The best books on the drama, conflict, loyalty, and love of the mother-daughter knot

Laura Davis Author Of The Burning Light of Two Stars: A Mother-Daughter Story
By Laura Davis

Who am I?

We all have obsessions in life and one of mine has been my mother and the great love and enmity that ricocheted between us for fifty-seven years. Throughout the decades, my mother went from protector to controller to betrayer to ogre to human to an elderly woman in my care. The love and hate, distance and intimacy, estrangement, and reconciliation that we experienced made me a lifelong student of the mother-daughter bond. I‘ve written about my mother for more than 30 years, and love reading mother-daughter stories, not saccharine sweet ones, but complex multi-layered dramas where there’s no villain and no hero—just two humans struggling to love and understand each other.

I wrote...

Book cover of The Burning Light of Two Stars: A Mother-Daughter Story

What is my book about?

When she published The Courage to Heal in 1988, Laura Davis helped more than a million women work through the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. But her decision to go public with her grandfather’s incest deepened an already painful estrangement with her mother, Temme.

Over the next twenty years, from a safe distance of 3,000 miles, Laura and Temme reconciled their volatile relationship and believed that their difficult past was behind them. But when Temme moves across the country to entrust her daughter with the rest of her life, she brings a faltering mind, a fierce need for independence, and the seeds of a second war between them. As the stresses of caregiving rekindle Laura’s rage over past betrayals, they threaten her intention to finally love her mother “without reservation.” Will she learn what it means to be truly open-hearted before it’s too late?

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The books I picked & why

American Daughter: A Memoir

By Stephanie Thornton Plymale, Elissa Wald,

Book cover of American Daughter: A Memoir

Why did I love this book?

What I loved most about this book was the determined persistence of the author to rise above the negligence and abandonment she suffered in childhood to become a decent, functioning, compassionate adult, one who ultimately takes the time to understand her mother’s history. Stephanie Thornton Plymale had every reason to walk away from her damaged mother and never look back, but she doesn’t. I love that she found the courage and empathy to move beyond her own difficult past to understand her mother’s history. I was riveted by this compelling, beautifully crafted book.

By Stephanie Thornton Plymale, Elissa Wald,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The sharp and surprising true story of a woman who finally sets out to understand her past, and the mother she had one day hoped to forget. Full of unexpected twists and unbelievable revelations, American Daughter is an immersive memoir that will have you on the edge of your seat to the very last page.

For years, Stephanie Plymale, successful CEO and interior designer, kept her past a fiercely guarded secret. Only her husband knew that her childhood was fraught with every imaginable hardship: neglect, hunger, poverty, homelessness, truancy, foster homes, a harrowing lack of medical care, and worse. Stephanie,…

Book cover of Motherland: A Memoir of Love, Loathing, and Longing

Why did I love this book?

There are so many things I loved about Motherland, it’s hard to know where to begin. For starters, Elissa Altman is a brilliant writer and a great storyteller. Her portrayal of her dramatic, narcissistic mother created a flawed, human, larger-than-life character I will never forget. Elissa moves us through time effortlessly, at one moment vividly portraying herself as a child and in the next, seamlessly bringing in the voice of wisdom—her adult voice now—as we watch her struggle to make peace with the past. I deeply resonated with the love and hate, attachment and resentment that ricocheted between this unforgettable mother-daughter pair. I love books that grab me and don’t let me go. Motherland definitely had me hooked all the way from beginning to end. I hated leaving Altman’s world behind. I didn’t want the book to end.

By Elissa Altman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“I’m reading this book right now and loving it!”—Cheryl Strayed, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wild

How can a mother and daughter who love (but don’t always like) each other coexist without driving each other crazy? 

“Vibrating with emotion, this deeply honest account strikes a chord.”—People
“A wry and moving meditation on aging and the different kinds of love between women.”—O: The Oprah Magazine 

After surviving a traumatic childhood in nineteen-seventies New York and young adulthood living in the shadow of her flamboyant mother, Rita, a makeup-addicted former television singer, Elissa Altman has managed to build a very…

The Glimpse

By Lis Bensley,

Book cover of The Glimpse

Why did I love this book?

I loved diving into this novel about mother-daughter artists and the devotion, love, and competition that binds them together. Personally, I have no skill or passion for painting or photography—the gifts granted the characters in this book—but as I immersed myself in Bensley’s world, I began seeing the world as visual artists do. That was an unexpected bonus to an already compelling intergenerational story. As I hungrily turned pages, eager to discover what would happen to the characters next, I loved learning about art, the sexism of the art world, and the compelling need to create regardless of external validation.

By Lis Bensley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Liza Baker, a rising star in the burgeoning Abstract Expressionist era, finds herself sidelined when she gets pregnant, and decides to have the child. Yet, against conventional wisdom, she's convinced she can have a successful career and be a good mother to her daughter, Rouge.
She takes a job teaching at a college and comes up against the harsh realities of the male-dominated art world. Unable to build a successful career, she watches as her former lover, whose work resembles hers, skyrocket to fame. Liza develops a drinking problem and often brings home artist lovers she's met in the city.…

Book cover of Wild Game: My Mother, Her Secret, and Me

Why did I love this book?

I read Wild Game in a weekend—and that’s unusual for me, but I just couldn’t put the book down. Brodeur brought me into a world of treachery, lies, and mother-daughter entanglement that I found absolutely compelling. The mother in this book, Malabar, is a larger-than-life character whose willingness to sacrifice her daughter’s well-being for her own ends was horrifying and believable. I rooted for the daughter all the way through this beautifully crafted book, but it was the mother I found unforgettable.

By Adrienne Brodeur,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A NATIONAL BESTSELLER. A daughter’s tale of living in the thrall of her magnetic, complicated mother, and the chilling consequences of her complicity.

NAMED A BEST FALL BOOK BY People * Refinery29 * Entertainment Weekly * BuzzFeed * NPR’s On Point * Town & Country * Real Simple * New York Post * Palm Beach Post * Toronto Star * Orange Country Register * Bustle * Bookish * BookPage * Kirkus* BBC Culture* Debutiful

On a hot July night on Cape Cod when Adrienne was fourteen, her mother, Malabar, woke her at midnight with five simple words that would set…

Book cover of Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama

Why did I love this book?

I adore graphic novels, and a graphic memoir is even better. I love when the medium of a cartoon encompasses such depth and nuance. Are You My Mother is funny, visually stunning, and addictive to read. I loved the honest, flawed, human portrayals of the mother and daughter in this book—as well as the other characters. I was riveted from the first page to last and read this book in one delicious sitting.

By Alison Bechdel,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An expansive, moving and captivating graphic memoir from the author of Fun Home.

Alison Bechdel's Fun Home was a literary phenomenon. While Fun Home explored Bechdel's relationship with her father, a closeted homosexual, this memoir is about her mother - a voracious reader, a music lover, a passionate amateur actor. Also a woman, unhappily married to a gay man, whose artistic aspirations simmered under the surface of Bechdel's childhood... and who stopped touching or kissing her daughter goodnight, for ever, when she was seven.

Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers concerning the mother-daughter gulf.

'As absorbing as…

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