The best books on boy moms and their connection to the species known as teenage boys

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a fourth-generation “Mainer” and the mother of two boy “wolves,” and I have a deep well of respect for boys and their imaginations in the masculinized culture we swim in. I've seen how much rich thinking is going on in the inner lives of boys. The teenage boy rendered in literature can be a stock character, and I was determined to give them more respect on the page and to explore what’s not said between boy moms and their sons that deeply connects them. I teach widely and write non-fiction as well as fiction and am a founder of a creative writing center in Portland, Maine for kids called the Telling Room. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Landslide

What is my book about?

Landslide depicts two wise, funny teenage boys and their mom trying to make it on the coast of Maine. The novel shows us teenage boys in all their sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll glory—with a mother who vows to stay into the trenches with them and keep loving them unconditionally. The story celebrates listening to Fleetwood Mac in a beat-up Subaru on the coast of Maine, and the light on the ocean, and the idea of being local. It investigates the slow fade of commercial fishing in Maine in the face of climate change, and it traces a mother’s attempt to speak “teenage-boy,” using humor as a survival tactic and as a love language to show what a family really is. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year

Susan C. Conley Why did I love this book?

This is the Mother of all boy mom books. It’s required reading for anyone learning to speak boy. Equal parts despair—Lamott is a single mom who sometimes wants to leave her crying boy outside on the stoop—and equal parts gut punches of hilarious wisdom and ardor about boy life and mom devotion.

By Anne Lamott,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Operating Instructions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the journal of the birth of Anne Lamott's son Sam, and their first year together. Coping with being a recovering alcoholic and a single mother, Anne had to face the fact that her best friend since childhood was dying of cancer.


Book cover of Dear Edward

Susan C. Conley Why did I love this book?

Dear Edward is a deep dive into the inner life of grieving boys. The real mom has gone missing in this novel, and her long shadow sits over the whole book. The childless aunt is the stand-in mom, and she shows us what it’s like to learn to love an ever-so-fragile boy who can’t speak about his sadness for the novel’s first half. This book nailed the tone and the handle-with-care instructions when boys begin to risk showing their emotions and their true selves. 

By Ann Napolitano,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Dear Edward as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A transcendent coming-of-age story about the ways a broken heart learns to love again.

One summer morning, a flight takes off from New York to Los Angeles: there are 192 people aboard. When the plane suddenly crashes, twelve-year-old Edward Adler is the sole survivor.

In the aftermath, Edward struggles to make sense of his grief, sudden fame and find his place in a world without his family. But then Edward and his neighbour Shay make a startling discovery; hidden in his uncle's garage are letters from the relatives of other passengers - all addressed him.…


Book cover of On Beauty

Susan C. Conley Why did I love this book?

On Beauty is such deliciously smart, domestic cinema, and the novel’s teenage boy, Levi, provides so much of the heat. Smith invites the reader to watch up-close while Levi’s mom supports his embrace of his Black identity and also his rage over systemic racism. The novel reminds us to pay attention! Pay attention! Do not look away from the teen boy for even a minute, or you’ll miss crucial pieces of information and risk losing the boy. 

By Zadie Smith,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked On Beauty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE

SUNDAY TIMES TOP TEN BESTSELLER

From the acclaimed author of Swing Time, White Teeth and Grand Union, discover a brilliantly funny and deeply moving story about love and family

Why do we fall in love with the people we do? Why do we visit our mistakes on our children? What makes life truly beautiful?

Set between New England and London, On Beauty concerns a pair of feuding families - the Belseys and the Kipps - and a clutch of doomed affairs. It puts low morals among high…


Book cover of Lost Children Archive

Susan C. Conley Why did I love this book?

The Lost Children takes us back to the early years of boy momness. This book is the most unique parenting novel I’ve ever read: a mother and father and two kids drive into the border crisis and make meaning of the words family and love and missing. The writing feels part diary, part indictment, and part love-letter for the son that the mother is sure she’s already in the act of losing.

By Valeria Luiselli,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Lost Children Archive as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR • “An epic road trip [that also] captures the unruly intimacies of marriage and parenthood ... This is a novel that daylights our common humanity, and challenges us to reconcile our differences.” —The Washington Post

In Valeria Luiselli’s fiercely imaginative follow-up to the American Book Award-winning Tell Me How It Ends, an artist couple set out with their two children on a road trip from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. As the family travels west, the bonds between them begin to fray: a fracture is growing between…


Book cover of Outline

Susan C. Conley Why did I love this book?

Outline shows us only the blurriest snapshots of the two boys in this story. These boys are often missing their mom and tattling on one another about the endless fighting they get into with one another. What Cusk does so skillfully is parse that space between the mother’s need to be away from the boys to get some breathing room—some independence and a chance to make art—and her mother-guilt, which is never far behind her. 

By Rachel Cusk,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Outline as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first in Rachel Cusk's critically-acclaimed trilogy, shortlisted for the Folio Prize and the Goldsmith Prize and longlisted for the IMPAC Prize.

Outline is a novel in ten conversations. Spare and lucid, it follows a novelist teaching a course in creative writing over an oppressively hot summer in Athens. She leads her student in storytelling exercises. She meets other writers for dinner. She goes swimming in the Ionian Sea with her seatmate from the place. The people she encounters speak volubly about themselves, their fantasies, anxieties, pet theories, regrets, and longings. And through these disclosures, a portrait of the narrator…


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Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

Book cover of Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

Leslie Tall Manning Author Of Maggie's Dream

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Mentor Laugher Research nut Avid reader

Leslie's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Winner of the Literary Titan Book Award

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family’s happiness.

But Marilyn’s quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by…

Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

What is this book about?

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family's happiness.

But Marilyn's quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by the courts as the new guardian. Caleb…


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