We highlight 11 new highly anticipated books that center mothering themes.
1. The Trayvon Generation by Elizabeth Alexander
One of TIME magazine's most anticipated books of the year and written by Pultizer prize-finalist Elizabeth Alexander, The Trayvon Generation is an expansion of Alexander's viral essay originally published in The New Yorker. Alexander focuses "a mother's eye" on the generation of her sons and students, who have been painfully aware, since childhood, of the violent deaths of too many Black people. This book promises to extend Alexander's initial essay with attention to both the past and the future, diving into American history to understand the present moment for race in America.
2. Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous was among the standout novels of 2019, and Time is a Mother stands to attract a similar amount of critical attention. Time is a Mother, Vuong's second collection of poetry, has been described as "deeply intimate." It centers on Vuong's experience of grief in the aftermath of his mother's death, "embodying the paradox of sitting within grief while being determined to survive beyond it." With these themes, Vuong's collection engages with the pain of a mother's absence, as well as the life that endures after she is gone.
3. Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
Wilkerson's debut novel follows two estranged siblings, Byron and Benny, who reconnect at their mother's funeral. After her passing, the two must come together to both grapple with the loss and their mother's mysterious past, communicated to them through a puzzling inheritance. Black Cake spans several decades and countries, as it tracks the stories of Byron, Benny, and their mother. In the process, Black Cake's publisher asserts that Wilkerson considers "how the inheritance of betrayals, secrets, memories, and even names, can shape relationships and history."
4. The Leaving by Jumi Bello
Sumatra's story is the heart of The Leaving. After a traumatic incident in her childhood and life characterized by a tendency to push those closest to her away, Sumatra unexpectedly becomes pregnant. This pregnancy, along with the decision to stop taking the medication for her dissociative disorder, leads Sumatra to revisit a troubled past. She reflects upon "moments of conflict, grief, and trauma" that spanned the globe, confronting the truths from which she had hidden. With The Leaving, Bello tackles difficult themes including mental illness and generational trauma, making it a critical read this year.
5. One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle
Rebecca Serle's novel In Five Years was seemingly everywhere in 2020, making her follow-up, One Italian Summer, almost certain to make the bestsellers list. Katy is at the center of One Italian Summer, a woman who is "left reeling" from the death of her mother and best friend, Carol. When Katy embarks upon a long-planned mother-daughter trip to Positano, Italy alone, she encounters her mother, first in spirit, then in the flesh. Impossibly, Katy meets the thirty-year-old version of her mother, getting a chance to know Carol as a young woman and finding that her mother doesn't quite line up with her
6. Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
Memphis covers three generations of a Southern Black family. Traversing seventy years, violence disrupts both the life of ten-year-old Joan--who is forced to flee an abusive father along with her mother and sister--and that of her grandfather, who was lynched fifty years earlier after building Joan's mother's ancestral home. As Joan grows up in this home in Memphis, she "begins to understand that her mother, her mother’s mother, and the mothers before them persevered, made impossible choices, and put their dreams on hold so that her life would not have to be defined by loss and anger." With
Memphis, Stringfellow interrogates the nature of inheritance,
7. Mika in Real Life by Emiko Jean
Mika in Real Life is the newest novel from New York Times bestselling author Emiko Jean, tackling the relationship of a woman and the daughter she had placed for adoption. Mika's life is in shambles when Penny, her biological daughter, calls, seeking a relationship with her birth mother. Wanting to be someone of whom her daughter could be proud, Mika initially"embellishes" about her life, an exaggeration that spirals into a "fully-fledged fake life." Balancing her lies with a budding relationship with Penny and Penny's adoptive father, Mika ultimately must confront her 'real' life and past.
8. The Wise Women by Gina Sorell
In The Wise Women, Clementine and Barb are the daughters of a meddling advice-columnist mother, whose columns have done little to fix her daughters' messy lives. Clementine's husband mysteriously disappears, leading her mother descends upon her life with the intent of tracking down her missing son-in-law. As the three women navigate the moment of crisis, Clementine and Barb wrestle with childhood resentments and discover some hidden struggles of their mother. In the process, the three create the space for a different--and better--future.
9. Elsewhere by Alexis Schaitkin
Elsewhere's central character, Vera, grows up in a small, isolated town in the mountains where mothers have a tendency to "vanish, disappearing into the clouds." Vera's mother disappears when Vera is on the brink of adulthood. As the women her age begin to marry and have children, they wonder who will vanish and which mothering behaviors may cause the mysterious fate. Vera confronts this anxiety when she has her own child, fearing that she will be unable to stay and care for them. With Elsewhere, Schaitkin highlights "the mysterious task of motherhood and all the ways in which a woman can lose herself to it; the self-monitoring and judgment, the doubts
10. The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
The School for Good Mothers is Chan's debut novel and has already attracted significant attention, including being The New York Times' January group text pick and Jenna Bush Hager's book club read for January. One decision instigates the plot of The School for Good Mothers -- Frida Liu leaves her 18-month-old home alone for two hours so she can work, leading to the removal of her daughter and landing Frida a one-year stint in a rehab center for those who have been deemed bad moms. Frida and two hundred fellow bad mothers are subject to constant supervision and
parental training, as officials determine whether they have
improved or if their parental rights should be terminated.
As the story unfolds, Chan pushes readers to contemplate
11. Easy Beauty by Chloé Cooper Jones
Easy Beauty is philosophy professor and Pulitzer Prize-finalist Chloé Cooper Jones' life story, with the author offering "a groundbreaking memoir about disability, motherhood, and a journey to far-flung places in search of a new way of seeing and being seen." Jones was born with sacral agenesis, a rare congenital disorder that causes Jones physical pain. This physical pain is compounded by the emotional distress imposed by an ableist society. After becoming a mother "something shifts" in Jones, and she rejects her tendency to withdraw internally in favor of a journey of reclamation. Along the way, she questions and
challenges societal myths around beauty.
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