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The mother-daughter relationship is arguably the most complex of all the familial relationships. As a mother and a daughter, I experience the angst on both ends. I crave my mother’s approval even though I’m a forty-year-old woman with a full-fledged career, a husband and three children of my own. I have an eleven-year-daughter who I love more than anything, yet much of what I say to her triggers a dramatic eye roll and a “you just don’t get it” response.
Fortunately, we three generations of women share a passion for reading. Discussing books is a way for us to explore issues we find too stressful to talk about when they feel too personal. Through meaningful discussions about characters in books, we feel safe and are willing to be honest because we are in the fictional realm (even when said characters look a lot like us!). It’s like asking for advice on behalf of a “friend.” So much easier!
My mother and I share a Kindle account and often read the same books. It has enabled us to understand each other better, to respect each other’s point of view, and to have good old-fashioned debates about whether a book is a must-read or a skip. She is often surprised by my takes on books, as I am with hers. It is clear we don’t know each other as well as we thought, which is a good thing. It’s exciting to watch our relationship evolve through reading.
For my latest novel, Last Summer at the Golden Hotel, I leaned on my mother for more than just her usual editing. The book takes place in the Catskills, the place where she spent every summer of her childhood. In asking her for personal stories, I learned things about her I never would have known otherwise. In Last Summer at the Golden Hotel, there are several mother-daughter relationships that are key to the plot. My mother was a great “sound check” for whether I captured her generation correctly. See that… I’m still craving her approval!
Reading the same book as your mom can be very special and enlightening. I’m just starting to do it with my tween daughter as well. We both read Lauren Weisberger’s Where The Grass Is Green And The Girls Are Pretty and it gave us a lot to talk about.
Here are my top suggestions to get your M-D book club going!
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
This is a fast-paced novel about the lifelong consequences of secrets, a teenage pregnancy, and the what-ifs in life we all ask ourselves. It will have mothers and daughters asking each other – what would you have done if you were in the main character’s shoes? And when you finish that book, Bennett’s sophomore novel, The Vanishing Half, about Black sisters who choose to live totally with different identifies, is an equally provocative follow-up.
Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
An engrossing family saga centered around four women in an Irish-American family who return to their shared home in Maine every summer despite a complicated history. There’s a matriarch, two daughters and a daughter-in-law, and mothers and daughters alike will find bits of themselves in each of the characters. The setting itself is worth the read.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
My mother taught me to play mahjong recently, and so this book has a special place in my heart. Four Chinese immigrant women meet weekly to play mahjong… but it’s so much more than just a game for this group of friends. As they pass tiles back and forth, they share their joy and pain. This book is the quintessential choice for a book club. Four mothers, four daughters and four “walls” – you will understand after you devour this book.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
I love books that feel of the moment, and this one certainly fits the bill. Parents of five boys learn fairly early on that their youngest wants to be a girl. The parents and siblings are supportive – they want their child to be whoever they want to be. Only keeping that kind of secret isn’t easy… and comes with a price. This Reese Witherspoon pick will have your book club up all night discussing.
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
For those mothers and daughters who like their books on the quirkier side – and who like to watch the movie version after reading – this book is perfect. An eccentric and brilliant mother vanishes just as the family is about to take a trip to Antarctica. Her teenage daughter sets out to track her down while readers are left to ponder – what happens when a mother doesn’t fit the traditional mold? Is she any less worthy of her family’s love and devotion?
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
This book is all about family, as the title indicates. Two sisters-in-law, living with their families in the same attached house, make an unthinkable trade on the night their children are born at home. The consequences of this rash decision affect them for the rest of their lives. Bring Kleenex.
Blush by Jamie Brenner
This one is a meta choice. A book for your mother-daughter book club about a mother-daughter book club. Three generations of women whose family owns a winery on the North Fork of Long Island are facing a bleak future for their business. They revive a “trashy” book club that the matriarch belonged to and, unwittingly, it helps each woman find her way forward. BYOBB – Bring Your Own Book (and) Bottle.
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
For mom/daughter pairs that like a side of thriller and mystery with their book club. This book has an unusual premise. A hyperbaric chamber in a small town is used as a non-traditional treatment for infertility, autism, Cerebral Palsy, and a whole other range of medical issues. When somebody dies inside, everyone is a suspect. This book raises questions like how far would you go to protect your family? Is there anything stronger than the love of a parent?
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
This is a moody, angsty book that tackles the serious issues of grooming and sexual abuse. A young boarding school student falls in love with her adult teacher and their relationship is a cauldron of impropriety and obsession. Mothers and daughters will dissect what to do when someone you love is in a troubling relationship. How can a mother intervene without pushing her daughter further away? And what can a mother do to coax her damaged daughter back to life?
Last Summer at the Golden Hotel by Elyssa Friedland
Yes, I am throwing my own book in the ring. This family dramedy is perfect for a mother-daughter book club. Over the course of a week at a family-owned resort in the Catskills (think Kellerman’s from Dirty Dancing), mothers and daughters navigate thorny relationships, discover secrets about each other, and recognize just how much love and shared history there is between them.