Book Therapy: Mother’s Day Edition

By Stacey May Fowles


Book Therapy Mother's Day Edition (1)

Beyond the saccharine sentiments, store-bought flowers, and (adorable but messy) kid-crafted breakfasts in bed, Mother’s Day can be an extremely fraught if not painful holiday for many. I know I spent years of infertility loathing the day completely, while so many with their own troubled relationships with motherhood (or literally with their own mothers) wish the celebration would disappear entirely.

Yes the preschool sponsored macaroni art and hand-scrawled cards are a delight, but the lack of real discussion around what makes the plight of mothers so challenging (lack of affordable accessible childcare or the unequal division of domestic labour, for example) means the whole affair can feel a bit like a spa-day bandaid on a much greater issue.

That’s why, this Mother’s Day, Book Therapy decided to put together a Mother’s Day reading list featuring some recent and not-so-recent books that step outside the standard narratives of motherhood—what it means, how it effects us, how it changes and upends us. Some of these picks are fun send ups, while others are thoughtful investigations into the complexity of the role, but all are worth your time and attention on a holiday that carries a whole lot of weight and even more baggage.

Dandelion - Jamie Chai Yun Liew

Dandelion, Jamie Chai Yun Liew (Arsenal Pulp Press): Lily was just eleven years old when her deeply troubled mother walked away from their family, leaving behind countless questions and family secrets. After becoming a mother herself, Lily can no longer look away from the urge to find out what happened to Swee Hua, and travels with her baby to Southeast Asia to get much-needed answers. A novel that ambitiously tackles big issues of isolation, belonging, and identity, Dandelion thoughtfully explores the realities of motherhood beyond simplistic prescribed roles.

Natural Killer - Harriet Alida Lye

Natural Killer, Harriet Alida Lye (McClelland & Stewart): At the age of fifteen, Harriet Alida Lye was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, an illness she was not expected to survive. Then told chemotherapy would make it impossible for her to conceive, she became pregnant fifteen years later. Featuring reflections on an unimaginable childhood and the author’s parents’ experience of nearly losing a daughter, Natural Killer is a deeply moving look at the fragility (and beauty) of life told from the delicate precipice of new motherhood.

mother thing - ainsley hogarth

Motherthing, Ainslie Hogarth (Strange Light): For the horror-loving mom, Motherthing is part ghost story, part warning against the perils of unconditional love, part gratuitously gory battle with a grotesque mother-in-law. (Truly one of the best mother-related caricatures around.) An unnerving and incredibly fun ride, the novel also offers gives us something deeper—an astute commentary on how our mothers have the genuine capacity to haunt us, and how unchecked maternal devotion can have disastrous results.

The Spectacular - Zoe Whittall

The Spectacular, Zoe Whittall (Harper Collins): A deeply empathetic novel about the maternal impulse and its absence, the ramifications of the estranged mother, and whether or not motherhood and freedom can truly coexist, The Spectacular offers a great deal to gnaw on this time of year. Gracefully travelling through time and from narrator to narrator, Whittall depicts three generations of women, the cards they’ve been dealt and the choices they’ve made, along with this enduring line, care of indie rock star Missy Alamo: “Some people are meant to be mothers, and some people are meant to be free.”

Junie - Chelene Knight

Junie, Chelene Knight (Book*hug Press): Fraught mother-daughter relationships abound in Chelene Knight’s acclaimed novel about 1930s Hogan’s Alley, a once thriving neighbourhood in Vancouver’s East End. Junie’s jazz singing and alcohol dependent mother Maddie looms large in this beautifully rendered coming-of-age tale, one that deftly unpacks themes of ambition, addiction, friendship, and the dissolution of community.

Dear Scarlet - Teresa Wong

Dear Scarlet, Teresa Wong (Arsenal Pulp Press): The graphic novel offering on the list,Dear Scarlet is a candid look into Wong’s personal experience with postpartum depression. Told with humour and honesty, the author serves up an unvarnished look at early motherhood and that harrowing journey to reclaim a sense of self. The simple yet poignant illustrations not only accurately depict how hard, messy, and self-loathing the postpartum period has a capacity to be, but also gives readers much-needed solace, understanding, and kindness.

A Death at the Party - Amy Stuart

A Death at the Party, Amy Stuart (Simon & Schuster): In a recent poll asking mothers what they really wanted to do on Mother’s Day, taking some time off came second only to sleep. What better way to spend your precious alone time than with a bestselling escapist literary thriller, and A Death at the Party is on theme with its intriguingly close and exceedingly complicated mother-daughter relationship. This well-crafted page-turner features a flawed but devoted maternal lead, and offers a classic murder mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end. Happy reading, moms.


Book Therapy is a monthly column about how books have the capacity to help, heal, and change our lives for the better.

The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Stacey May Fowles is an award-winning journalist, novelist, and essayist whose bylines include The Globe and Mail, The National Post, BuzzFeed, Elle, Toronto Life, The Walrus, Vice, Hazlitt, Quill and Quire, and others. She is the author of the bestselling non-fiction collection Baseball Life Advice (McClelland and Stewart), and the co-editor of the recent anthology Whatever Gets You Through (Greystone).