The best novels about wildly dissimilar mothers and daughters

Donna Koros Stramella Author Of Coffee Killed My Mother
By Donna Koros Stramella

Who am I?

Many years ago I was outside, clothespins in hand as I hung damp towels on the clothesline at our small beach house. A yard over, I heard a mother and daughter arguing loudly. I didn’t pick up all the details, but it was clear that the mother and daughter’s expectations were miles apart. At that moment, I found myself frozen solidly in the center. Was I mother? Was I daughter? I connected equally. Since that time I’ve been interested in the dynamics and criticality of the mother-daughter relationship, and I knew my first novel would be an exploration of that theme. 

I wrote...

Coffee Killed My Mother

By Donna Koros Stramella,

Book cover of Coffee Killed My Mother

What is my book about?

Anna Lee is an anxious 17-year-old whose life is stuck, largely because of her strained relationship with her mother Jacqueline, a quirky recovering alcoholic who is now addicted to coffee. The two take off on a trip to explore independent coffee shops along the east coast, but Jacqueline’s real agenda is an opportunity to reveal a series of disturbing family secrets to Anna Lee—a twin who died in utero, a fatal drunk driving accident, an abusive parent, and her mother’s betrayal of a woman Anna Lee holds dear. The coming-of-age story infuses humor even while exploring serious topics like the effects of family alcoholism.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Little Fires Everywhere

Why did I love this book?

Mother-daughter relationships are fertile grounds for exploration—but be prepared to navigate some landmines. As a daughter myself and the mother of two strong adult daughters, I find myself drawn to books that explore these complex relationships. Celeste Ng masterfully depicts the intricacies, drawing examples from two families who are seemingly worlds apart. Elena Richardson and her family live in Shaker Heights, an upscale, suburban community outside Cleveland. Mia Warren, a mysterious artist, and her daughter Pearl arrive in town and rent a house from the Richardsons. As the story unfolds, the Richardson children are drawn to Mia, with sensibilities so different than their mother’s. Simultaneously, Pearl is drawn to Elena, a mother who seems to ooze mothering skills. But as Ng unveils, life is not always what it seems. 

By Celeste Ng,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Little Fires Everywhere as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestseller!

"Witty, wise, and tender. It's a marvel." -Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train and A Slow Fire Burning

"To say I love this book is an understatement. It's a deep psychological mystery about the power of motherhood, the intensity of teenage love, and the danger of perfection. It moved me to tears." -Reese Witherspoon

From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Our Missing Hearts comes a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their…

Book cover of Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Why did I love this book?

Maria Semple takes a serious topic—the disappearance of a mother—and transforms the novel by expertly weaving humor throughout the story. Bernadette Fox is a housebound, well-regarded architect whose brilliant past is largely unknown to those around her. Just before a  planned trip to Antarctica with her family, she goes missing. The book is narrated by her 15-year-old daughter Bee Branch whose research helps her better understand her previously baffling mother. 

By Maria Semple,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Where'd You Go, Bernadette as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A misanthropic matriarch leaves her eccentric family in crisis when she mysteriously disappears in this "whip-smart and divinely funny" novel that inspired the movie starring Cate Blanchett (New York Times).

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect; and to 15-year-old Bee, she is her best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette vanishes. It all began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle --…

My Name Is Lucy Barton

By Elizabeth Strout,

Book cover of My Name Is Lucy Barton

Why did I love this book?

Sometimes a mother fails. In My Name is Lucy Barton, the title character fled her home because of her abusive father. Although her mother loved Lucy and her siblings, she was unable to protect her children. Many years later when Lucy falls ill and her mother visits her, the two reconnect and develop a shared understanding. Strout addresses the imperfection of a mother while retaining the magnetic pull between mother and daughter. 

By Elizabeth Strout,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked My Name Is Lucy Barton as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


An exquisite story of mothers and daughters from the Pulitzer prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge

Lucy is recovering from an operation in a New York hospital when she wakes to find her estranged mother sitting by her bed. They have not seen one another in years. As they talk Lucy finds herself recalling her troubled rural childhood and how it was she eventually arrived in the big city, got married and had children. But this unexpected visit leaves her…

Anywhere But Here

By Mona Simpson,

Book cover of Anywhere But Here

Why did I love this book?

Mona Simpson reveals the internal struggle of a daughter living with a narcissistic mother who sees her daughter only as an extension of herself. Young Ann is torn between love and anger—a constant balance that often tilts in one direction. Without her mother’s help, Ann finally finds her way. This novel showed me that, as in life, the story doesn’t always end with the long-sought-after perfect relationship. 

By Mona Simpson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A national bestseller—adapted into a movie starring Natalie Portman and Susan Sarandon—Anywhere But Here is the heart-rending tale of a mother and daughter. A moving, often comic portrait of wise child Ann August and her mother, Adele, a larger-than-life American dreamer, the novel follows the two women as they travel through the landscape of their often conflicting ambitions. A brilliant exploration of the perennial urge to keep moving, even at the risk of profound disorientation, Anywhere But Here is a story about the things we do for love, and a powerful study of familial bonds.

Watch Me Disappear

By Janelle Brown,

Book cover of Watch Me Disappear

Why did I love this book?

When my mother died, a friend insisted, “Now you’ll come to know her in ways you never imagined.” I thought the notion was ludicrous. My mother and I were close, our relationship strong. As it turns out my friend was right. In Watch Me Disappear, Janelle Brown explores this idea. When Billie Flanagan disappears, her husband and teenaged daughter Olive find out more than they could have imagined about Billie’s secret life. 

By Janelle Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The disappearance of a beautiful, charismatic mother leaves her family to piece together her secrets in this propulsive novel for fans of Big Little Lies—from the bestselling author of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything and the upcoming Pretty Things.

“Watch Me Disappear is just as riveting as Gone Girl.”—San Francisco Chronicle

Who you want people to be makes you blind to who they really are.

It’s been a year since Billie Flanagan—a Berkeley mom with an enviable life—went on a solo hike in Desolation Wilderness and vanished from the trail. Her body was never…

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