Is your mum a book lover? Well then, don’t just grab her a title from the latest bestseller lists. Instead, share one of your favourite books with her. Imagine the discussions – or lively arguments! – you can have about favourite characters or who’s the worst villain or the best heroine.
Not only will this be a great bonding opportunity, but in hearing her opinions about, say, a book’s plot points or a gut-wrenching ending, you might also gain a new understanding of the woman who gave you life.
So in the interest of mother-child relationships everywhere, here is our list of the best books you can share with your mother.
Of course, mothers, like everyone else, have different tastes and preferences in books. The books on this list are just some of the titles we thought would be particularly nice to share with mum because they touch on subjects like family, parenthood, and women’s issues. (But, hey, if you know that you and your mother would enjoy reading Fifty Shades Of Grey together, feel free to do so, we won’t judge.)
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness with illustrations by Jim Kay
How does a 13-year-old cope with a dying mother? Perhaps by finding a dark and scary creature to help him be brave?
Between a flaky, absentee father and a cold, unapproachable grandmother, Connor O’Malley feels very alone as his mother suffers through the last stages of cancer. And then he has the first nightmare: at exactly seven minutes past midnight, a huge monster arrives outside his window, and returns nightly at the exact same time, to share stories that contain truths about his life that Connor is afraid to confess. Part fairytale, part coming-of-age tale, this story will enchant mothers and sons alike.
This book was written for children but its dark, heart-wrenching tale is appreciated by readers of all ages. The story is based on an idea and characters developed by Irish-American children’s book author Siobhan Dowd who died from breast cancer in 2007, aged 47, before she could write the book. It was eventually written by young adult fiction author Patrick Ness in 2011 and it went on to win him the Carnegie Medal, while the book’s illustrator, Jim Kay, won the Kate Greenaway Medal – a rare double win of two very prestigious awards.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Still as powerful today as the day it was published in 1987, this novel shows why Toni Morrison has become one of America’s most respected writers and cultural critics.
It is after the American Civil War (1861-1865) and runaway slave Sethe is desperately trying to evade the posse after her. When they corner her, the distraught woman kills her two-year-old daughter rather than allow her to be captured, and buries her under a tombstone engraved with a single word: “Beloved”. Years later, a young woman calling herself Beloved arrives at Sethe’s new home and strange, frightening things begin to happen.
While this Pulitzer Prize-winner is a harrowing account of the horrors of slavery, it is also a moving exploration of the complexities of mother-daughter relationships.
Beloved was adapted in 1998 into a movie of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey.
Room by Emma Donoghue
At first glance, this looks like a terrifying urban drama about two innocents trapped by a vicious psychopath.
And while the book may indeed be that, it is also a touching tale of courage and resilience and the unbreakable bond between mother and child. Five-year-old Jack has spent his entire life in the Room; it’s where he eats and learns and plays with his Ma, it is his entire world and he’s happy in it because he has known nothing else. For his beloved Ma, though, the Room is where she has been kept for seven years against her will. It will take a lot of courage for both of them to escape – and their escape is just the beginning of their story.
Room was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Neuroscientist Lisa Genova uses a fictional narrative to share home truths about what it’s like to struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Her protagonist is Alice Howland, a 50-year-old cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics who lives with a successful husband and three grown children.
But the fairytale life turns into a nightmare when Alice is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Poignant and eloquent, the book is a moving account of one woman’s struggle against a disease that robs her of her memories, and fundamentally changes her relationships with her loved ones. This book, says a globe.com review, “is written not from the outside looking in, not from the point of view of a caretaker or a husband or a friend, but from the inside looking out – this is Alice Howland’s story, for as long as she can tell it”.
Still Alice was made into a movie that netted the Best Actress Oscar for Julianne Moore in 2015.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This moving young adult fiction book takes a semi-fantastical look at one of the darkest points of human history, World War II, and does it admirably.
Liesel Meminger is an illiterate nine-year-old German girl being fostered by a family in a small town. As she struggles with growing up amidst the horrors of the Nazi regime, foster father Hans teaches her to read, sparking in Liesel a love for words and an appreciation of their power – so much so that she takes to stealing books to save them from being destroyed.
Australian author Markus Zusak uses an unusual device to frame his story: the book is narrated by Death (yes, the Grim Reaper himself). And while the novel’s subject matter might seem depressing, its unconventional takes on mortality, love and hate makes for great family reading.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
In the not-so-distant future, the United States has become the Republic of Gilead, a theocratic military dictatorship. Living in this scary world is a woman called Offred, who is a handmaid, one of a class of women kept for reproductive purposes in an era of declining births amidst a toxic environment. Here, where women are heavily subjugated, and society is bound to restrictive rules on gender, class, and religion, a revolution is brewing.
While this is a work of fiction, many of its elements feel disturbingly real, as if they really could come true in the light of today’s political and social climate. In fact, this 1985 book began climbing the bestseller lists again this year after US President Donald Trump was elected and new readers discovered disturbing parallels between reality and Margaret Atwood’s fictional world. The book has also been adapted for a 10-episode television series that began airing in the United States last month.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Four Chinese-American immigrant families in San Francisco start up the Joy Luck Club, where they play mahjong and talk about their lives. Three mothers and four daughters share their stories, which touch on matters of love, family, femininity, and folklore. The book will probably get you reflecting on your relationship with your own mother: perhaps get a handkerchief ready. First written in 1989, the book offers relatable characters whose dreams of assimilating in a foreign culture without losing their identities still resonate with readers today.
Novelist Nancy Willard wrote in The Women’s Review Of Books that “Amy Tan’s special accomplishment in this novel is not her ability to show us how mothers and daughters hurt each other, but how they love and ultimately forgive each other.”
The Secret Life Of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Set in the 1960s in America’s deep South – a place and time when racial unrest was exploding – this bestselling debut novel is about white girl Lily Owens and how her life is touched by the strong black women around her.
The 14-year-old lost her mother at a young age but she hasn’t lost her spirit. So when her “stand-in mum”, black housekeeper Rosaleen, is thrown into jail for insulting three of the town’s worst racists, Lily springs her and the pair run to Tiburon, a town that holds secrets about Lily’s mother. There, they are taken in by a trio of eccentric black beekeeping sisters that teaches Lily and Rosaleen many things about love, faith, and hope.
This striking tale has plenty of fascinating themes for mothers and daughters to discuss, ranging from independence and female empowerment to prejudice and religion. And bee-keeping, of course!
The book was adapted for the big screen in 2008 with Lily’s role played by Dakota Fanning.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
A mother is supposed to love unconditionally. But what if a son has done something really terrible? Eva’s son Kevin perpetrates a massacre in his school, killing seven of his classmates and two adults.
Telling her story through a series of letters to her estranged husband, Eva – a reluctant mother from the first – struggles to understand her son’s actions: were they committed because Kevin is innately evil or did her own dislike of her son have a part to play? According to The Guardian newspaper’s critic, “This startling shocker strips bare motherhood”.
In 2005, the book won its American author Britain’s Orange Prize for Fiction (now called the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction), one of the most prestigious awards for novels written by a woman. In 2011, the book was adapted for a movie of the same name with Tilda Swinton as Eva; Ezra Miller (Fantastic Beasts And Where To find Them) made waves as the homicidal Kevin.
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
Ingrid is a brilliant poet: she’s also in prison, serving a sentence for murder. Her daughter, Astrid, is sent to a series of foster homes, growing up under the care of many colourful people, including an alcoholic ex-stripper, a former actress, and a Russian immigrant.
Astrid goes through a difficult journey of self-discovery, realising many painful truths about life through her many experiences. She realises, however, that she cannot escape the influence of her mother.
A beautifully written book, White Oleander is an unconventional mother-daughter story that will definitely raise many points for discussion. Then TV host Oprah Winfrey called it “liquid poetry” and selected it for her highly influential book club when it was released in 1999.
A 2002 movie adaptation drew rave reviews for Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance as Ingrid and Alison Lohman’s as Astrid.