When I turned 12, my mother decided that it was time that I learned about growing up. Instead of sitting me down for the dreaded sex talk, however, she took me to Barnes & Noble and bought me a copy of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. She had read it as a teenager, and trusted Judy Blume to teach me about periods, getting felt up in closets, and other squeamish pre-teen activities.
Sharing a book with someone is one of the most intimate gestures you can make. I feel strongly about lending books to your significant other, but I think it's equally important to give books to your non-romantic loves as well. In this case, my mother giving me a copy of one of her favorite books as a young woman was an incredible bonding experience. It made me feel like I was learning something new about my mother, and I loved the idea that a book that played a big role in her own young adulthood was now playing a role in mine, too.
I was thinking about this the other day and considering what other books I would pass down to my daughter, should I decide to have one. Are You There God? will definitely make my list, but there are a ton of other novels that I think would be great mother-daughter gifts.
1. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Bloom
This was THE defining puberty book for me. At 13, I could totally relate to Margaret's struggles with her faith, her emerging sexuality, and of course, her fear of being the last of her friends to get her period. Knowing that my own mother read this as a young woman made me feel more connected with her, and also reassured by neurotic 13-year-old self that even my beautiful, confident mother felt like me and Margaret at some point. If I have a daughter, I will definitely continue the tradition by getting her a copy.
2. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
I wouldn't necessarily suggest that a mother give her young daughter a copy of The Awakening, but I think this would be an extremely appropriate gift to give your 20-something daughter. Edna Pontellier's journey to self-discovery and her refusal to conform to the idea of what a woman "should" be may be inspiring to a young woman just starting to make her way in the world.
3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar is practically required reading for budding feminists (and, if my high school reading list is any indicator, everyone else). While Plath's tale of a woman's gradual mental breakdown isn't exactly a lighthearted read, Esther's determination to live a life apart from what is expected from her holds an important lesson for young women. Like The Awakening, it shows that rebelling against society isn't easy, but is essential if a woman wishes to truly be free to find herself.
4. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, or your favorite fantasy novel
Mothers and daughters should be able to fangirl-out together. Whether the object of your fandom is Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, etc., I love the idea of being able to totally geek out about something that I love and obsess over with my hypothetical daughter. Besides, there is little to no chance that any child of mine wouldn't be a Harry Potter fan.
5. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I've been charmed by this novel ever since I read it as a teenager. Cassandra's journey from a young, inexperienced girl to a woman who has known love and heartbreak really resonated with me when I first read it. It helped that Cassandra was also a reader and aspiring writer! If there's a better novel to introduce your daughter to the pangs of unrequited first love, then feel free to use that instead. But for me, I Capture the Castle will always hold that place in my heart.
6. Feminist text of your choice
Someone has to teach your daughter about feminism, so why not you? Maybe you want to introduce your daughter to bell hooks or Gloria Steinem, or slip her a copy of Reviving Ophelia. If you're really feeling ambitious, read some Hélène Cixous with her. What text you choose to share is up to you, but one of the best ways to raise a strong, feminist daughter is to expose her to the works of the feminists that came before her.
7. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
I may be biased, because as a young, aspiring writer I felt a great kinship with Harriet. But I also think it's extremely important to share some of your favorite stories with younger members of your family, daughters or otherwise. Teach kids early that reading is cool! While I personally think that Harriet is a great heroine for young female readers, feel free to choose your favorite young female protagonist (Matilda is a great choice as well!).
8. How to be a Heroine, Or What I've Learned from Reading too Much by Samantha Ellis
How to be a Heroine quickly became one of my favorite memoirs when it was released in 2015. The author examines her life by comparing herself to her favorite book heroines, aka what you've always done but never wanted to admit out loud. I'm assuming that any daughter I have would be as into books and self-analysis as I am, so I'd love to provide her with a roadmap to figuring herself out via fictional heroines.
9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Yes, this novel is way more about father-daughter relationships than mother-daughter ones (and you can argue that Mrs. Bennett is treated pretty unfairly), but Elizabeth is still a pretty solid role model for young women. She's strong-willed, she thinks for herself, and she's not interested in falling into the arms of the first handsome man who tells her she's tolerable. That's exactly how I'd like my daughter to be!
10. Whatever your favorite book is
My mother is a mystery novel fangirl, and some of her favorites have always been the original Sherlock Holmes stories. We have a leather-bound collection of the stories at my parents' house, and whenever I sit down to read them I feel close to my mother. What better gift to give your daughter than your favorite novel or story? Sharing your favorite piece of literature with someone is like giving them a part of you!
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