Three Junes by Julia Glass
There is little more satisfying in literature than following many generations of a family through misery and triumph, and Julia Glass’ Three Junes, which won the National Book Award in 2002 as her debut novel (she was 46 when she wrote it! Inspiring to mom as well!), does so with effortless grace and wit. Though two-thirds of the books three tales (set in June over ten year gaps) are told from male points of view, all three stories focus on strong women and the (sometimes elusive) power of motherhood. The final narrator in the book, Fern Olitsky, a widowed single mother and a burgeoning artist, must confront what it means to bond with a child even without a male figure in the picture.
The Rock-Solid Mother:
A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova
Sometimes mothers are the villains in one’s life story, but Sunday is about celebrating the times when they are heroines, and so it is appropriate to give your mother a story of indelible strength. Gorokhova’s new memoir tells the tale of escaping a childhood in Soviet Russia for the freedom of America, and yet, the most compelling character in the book is her mother, a doctor who despite having lost sons and husbands, was a passionate and dedicated woman: “When my father got sick and needed a hospital and they refused to admit him...She knocked on the door of every party boss in Leningrad, until finally one issued an order to let him in for one week,” Gorokhova writes. Though her mother was always strict and practical in the face of a difficult culture, she was a pillar for her daughters; smart and funny and formidable.
Mothers In Transition:
The Woman’s Room by Marilyn French
Your mother just can’t stop watching Mad Men, and we understand why. Today’s moms are riveted by the mothers who came of age in the 1950s and 60s, struggling with the birth of women’s liberation while trying to be decent wives and homemakers in the process. Part of being a mother is accepting it, and taking it on wholeheartedly, and these burdens have been more difficult for certain generations. Perhaps your mom has a dog-eared copy of The Woman’s Room lying around, but feel free to refresh her library with a brand new version. The book follows Mira Ward, a young housewife grasping at freedom from a conventional marriage; following a PhD from Harvard and a feminist awakening, she ends up becoming the good mother that she intended to be and never quite felt comfortable embracing, but on her own terms. And now that you’re grown, you won’t have to worry about the repercussions of slipping your mother a tome that will prompt her to leave the family and join a revolution.
The Mother You Choose:
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Yes, it’s a bestseller that your mom may already have sitting at her bedside, but if she doesn’t, then now is the time to slip her Sue Monk Kidd’s hit debut. For those that didn’t see the film or get swept up in the 2008 craze, Bees follows Lily, a 14-year-old girl who has run away from an abusive father with the knowledge that she accidentally shot and killed her own mother as a toddler. In searching for maternal figures to replace the one she never had, Lily finds herself working in a honey factory for the Boatright sisters of Tiburon, South Carolina, and one of the women, August, takes a particular interest in Lily and helps her find the “mother in herself.” It may be a sappy premise for exploring female mentorship, but Kidd writes the story with such a sweet spark that it’s hard to put it down.
Mothers in a New Land:
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
A story that always resonates with women is that of a mother who gathers up her family and moves them far away in search of a better life. Such is the case with Jean Kwok’s lovely novel, in which a smart, 11-year-old Chinese girl, (once Ah-Kim Chang, now Kimberly) and her mother migrate to Brooklyn in search of the American Dream. Due to the language barriers and hardships in their new country, they must work in a clothing factory in New York’s Chinatown to make ends meet. And yet Kimberly, inspired by her mother’s persistence and unceasing dreams for her daughter learns English, excels, and hurtles towards a promising future.
Rachel Syme is the former culture editor of The Daily Beast and now writes regularly about the arts.