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10 Great Books about Mother-Daughter Relationships

Vanessa Diaz

Managing Editor

Book Riot Managing Editor Vanessa Diaz is a writer and former bookseller from San Diego, CA whose Spanish is even faster than her English. When not reading or writing, she enjoys dreaming up travel itineraries and drinking entirely too much tea. She is a regular co-host on the All the Books podcast who especially loves mysteries, gothic lit, mythology/folklore, and all things witchy. Vanessa can be found on Instagram at @BuenosDiazSD or taking pictures of pretty trees in Portland, OR, where she now resides.

This list of books about mother-daughter relationships is sponsored by The Cactus by Sarah Haywood.

For Susan Green, messy emotions don’t fit into the equation of her perfectly ordered life. She has an apartment that is ideal for one, a job that suits her passion for logic, and an “interpersonal arrangement” that provides cultural and other, more intimate, benefits. But suddenly confronted with the loss of her mother and the news that she is about to become a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is realized. She is losing control.

Featuring an endearing cast of characters and tremendous heart, The Cactus is a poignant debut and a delightful reminder that some things can’t be explained by logic alone.

You don’t have to be a mother or a daughter to know that mother-daughter relationships are complicated. No two dynamics are the same, and even in the presence of big love, myriad complex emotions often accompany this unique and important bond. Whether our mothers are our best friends, worst enemies or anything in between, one thing is for sure: a daughter’s relationship to her mother will shape her in ways both obvious and less apparent. Here are ten great reads on mother-daughter relationships in all of their beautiful, complicated, multi-layered glory.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

Author Peggy Orenstein is a journalist who had built a career writing about girls and women when she learned she was pregnant with a daughter. She was terrified; she was supposed to be an expert on girls behavior, what if she couldn’t raise, as she put it, an ideal daughter? In this eye-opening nonfiction read full of facts about the “princess mania” in media and merchandising (bruuuuuh Disney) and honest insight from a conflicted new mother, Orenstein examines what it means to raise a daughter who is aware of her femininity without being encumbered by it. Turns out this is quite the undertaking.

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria SempleWhere’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Bernadette Fox is a bit of a mad genius; she’s a talented architect, quirky and opinionated, a misfit among the other moms in her Seattle suburb but best friend to her teenage daughter Bee. She’s also so intensely agoraphobic that she pays a virtual assistant in India to handle even her most basic errands, making an impending family trip to Antarctica only, you know, slightly problematic. When Bernadette suddenly goes missing, Bee sets out to figure out where her mother could have gone. She begins to unravel the complicated workings of her mother’s brilliantly misunderstood mind.

Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

In the novel that launched Patchett’s extraordinary career, Rose Clinton is a pregnant resident of St. Elizabeth’s, a short-term housing facility for unwed mothers in Habit, Kentucky. Rose’s past is shrouded in mystery: she has a husband and plans to give her baby up for adoption. She changes her mind upon giving birth to daughter Cecilia, deciding instead to stay at St. Elizabeth’s and raise her daughter among the nuns and teenage girls who cycle through the place. But her past does that thing that pasts tend to do—it demands to make itself known.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Jenna Metcalfe has been searching for her mother for years since her mysterious disappearance; she simply vanished in the wake of a tragic accident at the elephant sanctuary where she’d been studying the majestic creatures. Jenna doesn’t believe for one second that her mother would choose to abandon her. She hires a psychic and a private detective to try and piece together what really happened.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Lucy Barton is recovering from an operation when her estranged mother comes to see her in the hospital. The two slowly reconnect: over small talk at first, then gossip from the small town Lucy grew up in. What starts as seemingly trivial conversation becomes the gateway for unpacking long-held tensions.

Missing Mom by Joyce Carol Oates

Nikki Eaton is a reporter for a small town newspaper in her thirties living life on her terms. When her widowed mother, Gwen is killed in a random act of violence, the loss impacts Nikki more than she ever saw coming. The novel chronicles the year following her mother’s death as Nikki grieves this sudden loss and tries to make sense of the tragedy.

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

In what may be the most personal of the great Maya Angelou’s works, Angelou sheds light on her complicated relationship with her mother, Vivian Baxter. She begins with Vivian’s decision to send three-year-old Maya and her brother to live with their grandmother in Arkansas. She goes on to explore the sense of abandonment that followed her for years. Her long road to healing began with their reunion a decade later.

Paula by Isabel Allende

In 1991, Allende’s daughter was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. She fell into a coma a few days later; this memoir is the autobiography that Allende wrote for her. Allende breathes magical life into the cast of characters in her stories, who are seemingly plucked from the pages of House of Spirits. It is an emotionally charged story of love, loss and resilience, a family history set in part in Allende’s native Chile during the tumult that followed the 1973 military coup.

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

In Barbara Kingsolver’s first novel, Taylor Greer leaves Kentucky to escape her life there and avoid getting pregnant. Life throws a wrench in her plans as she travels westward to settle in Tucson, Arizona; she meets a three-year-old Native American girl named Turtle and finds herself having to raise her. This unexpected turn finds Taylor becoming the mother she didn’t know she had it in her to be.

white oleander coverWhite Oleander by Janet Finch

Young Astrid’s world is thrown into chaos when her mother, Ingrid, is imprisoned for murdering a former lover. Astrid finds herself tossed back and forth within the Los Angeles foster system, where she’s witness to and victim of abuse, neglect, and disappointment. She’s learning how to survive when she’s asked to testify on Ingrid’s behalf and possibly help release her from prison. Astrid must decide whether or not to help the mother by whom she feels abandoned.