So often in literature, mothers are “characters” in the worst way—one-dimensional caricatures, punching bags for the misogyny soaking our society. Far rarer (in both lit and life) are the mothers allowed to be whole human beings. Motherhood is not easy. It’s hard, brutal, utterly exhausting and often unrewarded work. In literature, film, song, or other art, mothers are commonly reduced to a single function, either passive (often actually dead) saints or baby-eating horrors. It’s rare for a mother-character to be allowed wholeness, autonomy, or any kind of real agency.
Here are five of my favourite books in which mothers are allowed to be whole human beings.