Six Heartening Books about Mothers: the Best Adult Novels to Read on Mother’s Day

Mothers haven’t always been treated kindly in literature. Often polarizing characters, being either loving or absent, mothers are frequently relegated to plot devices to support the protagonist’s story. 

READ ALSO: We Can Do It ! 5 of the Best Empowering Books for Little Girls

In this list, I propose six of my personal favorite books about Mothers.

From historical drama to teenage drama, from abandonment to unconditional love, these adult novels explore the relationship between parents and their children, and the different facets of motherhood, across cultures and time.  

Six Heartening Books about Mothers: the Best Adult Novels to Read on Mother’s Day

Amy and Isabelle Elisabeth Strout Books about mothers

Amy and Isabelle

by Elizabeth Strout

Elisabeth Strout is currently one of my favorite authors. Like many other authors on this list, she has incredible talent and sensitivity in creating complex, three-dimensional female characters. Olive Kitteridge was indeed one of the best contemporary novels I had read recently. 

“Amy and Isabelle”, Elisabeth Strout’s first novel, evokes a teenager’s alienation from her distant mother—and a parent’s rage at the discovery of her daughter’s sexual secrets. Strouts is able to tell the story from both characters’ perspective in a very honest and believable way.

In most ways, Isabelle and Amy are like any mother and her 16-year-old daughter, a fierce mix of love and loathing exchanged in their every glance. That they eat, sleep, and work side by side in the gossip-ridden mill town of Shirley Falls only increases the tension. And just when it appears things can’t get any worse, Amy’s sexuality begins to unfold, causing a vast and icy rift between mother and daughter that will remain unbridgeable unless Isabelle examines her own secretive and shameful past.

About the author:

Elizabeth Strout is the author of several novels, including: Abide with Me, a national bestseller and BookSense pick, and Amy and Isabelle, which won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in England. In 2009 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her book Olive Kitteridge. Her short stories have been published in a number of magazines, including The New Yorker. She teaches at the Master of Fine Arts program at Queens University of Charlotte.

mom & me & Mom Maya Angelous Mother's Day books for adult

Mom & Me & Mom

by Maya Angelou

I knew that I had become the woman I am because of the grandmother I loved and the mother I came to adore. Their love informed, educated, and liberated me.

Mom & Me & Mom is Maya Angelou final work before her death in 2014. This book tells the story of the author’s youth by focusing on her relationship with her mother, Vivian Baxter, from abandoning Maya Angelou at a young age to their reconciliation. 

Angelou vividly portrays a spirited woman, unbowed by the limitations of race and sex, who ran a boardinghouse and gambling house and taught her daughter the determination, street smarts, and survival skills that have helped Angelou carve a space for her identity and formidable talents.

About the author:

Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, was an American poet, memoirist, actress and an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement.

In 2001 she was named one of the 30 most powerful women in America by Ladies Home Journal. Maya Angelou is known for her series of six autobiographies, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, (1969) which was nominated for a National Book Award and called her magnum opus. Her volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Paula Isabel Allende Mother's Day books for adults


by Isabel Allende

When Isabel Allende’s daughter, Paula, became gravely ill and fell into a coma.

In the telling, bizarre ancestors appear before our eyes; we hear both delightful and bitter childhood memories, amazing anecdotes of youthful years, and the most intimate secrets passed along in whispers. With Paula, Allende has written a powerful autobiography whose straightforward acceptance of the magical and spiritual worlds will remind readers of her first book, The House of the Spirits.

The book was meant as a journal for Paula to read in her recovery. It goes back and forth between biographical stories and current updates on her treatment and the current life of the people around her. 

As Paula’s illness becomes more and more serious, the book becomes an outlet for Isabel to cope with her daughter illness: from terror, to hope, to denial, to the eventual acceptance that her daughter has already gone. 

About the author:

Isabel Allende Llona is a Chilean-American novelist. Allende, who writes in the “magic realism” tradition, is considered one of the first successful women novelists in Latin America. She has written novels based in part on her own experiences, often focusing on the experiences of women, weaving myth and realism together. Allende has lectured and done extensive book tours and has taught literature at several US colleges. She currently resides in California with her husband. 

Six Heartening Books about Mothers: the Best Adult Novels to Read on Mother’s Day

History Elsa Morante Mother's Day books for adults


by Elsa Morante

The original title is La Storia, which in Italian means both History and Story. 

This book deals with both: the history is that of WWII in Rome, seen from the perspective of the ordinary people struggling to survive in the city and the countryside. 

The story is that of Ida Mancuso, a party Jewish (like Morante herself) schoolteacher whose husband has died and whose feckless teenage son treats the war as his playground. A German soldier on his way to North Africa rapes her, falls in love with her, and leaves her pregnant with a boy whose survival becomes Ida’s passion.

Ida Mancuso is no heroine.  She is an “ordinary” woman doing anything she can to survive her circumstance: taking care of her sick child Useppe, finding food and shelter in a bombed city while hiding their Jewish heritage for fear of being deported. And so is every other character in the story, including little Useppe, who are all left on their own to deal with the atrocities of the war and its aftermath. 

About the author:

History was written nearly thirty years after Elsa Morante and her author Alberto Moravia spent a year in hiding among remote farming villages, to escape the German occupation of Rome in 1943. There she witnessed the full impact of the war and first formed the ambition to write an account of what history – the great political events driven by men of power, wealth, and ambition – does when it reaches the realm of ordinary people struggling for life and bread.

Troubling love Elena Ferrante Adult novels about mothers

Troubling Love

by Elena Ferrante

Italian author Elena Ferrante recently gained international attention with her book (and inspired HBO/Rai miniseries) “My Brilliant Friend“. 

“Troubling Love”, the author’s debut novel, tells the story of mothers and daughters and the complicated knot of lies, emotions, and the shared history that binds them.

Following her mother’s untimely and mysterious death, Delia embarks on a voyage of discovery through the chaotic, suffocating streets of her native Naples in search of the truth about her family. A series of mysterious telephone calls leads her to compelling and disturbing revelations about her mother’s final days.

About the author:

Elena Ferrante is a pseudonymous Italian novelist, who has said that she was born in 1943 in Naples. Her real identity has been long discussed and investigated, but she has remained silent about it throughout the years, stating that “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.”

Critics have praised her for her “devastating power as a novelist” and for a style that is “pleasingly rigorous and sharply forthright.” In 2016, she was nominated by Forbes as one of the 100 most influential people. 

God help the child adult novels for Mother's Day

God Help the Child

by Toni Morrison

“Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child is a searing tale about the way childhood trauma shapes and misshapes the life of the adult.

At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride’s mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

About the author:

Toni Morrison (born Chloe Anthony Wofford), is an American author, editor, and professor who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature for being an author “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”

Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed African American characters; among the best known are her novels The Bluest Eye , Song of Solomon , and Beloved , which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. In 2001 she was named one of “The 30 Most Powerful Women in America” by Ladies’ Home Journal.

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