As Mother’s Day approaches, readers searching for books with plots that plumb the bond between mothers and daughters won’t be at a loss. In fact, the only challenge might be deciding what to read first.
For help, we asked three local authors for mother-daughter book recommendations. All three – Rona Simmons, Rosalind Bunn and Peggy Spear – are published by Deeds Publishing in Athens. Together, they came up with 10 titles – from classics to newer releases – guaranteed to provide plenty of reading pleasure prior to, and long after, May 14.
“Prayers for the Stolen,” by Jennifer Clement explores “the plight of Lady Di Garcia Marquez and similar young girls who grow up in a violent rural Mexican town in fear of being abducted and sold into slavery and the mothers that protect them by disguising them as boys, cutting their hair, or burying them in holes in the ground when the drug lords are spotted,” said Simmons. “The author knows – she has lived in Mexico her whole life and researched the topic at her own peril. She’s also a poet, and her prose is magical, leaving the reader with beautiful but haunting images.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale,” by Margaret Atwood. First published in 1985, adapted into a movie in 1990 and soon to be a TV series, Atwood’s book, Simmons said, “is an interesting one for our times. In Atwood’s dystopian New England of the future, women are subjugated by the state and forced into strict roles; some are mothers, some are wives and the relationships between mothers and daughters and between husbands and wives are turned on their ears. Offred, the narrator, is one of those forced to bear children for others, but she remembers she once had a daughter and she refuses to succumb.”
“Swamplandia,” by Karen Russell. “Ava Bigtree grows up in one of the most bizarre families in literature,” Simmons said. “Her father, Chief Bigtree, struggles to keep the family’s Florida alligator amusement park alive as other amusements move in and thrive. The entire family breaks apart after the death of their beloved mother and alligator wrestler, sending each of the characters into separate fantastic orbits across the hinterlands of Florida. Ava’s orbit circles the memory of her mother in the author’s beautiful prose.”
“One True Thing,” by Anna Quindlen. “A woman is arrested and accused of killing her ailing mother,” Simmons said. “We learn the facts in the first few pages, and then the story turns to the weeks and months Ellen Gulden put her life on hold to care for her mother, dying of cancer, and how she shifted blame from one character to the next.” Simmons called this book “an especially poignant one for those who care for an elderly parent.”
“Mother of Rain,” by Karen Spears Zacharias. Simmons called this “a story of ‘haints,’ ones that possess Maizee, the heroine, and scream at her in voices only she can hear. After her mother’s death, Maizee is sent off to live with an aunt and uncle in rural Tennessee. There, she marries Zebulon, a loving man, who goes off to fight in World War I,” leaving Maizee with a disabled daughter. “According to the author,” Simmons said, “the story was inspired by the case of Andrea Yates, who told of the voices that commanded her to drown her five children. It’s a dark novel, but ends with a ray of hope.”
“My Sweet Vidalia” by Deborah Mantella. “Deborah is a local Atlanta author,” Bunn said. “The story is set in the 1950s in rural Georgia. It explores the complex relationships between not only mothers and daughters, but those in our lives who represent those roles. The narrator is the spirit child of Vidalia, Ciela Mae, who is there to help her mother as long as she is needed. Many difficult subjects are examined including how Ciela Mae helps her mother know that the ‘spirit always has choice.’ The Southern dialect and unforgettable characters bring this young mother’s struggles to life and shows her incredible strength. This story evokes every emotion.”
Spear recommended four books with “iconic mother-daughter relationships” that revealed “moments when daughters discover the women who are their mothers.
“The first two, ‘The Joy Luck Club’ by Amy Tan and ‘Moloka’I’ by Alan Brennert, show mothers paying great sacrifices to save their daughters – even forfeiting their love by abandoning them,” Spear said.
“Another favorite is the classic ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott,’” Spear said. “Most little girls likely identify with Jo. I wanted to be her idyllic mother, Marmee.
With the inevitable poignancy of Mother’s Day in mind, Spear also recommended “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” by Betty Smith. “Here, the mother’s love is her backbreaking labor eking out their living,” Spear said. “I first saw this book on my mother’s bookshelf when I was a young child, but didn’t read it for years because – as in many things – I underestimated her judgment.” ■