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.

The books I picked & why

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Little Fires Everywhere

By Celeste Ng,

Book cover of Little Fires Everywhere

Why 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. 


Where'd You Go, Bernadette

By Maria Semple,

Book cover of Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Why 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. 


My Name Is Lucy Barton

By Elizabeth Strout,

Book cover of My Name Is Lucy Barton

Why 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. 


Anywhere But Here

By Mona Simpson,

Book cover of Anywhere But Here

Why 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. 


Watch Me Disappear

By Janelle Brown,

Book cover of Watch Me Disappear

Why 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. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in family secrets, Wisconsin, and secrets?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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