20 Books That Start New Conversations About Motherhood
Motherhood is a swirl of emotions, experiences, and contradictions. It’s often portrayed one-dimensionally as a joyful condition brimming with love, pride, and enthusiastic selflessness. A welcome trend in contemporary fiction is to challenge these depictions with something more nuanced, honest, and raw.
These recent titles grapple with the hardships and realities of mothering— ambivalence over whether or not to have a child, the despair of postpartum depression, identity loss, worries about "measuring up," the intensity of these feelings of love and connection. This list isn't meant to be grim but to highlight voices willing to examine motherhood with candor and openness and create new conversations about this transformational experience.
The School for Good Mothers
by Jessamine Chan
After one moment of poor judgment involving her daughter Harriet, Frida Liu falls victim to a host of government officials who will determine if she is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.
by Alexis Schaitkin
Follows a group of young women who are coming of age and wondering who among them will be lost in a close-knit, overly-protective mountain community where their unforgiving adherence to tradition dictates that some mothers vanish from their families.
by Rachel Yoder
An artist turned stay-at-home mom becomes convinced that she is turning into a dog and, as her symptoms intensify, struggles to keep her alter-canine-identity a secret, until she meets a group of mothers who may also be more than what they seem.
Black Girls Must Be Magic
by Jayne Allen
Discovering she's pregnant—after she was told she may not be able to have biological children—Tabitha throws herself headfirst into the world of "single mothers by choice." When an unexpected turn of events draws Marc—her on-and-off-again ex-boyfriend—back into her world with surprising demands, and the situation at work begins to threaten her livelihood and her identity, Tabitha must make some tough decisions. (Also in this series: Black Girls Must Die Exhausted and Black Girls Must Have It All)
The Long Answer
by Anna Hogeland
Gathering intimate stories about pregnancy, motherhood, and the nature of female relationships, Anna, a writer who is pregnant with her first child, explores the question of how women directly impact one another with the personal secrets they share.
by Katixa Agirre; translated by Kristin Addis and Katie Whittemore
A mother kills her twins. Another woman, the narrator of this story, is about to give birth. She is a writer, and she realizes that she knows the woman who committed the infanticide. An obsession is born. She takes an extended leave, not for child-rearing, but to write. To research and write about the hidden truth behind the crime.
by Kristen Arnett
Sammie Lucas is scared of her son Samson who resists every attempt to bond with him. Uncertain in her own feelings about motherhood, she tries her best while growing increasingly resentful of Monika, her confident but absent wife. As Samson grows from feral toddler to surly teenager, Sammie's life begins to deteriorate into a mess of unruly behavior, and her struggle to create a picture-perfect queer family unravels.
by Jacinda Townsend
On a trip to Morocco Shannon makes the fateful decision to adopt and raise a girl in Louisville, Kentucky. But the girl already has a mother: Souria, an undocumented Mauritanian woman who was trafficked as a teen, and who managed to escape to Morocco to build another life. Linked by the girl who has been a daughter to them both, these unforgettable protagonists move toward their inevitable reckoning.
by Szilvia Molnar
Struggling with postpartum depression, a new mother, ill at ease with this state of perpetual giving, carrying, and feeding, strikes up a tentative friendship with her ailing upstairs neighbor, but they are both running out of time, and something is soon to crack.
by Emily Itami
Mizuki, a Japanese housewife with two children, has everything a woman could want, yet she sometimes wonders whether she would rather throw herself off the high-rise balcony than spend another evening hanging up laundry. Then she meets Kiyoshi who helps her rediscover freedom, friendship, and the pulse of the city she has always loved. But the further she falls into their relationship, the clearer it becomes that she is living two lives—and in the end, we can choose only one.
by Sheila Heti
In her late thirties, when her friends are asking when they will become mothers, the narrator of Heti’s intimate and urgent novel considers whether she will do so at all. In a narrative spanning several years, casting among the influence of her peers, partner, and her duties to her forbearers, she struggles to make a wise and moral choice. After seeking guidance from philosophy, her body, mysticism, and chance, she discovers her answer much closer to home.
by Claire Oshetsky
After her owl-baby daughter is born small and broken-winged, a mother vows to raise the child to be her authentic self but discovers that her husband is on an obsessive and dangerous quest to find a “cure.”
Look How Happy I'm Making You: Stories
by Polly Rosenwaike
The women in Look How Happy I'm Making You want to be mothers, or aren't sure they want to be mothers, or—having recently given birth—are overwhelmed by what they've wrought. Sharp and unsettling, wry and moving in its depiction of love, friendship, and family, this collection expands the conversation about what having a baby looks like.
I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness
by Claire Vaye Watkins
Leaving for a speaking engagement, a writer and new mother leaves behind her domestic duties and descends into the depths of her past in the Mojave desert, meeting ghosts at every turn and pondering her way forward.
by Helen Phillips
A speculative thriller follows a woman who grapples with the complex dualities of motherhood—joy and dread, tenderness and anxiety—after confronting a masked intruder in her home.
by Torrey Peters
A trans woman, her detransitioned ex, and his cisgender lover build an unconventional family together in the wake of heartbreak and an unplanned pregnancy.
by Tiffany Clarke Harrison
Our narrator is a gifted photographer, an uncertain wife, an infertile mother, a biracial woman in an unraveling America. As she grapples with a lifetime of ambivalence about motherhood, yet another act of police brutality makes her question whether she wants to bring a Black body into the world. Throwing herself into a new documentary on motherhood she learns she is, impossibly, pregnant. As the future shifts once again, she must decide what she dares hope for the shape of her future to be.
The Upstairs House
by Julia Fine
Recovering from a difficult childbirth, a woman caring for her newborn alone while her husband travels for work suffers a psychological unraveling that causes her to see the ghost of famed children's book author Margaret Wise Brown.
The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano
by Donna Freitas
An emotional novel about motherhood—about a woman who has never thought she wanted to become a mother, and how she does or does not decide to go ahead and have a child.
by Melanie Golding
Lauren’s hopes and dreams of being a new mom are shattered when she encounters a mother’s worst nightmare—someone is threatening to take her twins if she leaves them alone. The novel ranges from the stark loneliness of returning home after birth to the confines of a psychiatric unit, as the reader is forced to question if Lauren is mad, or does she know something we don’t?
Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.