28 Life-Changing Books To Read With Your Mom

The most exclusive book club.

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1. My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

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While recovering in the hospital from what should have been a minor surgery, Lucy Barton is visited by her estranged mother. Over the course of five days, the women forge a new bond, revisiting the harsh realities of Lucy's unhappy childhood and catching up on all of the moments that led them to the present.

For moms who like: reunions, small towns, hours-long phone calls that go late into the night

2. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

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Are You My Mother? is Alison Bechdel's heartwarming, probing, and often hilarious attempt at understanding her mysterious mother — book lover, music lover, amateur actor, avoider of affection — and at bridging the gap between them.

For moms who like: graphic novels, psychology, LGBTQ stories, the suffering creative genius

3. Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith

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Ordinary Light is Tracy K. Smith's heartbreaking journey of reconciling her family's past — her mother's childhood memories of picking cotton in the south, her parents' involvement in the Civil Rights movement — with her fairly comfortable present in suburban California. And when her mother is diagnosed with cancer, her need to understand their history and how it informs her self becomes even more sharply focused.

For moms who like: tearjerkers, tests of faith, black history

4. Paula by Isabel Allende

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Paula is Isabel Allende's ode to her daughter, who fell into a coma in 1991, written during hours spent by her hospital bed. It's a vast history of their family, woven with the same magic and spirituality of Allende's novels, describing playful anecdotes from her youth, intimate secrets from the family's past, and memories of political turbulence in Chile.

For moms who like: tearjerkers, spirituality, mythology, South American politics

5. Room by Emma Donoghue

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Emma Donoghue's story of a women held captive with a 5-year-old son whose entire world comprises the room he's never left is an enthralling depiction of a mother's fierce and selfless love, showing how her instinct to protect adapts, but doesn't abate, when it's time for them to make their escape.

For moms who like: true crime, suspense, atypical POVs

6. Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

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Annie John has a complicated relationship with her mother, and the reader gets to witness the full spectrum — from her gushing adoration as a young girl, to her competitive resentment as a teen, to her nuanced appreciation and understanding as a young woman leaving home. Along the way, we get a glimpse of what it was like to grow up on the island of Antigua, and all of the beauty and adventure it contained.

For moms who like: coming-of-age stories, breaking rules, rural life, love/hate relationships

7. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

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Maggie Nelson's memoir — primarily about her relationship with the artist Harry Dodge and her first pregnancy — is a thoroughly considered, sharp, and inquisitive exploration of building a family from a foundation of radicalism, queerness, and deep love.

For moms who like: gender studies, resisting convention, sex positivity, feminism, disjointed narratives

8. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

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Betty Smith pulls no punches in telling the story of the Nolan family. She shows the harsh realities of growing up poor in the slums of early 20th century Williamsburg, but the love among the family gives the story heart — and especially the tough love between Katie Nolan and her children, to whom she reads every night and in whom she instills a real sense of integrity.

For moms who like: historical fiction, vintage shops, New York City

9. Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

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Every year, the entire extended Reyes family fills up three cars and drives from Chicago to the grandparents' house in Mexico City for the summer. Young Ceyala is the family observer, trying to understand her place in this chaotic group, and when she delves into her grandmother's (aka "Awful Grandmother's") life story, we're taken on a whirlwind exploration of family folklore.

For moms who like: road trips, family vacations, wacky grandmas, storytelling podcasts

10. Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry

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The widowed Aurora Greenway doesn't let motherhood get in the way of her being the center of attention, as proven by the constant cycle of suitors showing up at her front door. But when her daughter, now grown, comes up against marital problems and cancer, she has to adapt — and her unrelenting, overprotective love helps carry them through it.

For moms who like: "difficult" women, Gilmore Girls, Texas, crying

11. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

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Maria Semple skewers the yuppie Pacific Northwest-elite in this captivating satire. When 15-year-old Bee's mother goes missing, she begins the search through medical records, diary entries, and emails to find her — all of which come together to hilariously reveal what brought the Seattle-based architect, wife, and mother to her limit, and why she had to drop it all.

For moms who like: wild goose chases, precocious kids, biting satire, dreams of getting away from it all

12. Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

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Mom & Me & Mom is Maya Angelou's thorny love letter to her mother — the larger-than-life woman who abandoned Angelou in many ways, at many times, but also the woman Angelou credits as the reason she was able to become who she is.

For moms who like: Thelma and Louise, home-cooked meals, hard-learned lessons, the South

13. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

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Vivi and Siddalee Walker have a complicated relationship, even more so when Vivi is described as a "tap-dancing child abuser" in Sidda's New York Times interview. When it seems like their ties have been cut for good, Vivi's lifelong group of friends — the Ya-Yas — convince her to send Sidda a scrapbook of their lives together, allowing Sidda to finally understand her mother.

For moms who like: the deep south, scrapbooking, booze, Steel Magnolias

14. The Twelve Tribes Of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

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In 1923, 15-year-old Hattie Shepherd is thrust into adulthood earlier than anyone should, when she runs away from home and into a dispiriting marriage. After the tragic loss of twins, she vows to raise survivors, and it's through the nine children she goes on to give birth to — in twelve distinct stories — that we learn about Hattie herself: her courage, endurance, and unrelenting love.

For moms who like: tough love, the American dream, nonlinear narratives, big families

15. Chocolat by Joanne Harris

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Vianne Rocher — single mom, drifter, chocolatier, witch — turns a small French town upside down when she arrives at the beginning of Lent and opens a tantalizing chocolate shop. Despite the local priest's personal crusade to drive her out of town, she and her business thrive — but not before introducing a little magic and subversion into the lives of her customers.

For moms who like: traveling, folklore, dessert, the occult, treating yourself

16. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

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So My Brilliant Friend is (you guessed it) more about a friendship than a mother/child relationship, but it's just so good — two best friends growing up in a poor Naples village in the 1950s, whose bond perseveres as life takes them away from each other and back again in a country going through massive change. It's about a rich, persisting, ever-changing love — something moms probably know a bit about.

For moms who like: Italian culture, lush settings, psychological suspense, Beaches

17. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

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In the late 1950s, an American missionary takes his family to the Congo to convert the native population. The story is told from the perspectives of his wife and four daughters, who slowly discover that everything they think they know has betrayed them, and that their husband and father's mission might not be as noble as they believed.

For moms who like: postcolonialism, anti-imperialism, fish-out-of-water stories, dense imagery

18. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Namesake follows the Ganguli family as they relocate from Calcutta to Cambridge, and settle into a life with their son Gogol, named for the Russian writer. In quiet, evocative prose, Lahiri walks you through their lives — the culture clashes, the miscommunications, the loves and losses.

For moms who like: immigrant stories, identity crises, Massachusetts, dinner parties

19. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

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The histories of four families unravel over the course of 40 years — from the Chinese-born women who find each other in San Francisco and start meeting for dim sum and mahjong, to the daughters who are much less interested in upholding the traditions of the Joy Luck Club.

For moms who like: generational clashes, gossip, family secrets, party games

20. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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Four years after her mother's death, 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed makes the impulsive (possibly ill-advised) decision to hike more than 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail by herself. What follows is an unforgettable journey, letting go of the traumas behind her and moving toward some kind of peace.

For moms who like: nature, adventure, meeting strangers, new beginnings

21. Some Women by Emily Liebert

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Three women — the housewife and mother whose husband just announced he's leaving, the crime reporting single mother whose ex turns up right when she's met a good guy, and the wife of a super rich and increasingly distant heir to a media conglomerate — find themselves thrust together at a time when they need a friend the most.

For moms who like: unexpected friendships, self-discovery, Barre classes, light reads

22. Things We Left Unsaid by Zoya Pirzad

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Clarice is the model of a suburban wife and mother in 1960s Iran, going through the motions of community gossip, her children's schooling, and the details of domestic upkeep without much question — until some new neighbors move into town and force her to reconsider her life, her own agency within it, and what she really wants.

For moms who like: streams of consciousness, suburbia, women's lib

23. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

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Ruby Lennox, born in the 1950s, begins narrating her life from the moment she's conceived — and from that point forward we're pulled deeper and deeper into four generations of family mythology, slowly uncovering secrets held closely by her mother.

For moms who like: logic puzzles, philosophy, expansive family histories, mid-century England

24. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

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Fearing for her newborn daughter's safety, Kavita travels to Mumbai to leave Usha in an orphanage. On the other side of the world, a Californian couple struggling with infertility begin the process that will end with them adopting her. The novel follows both families over the course of two decades — as Kavita comes to terms with the decision she had to make, and as Usha comes to understand her heritage.

For moms who like: tidy endings, questions of fate, Indian culture, sacrifice, reunions

25. Digging to America by Anne Tyler

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An American couple and an Iranian-American couple cross paths at a Baltimore airport, where both are awaiting the arrival of their adoptive babies from Korea. From that point forward, the families become more and more intertwined in each other's lives — and the matriarch who moved from Iran 35 years prior finds herself grappling with the fact that as her feeling of being an outsider fades, so does the strength of her connection to her culture and traditions.

For moms who like: multiple POVs, comfort reads, party planning

26. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott

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Equally honest and entertaining, Operating Instructions chronicles her first year as a single mother, leaning on her close but slightly dysfunctional group of friends as well as her religion while at the same time trying to make sense of a close friend's terminal illness.

For moms who like: bon mots, self-help, dark humor, brutal honesty

27. Before We Visit The Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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Over four generations and two continents, three women — Sabitri, the poor daughter of a baker in rural Bengal; Bela, the daughter who breaks Sabitri's heart by fleeing to America with her political refugee husband; and Tara, the daughter who breaks Bela's heart by abandoning her education — try to make sense of their lives, learning how their mothers' mistakes and victories have informed who they are, and making peace with the misunderstandings and estrangements among them.

For moms who like: road trips, spiritual awakenings, pastries, second chances

28. Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce

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Love Me Back is a tough, gritty, visceral read about a young single mother on a downward spiral. Working as a waitress (and dealing with all of the indignities the food industry can bring for women) Marie struggles against self-destructive impulses, cycling through lovers and drugs and chasing pleasure. (Maybe only read this with your mom if you're both cool with explicit sex scenes.)

For moms who like: the dark underbellies of society, sex scenes that'll make you blush, the food industry, shamelessly selfish women