Terese Marie Mailhot’s memoir Heart Berries shares the difficult moments, revelations, and adversity she has faced throughout her life, and how these specifically relate to her as an Indigenous woman. However, at the core, this is a novel about her mother. Mailhot comes to terms with her mother’s treatment of her and perhaps even begins to understand who she really was.
His Favorites follows Jo, a woman reflecting on the traumas she experienced when she was 15 years old. Through a series of flashbacks and current reflections, Jo tells the reader (and a mystery person I won’t spoil here) her story. She is not only dealing with the death of her best friend, Stephanie, but sexual assault and an absentee mother.
If you know the tale of Antigone, then you also know the basic plot of Home Fire, as Shamsie stays faithful to Sophocles’ play. Even the names of her characters pay homage to the play (Isma = Ismene, Aneeka = Antigone, etc.)! The wonderful thing is how Shamsie updates this story to the modern day, and frames it around the British Muslim identity. She explores what it means to be a British Muslim, dysfunctional family relationships, terrorist organizations, political protests, fatherhood, and how these things intersect.
The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon tells the story of a woman named Phoebe, who begins as a flippant college student and is slowly drawn into Jejah, a new Christian cult that has formed on her college campus. Phoebe is a woman still grappling with survivor's guilt from her mother's death, and is effectively manipulated by cult leader John Leal - despite protests from her boyfriend Will. Phoebe's vulnerability and her relationship to her mother will be the focus of this post.
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson harmonize well. These novels follow girls of color growing into women, through a series of memories that manifest as vignettes. Beyond that, both books are fantastic explorations of the bonds girls form with each other and female sexuality. I will be focusing on how the authors tackle the relationships the girls have with their mothers, and how that effects their lives going forward.
Boy, Snow, Bird is a novel by Helen Oyeyemi that claims to be a retelling of the classic Snow White fairytale. Except is it not just a retelling, it is a reimagining. The story is set in the fictional town of Flax Hill, Massachusetts in 1950’s America, and does not shy away from this fact. It not only tells the story of Snow White, it also tackles racism, colorism, beauty myths, and the influence that mothers have over their children.
Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks is set in a dystopian world eerily similar to our own. The novel centers on four women in the state of Oregon and their relationships to politics, motherhood, and each other. In the beginning, this America looks and sounds like our own. However, as the story unfolds we learn of the Personhood Amendment to the constitution, which gives embryos the same rights as full-fledged human beings. This amendment has effectively outlawed abortion and in vitro fertilization (as the embryos cannot consent). A "Pink Wall" has been implemented at the Canadian border, making it impossible for Americans to get a legal abortion in Canada as they would be sent back and arrested for attempted murder. We experience this new reality through the lives of The Biographer, The Wife, The Daughter, and The Mender.