The topic of motherhood may be universal—everyone has something to say about the experience of mothering, being mothered, or the absence thereof—but it’s far from simple. For some, motherhood can be a source of joy and strength; for others, it’s a reminder of pain, loss, or frustration.
This spring, motherhood takes center stage in a number of new books that explore the diversity of what it means to be a mother, to do mothering work, to receive caregiving from a mother or mother figure, or, in some cases, to divest from it. From Nicole Chung’s luminous memoir A Living Remedy, about grieving the death of her adoptive mother and father, to Sara Peterson’s Momfluenced, an interrogation of the “momfluencer” industry, there’s a book for every type of reader. While the subject has provided plenty of classics over the years, these voices offer fresh perspectives on what it means to mother and be mothered today.
Here are the best new books to read or give this Mother’s Day.
In the Orchard, Eliza Minot
Eliza Minot’s novel In the Orchard tells the story of a single day in the life of Maisie, a wife and mother of four. For Maisie, whose children range from 8 years old to a newborn, motherhood is as bewildering as it is overwhelming, an experience she finds at times repetitive and at others euphoric. She’s consumed with pressures both small and large: the banality of household chores, the unsolicited judgments of other parents and strangers, a looming debt. During a family outing to an apple farm, Maisie’s world is colored by a dizzying cycle of anxieties and joys.
A Living Remedy, Nicole Chung
In A Living Remedy, TIME contributor Nicole Chung’s memoir about grieving her adoptive parents, she explores the heartbreaking complexities of loss and the enduring power of love. Chung eloquently outlines not just the devastating effects of grief, but also the ways in which her loss was exacerbated by structural shortcomings including the serious limitations of the U.S. health care system and the injustice of economic inequality. Despite the sobering subject matter, Chung—who chronicled the challenges of her transracial racial adoption in her first memoir All You Can Ever Know with deep empathy—channels the same care and compassion in her latest work.
Irma: The Education of a Mother’s Son, Terry McDonell
Terry McDonell made his name editing the biggest names in journalism. In his second memoir, Irma: The Education of a Mother’s Son, the editor turns toward the deeply personal, revisiting his childhood and the outsized influence of his single mother, Irma. In the book, he examines the person he’s come to be as a way of understanding his mother, the most significant figure in his life. As McDonell’s only living parent, Irma’s tenacity in the face of struggle (from being widowed when McDonell was just five months old to later surviving a relationship the author describes as abusive) leaves an indelible mark on her son, affecting his choices and the trajectory of his life.
Momfluenced: Inside the Maddening, Picture-Perfect World of Mommy Influencer Culture, Sara Peterson
In Momfluenced, Sara Peterson takes mommy influencer culture to task, revealing the big business and bigger consequences of selling aspirational motherhood on social media. Diving deep into the world of “momfluencers,” Peterson addresses the tropes and misconceptions that thrive in this corner of the internet with wit and warmth, never shying away from calling out the ways in which “momfluencer” culture often serves to reinforce inequitable power structures.
Oh My Mother!: A Memoir in Nine Adventures, Connie Wang
Journalist Connie Wang’s memoir, Oh My Mother! reads more like a collaborative effort than a single-sided story of her relationship with her mother, and for good reason: Wang’s mother was an integral part of the editing and fact-checking process. Spanning their relationship from when Wang was a child to her life as an adult, the book is a series of humorous, endearing, and intimate recollections of the two women’s travels together, from an escapade in Las Vegas where they saw Magic Mike Live to a family visit in China.
Wandering Souls, Cecile Pin
The work of mothering often falls to those who are not mothers in the biological sense—a circumstance that’s elegantly explored in Cecile Pin’s Wandering Souls. For Anh, Minh, and Thanh, three siblings escaping Vietnam after the war, a new start is just around the corner; they’re headed to the U.S. by way of Hong Kong, with their parents and younger siblings set to follow later. But when a storm leads to mass casualties on their family’s boat, Anh, the eldest sister, becomes the sole caretaker for her two younger brothers. Together, the three fight to survive not only their devastating grief, but also the harsh realities of their new lives as refugees. With compassion and clarity, Pin describes the ways a family cares for one another in the wake of life-altering tragedy.
The Wreck: A Daughter’s Memoir of Becoming a Mother, Cassandra Jackson
At the heart of Cassandra Jackson’s memoir The Wreck is a quest to understand long-buried secrets from her family’s past. Spurred by her own journey to become a parent, Jackson investigates the circumstances of a devastating car crash that took the lives of her father’s mother, sister, niece, and first wife. Learning more about the incident leads to Jackson unearthing uncomfortable truths, not only about her family’s trauma, but also about the racism that exacerbated it—and the systemic inequality that still undermines her life.
You Could Make This Place Beautiful, Maggie Smith
When Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones” became a viral hit in 2016, it catapulted her to literary fame—and became a catalyst for a series of pivotal changes in her life, including the dissolution of her marriage. In her memoir You Could Make This Place Beautiful, which draws its title from a pivotal line in her poem, Smith turns her clear-eyed yet compassionate lens on herself to examine her life as a poet and writer, a mother of two children, a partner, and a woman in the world. Rich in nuance and unrelenting in its honesty, Smith’s memoir is a bittersweet study in both grief and joy.
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