With three children and a full-time job, I don’t get much time to read, but this week I had the rather unique experience of starting and finishing a book in one evening. Okay, it was a short book (220 pages) and written in the form of short notes left on the refrigerator door, but it left a big impact. Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers let me peek into the relationship between a teenage girl, Claire, and her mom, a very busy doctor. At first, I witnessed the normal goings-on and petty conflicts between mothers and their teenage daughters, but then the story took a more serious tone and left me with the profound need to call my mom and tell her how much I appreciate her. Though refrigerator door notes have been largely replaced by texts and messenger apps, the content and context of this book is very realistic and relevant. Overall it propelled me, gently but surely, to take a look at my priorities—an important reminder that is always welcome.
Reviews Editor, Jamie Sumner, recommends this riveting read: “I’m a sucker for a good memoir, especially if it spans generations and offers me a perspective on a culture with which I am less familiar. And so, I found myself reading Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars, and Scoundrels, by Claire Chao. For a memoir, the tone is high-energy and the plot twists, including bank heists, gangsters, and kidnappings, made me wish my ancestors had done a little more adventuring. Chao chronicles her mother’s life in Shanghai before she left at 18 and then her return 50 years later. While back in China, the mother and daughter sift through five generations of family history to piece together the background of their own lives. Like many memoirs, this is a journey of self-discovery, but what distinguishes Chao’s story in particular, is the beauty of watching the bond between mother and daughter grow as they discover their often shocking ancestral secrets. The history, the culture, and the voice of this memoir will keep you reading until the very end.”
Juli Anna Herndon, Poetry Editor, shares a book that has accompanied her through the years: “A childhood favorite of mine—and still a favorite—about mothers and daughters is Sharon Creech’s finely wrought, sensitive middle grade novel, Walk Two Moons. The story follows 13-year-old Sal and her sassy grandparents on a road trip to visit her mother in Idaho. Over the course of her trip, Sal tells the story of her friend Phoebe’s disappearing mother and comes to terms with her own mother’s absence in the process. Creech’s authorial voice is both tender and humorous, and she captures the bittersweet complexity of mother-daughter relationships beautifully. I grew up with this book, but I never cease to wonder at the new things I discover with each reading, or at the ways the novel shifts under each new lens I pick up. As a girl of 12, I was enamored with the characters and the mood of the story, and related strongly to anxious, sullen Sal. At 16 (after discovering Camus), I marveled at the existential randomness of trauma and the joys of synchronicity. After reading The Feminine Mystique in college, I grieved alongside the mothers of the story for the ‘tiny lives’ they had settled into. As an adult, I am struck by the ways mothers and daughters in the story (as often in life) are painfully intertwined. No matter how old I get or how many times I read this novel, I still weep every time I reach the ending.”
Abigail Lalonde, Social Media Editor, is always one step ahead on the bestsellers and she doesn’t disappoint with this month’s recommendation either: “If you’re a true crime junkie, then you must read the recently published posthumous effort of Michelle McNamara, I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. I started reading it two days before the police made an arrest, which made finishing the book less scary and gave it as much of a happy ending as a true crime book can have. Knowing that his victims will be able to sleep better, and that McNamara’s efforts were not in vain, definitely changed my reading experience from ‘unable to read at night’ to ‘unable to put down the book.’ McNamara brilliantly weaves her literary and journalistic skills to tell the true tale of the crimes that shook California from the 1970s into the 1980s. She also entwines her own life into the book, which were some of the saddest moments, with mentions of her insomnia and using her young daughter’s playroom as her writing and research area. She paints the portrait of her own struggles and obsessions so well that one can’t help but mourn for her loss. HBO recently announced their plans to turn the book into a documentary series, which, after reading the book, I highly anticipate.”
What are your favorite books featuring strong female characters? We’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments below.