The best novels about mom culture

Why am I passionate about this?

As a practicing clinical psychologist, teacher of psychotherapy theory and technique, and author (Barbarians at the PTA, Madmen on the Couch, Money Talks) who writes about the psychopathology of daily life for various online and print publications, I am a participant in/observer of mom culture. I love a juicy mother-child story. 

I wrote...

Barbarians at the PTA

By Stephanie Newman,

Book cover of Barbarians at the PTA

What is my book about?

Victoria Bryant is starting over. After a rage-inducing scandal and the realization that her dreamy fiancé is faker than a faux Fendi purse, she moves her psychology practice and 10-year-old daughter, Rachel, to Mayfair Close, an idyllic Westchester, NY, suburb known for its manicured lawns and excellent schools.

The transition is initially seamless; several PTA moms befriend Victoria, her already busy practice booms, and Rachel finds a group of friends. But before anyone can say “helicopter mom,” in walks Lee DeVry. Wealthy, glamorous, and perfectly toned, the PTA president is everything Victoria is not. After she learns a secret that will help her rescue her child, Vic faces the ultimate dilemma: should she expose the bully publicly, despite the potential consequences to her professional reputation and relationships with Rachel and Jim?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Marjorie Morningstar

Stephanie Newman Why did I love this book?

One of my favorite novels is Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar, a coming of age story of Marjorie and Mrs Morgenster, a/k/a the original helicopter mom.

This Pulitzer Prize-winning author was male but managed to get into the head of both teenage girl and indomitable mother–and the results are funny and poignant. There’s all kinds of bonus detail about 1930s-1940s NYC: college, dating, and theater scenes.

As someone who is fascinated by mom culture, I like to recommend mother-daughter stories that illustrate how parenting styles and family relationships have changed over time. While it all started with Marmee, Louisa May Alcott (Jo’s) idealized supermom, I have a fondness for the ambivalently modern struggles between Mrs. Morgenstern and Marjorie, the female leads in Herman Wouk’s classic novel, Marjorie Morningstar. 

This is a coming of age story that has it all: beautiful and ambitious heroine, handsome love interest, colorful best friend, and the original helicopter mom. I never tire of Marjorie’s day to day struggles and of watching Wouk seamlessly slip into the heads of teenaged girl and indomitable mother–with results that are funny and poignant. There is plenty of addictive bonus detail about 1950s NYC: college, dating, and theater scenes.

By Herman Wouk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Marjorie Morningstar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I read it and I thought, 'Oh, God, this is me.'" - Scarlet Johansson

Now hailed as a "proto-feminist classic" (Vulture), Pulitzer Prize winner Herman Wouk's powerful coming-of-age novel about an ambitious young woman pursuing her artistic dreams in New York City has been a perennial favourite since it was first a bestseller in the 1950s.

Sixteen-year-old Marjorie Morgenstern lives a quiet life in New York City. Her mother hopes for a glittering marriage to a good man, but Marjorie has other ideas.

When she falls desperately in love with Noel Airman, a musician as reckless as he is talented,…

Book cover of What Alice Forgot

Stephanie Newman Why did I love this book?

While Moriarity is known for Big Little Lies and more recent works, this earlier novel pulls no punches in telling the story of Alice, a perpetually dissatisfied and grumbling suburban mom who lives a comfortable and privileged life but feels chronically annoyed by the daily grind of parenting, household, volunteering, and keeping up with the competition.

Readers will recognize her descent into a rabbit hole fuelled by the stresses of competitive parenting. The jokes are sharp, characters relatable and the payoff of psychological growth makes for a worthwhile read. 

By Liane Moriarty,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked What Alice Forgot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the bestselling author behind the addictive, award-winning HBO sensation BIG LITTLE LIES comes the compelling and thought-provoking story of love, life and memory

'Gripping, thought-provoking and funny' MARIE CLAIRE

How can ten years of your life just disappear?

Alice is twenty-nine.

She adores sleep, chocolate, and her ramshackle new house.

She's newly engaged to the wonderful Nick, and is pregnant with her first baby. But there's just one problem.

That was ten years ago . . .

Alice slipped in her step-aerobics class, hit her head and lost a decade.

Now she's a grown-up, bossy mother of three…

Book cover of The Ten-Year Nap

Stephanie Newman Why did I love this book?

This is mom culture at its best: Wolitzer traces the members of a clique who drop their kids at pre-k and enjoy over the ensuing years the gravitational pull of parenting, school volunteering, and part-time work.

She explores familiar dilemmas about aging, career versus family, and female friendship, while offering a sometimes heartbreaking, but always realistic, look at the choices moms face as they watch their kids grow.

By Meg Wolitzer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ten-Year Nap as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestselling novel by the author of The Interestings and The Female Persuasion that woke up critics, book clubs, and women everywhere.

For a group of four New York friends the past decade has been defined largely by marriage and motherhood, but it wasn’t always that way. Growing up, they had been told that their generation would be different. And for a while this was true. They went to good colleges and began high-powered careers. But after marriage and babies, for a variety of reasons, they decided to stay home, temporarily, to raise their children. Now, ten…

Book cover of My Last Innocent Year

Stephanie Newman Why did I love this book?

Florin will make you ache for a mother’s love. She writes masterfully about her female character’s experience at a remotely insular and male-dominated elite college campus.

A coming of age and loss of innocence story, the novel is beautifully realized and thoroughly relatable–even if we didn’t attend this particular cold and icy campus, we’ve had moments of questioning our choices and have stumbled along the path before figuring it all out. 

By Daisy Alpert Florin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Last Innocent Year as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An incisive, deeply resonant debut novel about a nonconsensual sexual encounter that propels one woman’s final semester at an elite New England college into controversy and chaos―and into an ill-advised affair with a married professor.

It’s 1998 and Isabel Rosen, the only daughter of a Lower East Side appetizing store owner, has one semester left at Wilder College, a prestigious school in New Hampshire. Desperate to shed her working-class roots and still mourning the death of her mother four years earlier, Isabel has always felt like an outsider at Wilder but now, in her final semester, she believes she has…

Book cover of Little Women

Stephanie Newman Why did I love this book?

Marmee is a beacon of inspiration whose beauty and grace powers Jo and her sisters through poverty and hard times in 19th-century Massachusetts.

In Alcott’s world moms are central idealized figures: caregivers, role models, teachers–as such they are the glue that holds a family together. No one ever gets pissed at Marmee or tells her her questions are intrusive or complains that she’s “being annoying.”

Was Jo’s idealization a product of the times (people didn’t question authority figures)? Were the novel’s female relationships sugarcoated for publication? Did Alcott have a blindspot in this area? I’ll never know. And that doesn’t matter. I never tire of reading about Marmee and her daughters.

By Louisa May Alcott,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked Little Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

Louisa May Alcott shares the innocence of girlhood in this classic coming of age story about four sisters-Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

In picturesque nineteenth-century New England, tomboyish Jo, beautiful Meg, fragile Beth, and romantic Amy are responsible for keeping a home while their father is off to war. At the same time, they must come to terms with their individual personalities-and make the transition from girlhood to womanhood. It can all be quite a challenge. But the March sisters, however different, are nurtured by their wise and beloved Marmee, bound by their love for each other and the feminine…

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Book cover of This Animal Body

Meredith Walters

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Neuroscience PhD student Frankie Conner has finally gotten her life together—she’s determined to discover the cause of her depression and find a cure for herself and everyone like her. But the first day of her program, she meets a group of talking animals who have an urgent message they refuse to share. And while the animals may not have Frankie’s exalted human brain, they know things she doesn’t, like what happened before she was adopted.

To prove she’s sane, Frankie investigates her forgotten past and conducts clandestine experiments. But just when she uncovers the truth, she has to make an impossible choice: betray the animals she’s fallen in love with—or give up her last chance at success and everything she thought she knew.

By Meredith Walters,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Animal Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Frankie Conner, first-year graduate student at UC Berkeley, is finally getting her life together. After multiple failures and several false starts, she's found her calling: become a neuroscientist, discover the cause of her depression and anxiety, and hopefully find a cure for herself and everyone like her.

But her first day of the program, Frankie meets a mysterious group of talking animals who claim to have an urgent message for her. The problem is, they're not willing to share it. Not yet. Not until she's ready.

While Frankie's new friends may not have her highly evolved, state-of-the-art, exalted human brain,…

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