combines the story of a mother providing her child with reassurance of her unconditional love and breathtaking illustrations of Alaska.
  46. Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata: Helen Kimura is a serial dater with four daughters all with different fathers. The girls, ages six to sixteen, have grown up being taught they can only rely on their looks, their unpredictable mother, and each other. These bonds are tested when this family is separated for the first time.
  47. At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid: A collection of short stories set in the Caribbean about the complicated connections between mothers and their daughters.
  48. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver: Taylor grows up with the twin goals of leaving her rural Kentucky town and not getting pregnant. Despite this resolve, on her journey to Tucson, Arizona she becomes responsible for a three-year-old Native American girl and must rethink her ideas about motherhood.
  49. Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers: This young adult novel is told through a series of notes left on the refrigerator between a single working mother and her fifteen-year-old daughter.
  50. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott: Teacher and acclaimed writer, Anne Lamott, chronicles her first year as a mother contrasted with the illness of a very close friend.
  51. Son by Lois Lowry: The fourth book in the Giver Quartet, fourteen-year-old Claire searches for the son who was taken away from her.
  52. Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean: This Regency romance novel tells the story of Georgiana a woman, by day the disgraced sister of a duke with an illegitimate daughter, by night disguised as a man and owner of the most legendary gambling hall in all of London.
  53. Fingerprints of You by Kristen-Page Madonia, illustrated by Terry Ribera: In this young adult novel, Lemon and her reckless single mother Stella both try to cope with Lemon’s teenage pregnancy.
  54. Mama’s Saris by Pooja Makhijani, illustrated by Elena Gomez: In this beautifully-illustrated picture book, a young girl dreams about dressing up in her mother’s gorgeous saris.
  55. The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka: At age fourteen, Lakshmi is traded into marriage with a stranger in Malaysia. After frequent births, she struggles to make a better life for her children and survive World War II and the Japanese occupation of her new country.
  56. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta: The young adult story shows a teenage girl coping with life in a new school while her formerly spirited mother falls into a deep depression.
  57. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis: The life of Hattie Shepherd who leaves Georgia for Philadelphia during the Great Migration is told through the perspectives of her eleven children and one grandchild.
  58. The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride: The nonfiction story of a white woman struggling against poverty and racism to raise her twelve black children.
  59. Reconstructing Ameliaby Kimberly McCreight: A single mother uses social media and cell phone logs to investigate the last days of her teenage daughter’s life and determine if she committed suicide like everyone else believes.
  60. Nobody Told Me: The Poetry of Parenthood by Hollie McNish: A collection of poems and stories relating to new motherhood in modern day Britain.
  61. The Good Mother by Sue Miller: Recently-divorced Anna balances her love for her three-year-old daughter with a newly ignited passion for her lover Eli. A disturbing accusation against Eli and ensuing custody battle will ruin Anna’s newfound happiness and force her to prove that she’s a good mother.
  62. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty: This Australian thriller follows three mothers of young children against the backdrop of a murder investigation involving parents are the local school.
  63. Beloved by Toni Morrison: Sethe, an escaped slave, is haunted literally and figuratively by the ghost of her baby who died before she could give her a name.
  64. One Plus One by Jojo Moyes: A love story between a single mom worried about her stepson and daughter and the tech millionaire whose vacation house she cleans.
  65. The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose by Alice Munro: A short story collection following the relationship of Flo, a woman running a shop in a small Canadian town, and her stepdaughter Rose, who has bigger dreams for herself.
  66. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw: A sweet picture book about a mother’s lullaby that she sings to her son throughout his life about her unconditional love, even after the boy flushes her watch down the toilet.
  67. The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy: An archeologist with secret paranormal powers has her abandoned daughter show up on a dig in the Yucatan hoping to reconnect.
  68. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson: A genre-bending memoir focusing on the author’s romance with gender fluid artist Harry Dodge, adjustment to becoming a stepmother, and pregnancy and birth of her son.
  69. Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Diana Souza: A ground-breaking picture book first published in 1989 about a young girl named Heather and her two lesbian mothers.
  70. The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett: This novel is set in a home for unwed mothers in Kentucky. It follows young Rose Clinton who makes the surprising decision to keep her daughter and raise her among the nuns at St. Elizabeth’s.
  71. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak: Chester the Raccoon is nervous for his first day of school so his mother tells him about the Kissing Hand, a way to reassure him of her love when he gets frightened.
  72. Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips: A romance novel about a young widowed mother with a scandalous past falling in love with a man morning the death of his young child.
  73. Things We Left Unsaid by Zoya Pirzad, translated by Franklin Lewis: Set in 1960s Iran, a content housewife has her world shaken up when a handsome widower moves in across the street.
  74. Incarnation by Clare Pollard: A collection of poems about pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood which weave together the personal and the political.
  75. Every Last One by Anna Quindlen: In this novel, a mother moves through her daily life taking care of her three teenage children when an unforeseeable act of violence changes their family forever.
  76. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution by Adrienne Rich: Mixing personal experience, feminist theory, and research this collection of poems examine what motherhood means in a Western, patriarchal society.
  77. The Next Always by Nora Roberts: Romance novel legend, Nora Roberts, starts off her Inn Boonsboro Trilogy with a happy ending for Beckett Montgomery and Clare, the widowed mother of three who Beckett has a crush on since high school.
  78. Landline by Rainbow Rowell: A television writer and workaholic is worried she’s ruined her marriage. With a magical realism twist, she discovers a way to talk on the phone with her husband in the past, before he proposed. Now she wonders if she should use this strange opportunity to save her marriage or stop it from ever happening.
  79. The Stepmother by Claire Seeber: In this psychological thriller, a newly married woman tries to win over her willful step-daughter and keep her secret past from destroying her new family.
  80. Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran: This novel tells the story of Soli Valdez a pregnant woman who crosses the US/Mexican border hoping for a better life in America and Kvya Reddy, a woman longing for a child of her own who takes care of Soli’s infant son after she is detained.
  81. where'd you go bernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple: When whimsical and outrageous Bernadette disappears, her fifteen-year-old daughter investigates emails, documents, and correspondences to try to find out what happened to her mother and best friend.
  82. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys: In 1950s New Orleans, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine, daughter of a local prostitute, wants nothing more than to leave town. A mysterious death entangles her in an investigation that causes a rift between her and her mother.
  83. Our Andromeda by Brenda Shaughnessy: A collection of poetry exploring the dark side of childbirth and trauma.
  84. Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin, translated by Chi-Young Kim: In this Korean best-seller, a family searches for their mother after she goes missing in a crowded subway station.
  85. The Wholeness of a Broken Heart by Katie Singer: The voices of four generations of Jewish women, including some beyond the grave, tell the story of Hannah’s complicated relationship with her mother Celia.
  86. Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith: A memoir from a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet centering around the loss of her mother to cancer when she was still a child.
  87. The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit: A nonfiction exploration on the meaning of story anchored by the author’s own story of her mother’s decline into Alzheimer’s.
  88. The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding: When teenage Devan’s father dies, she is sent to LA to live with Reece Malcolm, a best-selling author and the mother Devan’s never met.
  89. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed: In this memoir, a woman impulsively decides to hike more than a thousand miles trying to process her mother’s death, the dissolution of her marriage, and the bad decisions she’s made.
  90. My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout: When Lucy is recovering from an operation her mother, who she hasn’t seen in years, comes and spends five days with her in the hospital room.
  91. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan: Based in part on the author’s own relationship with her mother, in this novel Pearl learns the truth about her mother’s secret past in China and the events that led her to escape to America.
  92. Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler: On a beach vacation with her husband and three teenagers, Delia impulsively abandons her family and disappears into a completely new life.
  93. So B. It by Sarah Weeks: In this middle grade novel, twelve-year-old Heidi sets out on a cross-country journey to discover the secrets of her mentally disabled mother’s past.
  94. Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner: Three young new mothers bond over their shared struggle of raising infants.
  95. Divine Secrets on the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells: With the help of her mother’s friends, Siddalee learns about her charismatic, abusive mother’s complicated childhood.
  96. The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer: A group of female friends living in New York examine their decisions after giving up their careers to stay at home with their children.
  97. Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Sophie Blackall: In this picture book, Gia worries about what will happen to her relationship with her mom once the new baby is born.
  98. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, illustrated by David Yoon: Due to a rare illness, eighteen-year-old Madeline has lived her entire life stuck inside her house with a nurse and her physician mother.
  99. Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas: A controlling matriarch starts to lose a grip on her perfect life, when her teenage daughter runs away with her boyfriend and the rest of the family’s troubles begin to be revealed.
  100. How to Save a Life by Sarah Zarr: In the aftermath of her father’s death, seventeen-year old Jill’s mom decides to adopt a baby and lets the teenage mother, Mandy, live with them for the final weeks of her pregnancy.
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