The best books about complicated mother and daughter relationships

Alice Pung Author Of One Hundred Days
By Alice Pung

The Books I Picked & Why

Hope Farm

By Peggy Frew

Book cover of Hope Farm

Why this book?

Hope Farm moved me so much because it conveys the bitter-sweetness of being thirteen, being privy to adults who make terrible choices, and having to adapt to the consequences of those choices. It is about parents who join cults (in this case, a hippy one) and the effects of this on their children. Peggy Frew has such a seductive and captivating way of engrossing the reader in the story through her stunning prose.  

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Things Nobody Knows But Me

By Amra Pajalić

Book cover of Things Nobody Knows But Me

Why this book?

Many years ago, because I’d written a book about my family’s experience surviving the Cambodian genocide, a talented author asked if I would mentor her through writing a book about the aftermath of the Bosnian conflict and her mother’s mental illness. The result of this is Amra Pajalic’s extraordinary memoir Things Nobody Knows about Me. Pajalic writes with raw candour about her mother’s bipolar and psychosis and growing up in the economically depressed suburbs of working-class Australia. Despite the horrors and hardships of having to constantly be an ‘adult’ in the parent-child relationship Amra’s memoir is full of humour, life, and love.

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Unravelling Us

By Renée McBryde

Book cover of Unravelling Us

Why this book?

Renee’s father was in jail for murder, and her mother never got over the shame. This book is about family secrets and how corrosive they can be, and also how a child survives a manipulative mother. I was floored by the wild level of pain a parent could inadvertently bestow on their child, but there is also much grace and love in this memoir. 

This book will be available May 2022.

The Joy Luck Club

By Amy Tan

Book cover of The Joy Luck Club

Why this book?

This is the story of mothers and daughters everywhere but with a Chinese flair. And because I am Chinese, I have to include this beloved book! There is such heart and authenticity in Amy Tan’s intertwined stories of friendship and family. It was the first time I’d read something resembling the sort of relationship I have with my own mother, which my friends at school didn’t understand. 

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The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

By Maxine Hong Kingston

Book cover of The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

Why this book?

This classic of Asian-American literature is full of fierce women and gentle men, and the first time I understood how powerful a non-linear, semi-mythological collection of stories could be. Maxine Hong Kingston, like Toni Morrison, was not writing to educate a broader readership, but to tell stories relatable to a very specific audience of Asian American readers. For this, I salute her courage and originality. 

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