11 Books That Take An Honest Look At Motherhood

by Amy Sachs

Motherhood is a hard job — maybe the hardest of them all out there. And no one pays you for it. Sometimes you don't even get a thank you. Being a mother is a forever thing, and that's one of the many reasons it's such a hard choice. There's so much more to the job than just having a kid, which is what some of the mothers in the motherhood books below have come to realize. For instance, what happens when you're dealing with inexpressible grief? What if your husband is having an affair and you don't know how you'll go on, but your kids are still depending on your to be there for them?

The older I've gotten, the clearer it's become: my mom has done so much for our family, I seriously can't fathom how she did it. Growing up, we never understand just how many sacrifices mothers make for their children and families. When you're little, your mom's just there whenever you need her. She's The Mom, and that's that. But as you get older, you start to see all the other sides there are to her, and what she's been through. She's actually a living, breathing, complex human being. Who'd have thought.

These 11 books let us take a walk in our moms' shoes. Here are motherhood books that show the truth that sometimes goes hand in hand with being a mom. Perhaps they'll even make you appreciate your own mom even more this Mother's Day.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation is somehow both incredibly short, yet incredibly jarring to read, because Jenny Offill creates a reality so close to what we know. Set in New York, the nameless woman at the novel's heart is a mother in an adulterous marriage. She can barely keep herself and her own life from going off the rails at the revelation of her husband's infidelity, and struggles to keep her child's life together at the same time. Told in gorgeous prose that will make your heart ache, Offill paints a very real story of a marriage on the brink of collapse, with a child at its center.

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God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

It goes without saying that Toni Morrison knows her way around a good story. Her latest novel, God Help the Child, is the story of Bride, who was denied any and all love from her mother. The two are caught in a web of heart ache and pain that will show them, only once it's too late, the harm that a mother can bring to a child, even long after the child has grown up.

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Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Bernadette is an odd duck — there's almost no way around that. She is sarcastic and biting when it comes to the mothers of the girls at her daughter's school, but devoted to her daughter, Bee. Bernadette hates leaving the house if she can help it, so when the family plans a trip to Antarctica on a both with Lord only knows how many other people, Bernadette disappears. A heartwarming story of a daughter trying to find her way back to her mother, mothers and daughters alike will love this one.

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You is set in Ohio in the 1970s. It was a traditional time, but Marilyn and James Lee threw tradition out the window when they formed their Chinese-American family. But Marilyn wants so much more than to be a stay at home mother and wife. She wants a job and a life of her own. She makes sacrifices at the expense of her family, and the turmoil she finds there is both heartbreaking and eye opening. When the family suffers a loss almost too great to bear, Marilyn feels more lost than ever.

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Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

It's hard not to feel at home in your own house. Anna Benz knows this feeling all too well, however, and is feeling more and more choked by her four walls. She finds solace in other people — other men. Not Bruno, the husband she moved to Switzerland for. Anna gets caught in a tangle of guilt, doubt, and uncertainty than she's not sure if she'll ever find her way back out again.

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The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Set in Kerala, India in a particularly tremulous political period, The God of Small Things is a Man Booker Prize winner, and a lasting piece of fiction. Ammu is the mother of two twins, whom she loves very much. But as they grow up, she tries to make them understand that the way they act will impact the Love Laws. The rules that govern who you love and how and how much. Caught in her own forbidden love affair with a man she is not supposed to look at let alone love, Ammu's love for her children becomes ever more complicated.

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Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Having a balance between one's career and one's family isn't always easy. Georgie McCool knows that for sure, as a TV writer who is finally about to get her big break. When it comes to choosing between a family Christmas and work, Georgie has never been more torn. Hurt and confused, Georgie stays behind on a family Christmas to find what she lost, if only it's not too late. Funny and moving, Rainbow Rowell's Landline is the perfect read for working mothers wishing they could be in two places at once.

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Lost & Found by Brooke Davis

When 7-year-old Millie's father dies, her mother is out of her mind with grief. She can't see past her own loss, and begins to pull away from Millie. She continues to withdraw herself from her daughter until one day, she brings Millie to a department store and leaves her there. Millie is taken to live with Agatha, an elderly widow who is also mourning the loss of her husband. A story of heartbreak and loss and being lost and found again, Brooke Davis's debut is the perfect novel to help understand even the worst kinds of grief.

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One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Single mothers have their own unique challenges. Add in a job that's barely making ends meet, a daughter and a stepson, and you have the life of Jojo Moyes's protagonist, Jess. She is doing everything she can to provide for her family and keep things going, proof of the dedication and tireless work mothers will provide for their families. When Ed shows up and shakes up her whole world, she begins to see that maybe she doesn't have to do everything alone after all.

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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Is there a more complicated story of motherhood than Hester Prynne's? A baby born in an adulterous affair in a Puritan town is sure to be no big deal, right? HA. Left to care for Pearl alone and face a lifetime to whispers and seclusion, Hester is one of the most steadfast, devoted mothers in literature. There's a reason this one has stuck around as long as it has, and Hester is it.

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After Birth by Elisa Albert

After giving birth to her son Walker, Ari can't seem to find her way back to herself. She feels as if she's lost in an alternate universe, after the birth went awry. When another woman, nine months pregnant herself, moves to town, Ari sees the potential for a new friend, and a way back to herself, as well. In After Birth, Elisa Albert shows the realities that come with giving birth and becoming a mom, and how important friendships become at that crucial time.

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Image: Tomas Hellberg/flickr