This week, six new books—including novels, memoirs, and graphic novels—explore the roles of mothers and the experience of motherhood in distinct ways.

Lessons for Survival: Mothering Against “the Apocalypse”

Emily Raboteau. Holt, $29.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-80976-6
“What does it mean to survive in the midst of protracted crises,” asks Raboteau (Searching for Zion), a creative writing professor at the City College of New York, in this ruminative collection. Through a mix of personal essay and reportage, the author reflects on public art, climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, and racialized violence. “Climate Signs” sees Raboteau traverse New York City’s five boroughs to view 10 highway warning signs, bearing messages such as “CLIMATE DENIAL KILLS” and “NO ICEBERGS AHEAD,” created by environmental artist Justin Brice Guariglia. “Mother of All Good Things,” meanwhile, offers lucid reporting on energy and resource use in Israel and Palestine, as told through Raboteau’s 2016 trip to the region. “The water crisis is rising for the entire Middle East due to increasing desertification, but here, in the poorest communities, the problem is most pronounced,” she writes of one Palestinian village. “It Was Already Tomorrow,” a year’s worth of diary entries meant to capture the impact of climate change, overwhelms with its onslaught of people and places, leaving the reader feeling somewhat numb and disengaged, although the effect is clearly intended. Raboteau’s at her best with “In Those Dark Days,” a lyrical account of mothering in lockdown: “You dilated our contracting world. I’m telling you, wild thing, you dissolved the walls.” It’s a vivid and varied consideration of a world in crisis. (Mar.)


Beth Hetland. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (162p) ISBN 978-1-68396-935-8
Hetland gets under the skin in her nimble and unsettling graphic novel debut. On the surface, expectant mom Carolanne is a painfully average woman, chatting with the gals at the office about her husband and baby on the way. But a menacing mood hangs over quotidian scenes, which are periodically interrupted by Carolanne’s grotesque nightmares (in one, she imagines licking a cat until she drowns in hair, her gut depicted as a cave strangled by black strands) and flashbacks revealing her desperation for a picture-perfect marriage. Her discomfort expresses itself in her habit of picking at her nails and skin, and her pregnancy further twists her combative relationship with her body before a tragedy pushes her obsessions to a frightening new level. Hetland’s discordantly cheerful artwork, which features characters drawn with picture-book simplicity against pleasantly busy domestic backgrounds tinted in cool blues, provides a chilling counterpoint to the slow burn of psychological and body horror. Images of food, flesh, and obsessive consumption contribute to the sense that the increasingly unstable Carolanne is either devouring or being devoured by the world around her. Hetland’s ability to maintain a sinister atmosphere in scenes both mundane and monstrous will keep horror fans turning the pages. (Mar.)

Pride and Joy

Louisa Onome. Atria, $27.99 (324p) ISBN 978-1-66801-281-9
Onome blends humor and pathos in her captivating adult debut (after the YA novel The Melancholy Summer), which finds a Nigerian Canadian woman attempting to find redemption by hosting her mother’s 70th birthday party. Joy Okafor Bianchi, a mental health counselor and recently divorced single mother, has taken on the task of hosting her mother Mary Okafor’s weekend celebration in the suburbs of Toronto, and she invites family and friends from across Canada and the U.S. to share in the festivities. The morning of the party, however, Joy’s 12-year-old son, Jamil, discovers that his grandmother has died peacefully in her sleep. The day also happens to be Good Friday, and Mama Mary’s sister, Nancy Akintola, comes to believe—after a premonition involving a brown cow on the side of the road—that her dear sister will rejoin them in the land of the living in an Easter miracle. Joy, despite her skepticism, finds some parts of herself wanting to believe her mother will walk through the door on Easter Sunday. Onome’s rich storytelling is enhanced by authentic descriptions of traditional Nigerian music and foods, such as Egosi soup and chin chin, as her characters come together amid great loss. Readers will savor Onome’s vibrant portrait of a family. Agent: Claire Friedman, InkWell Management. (Mar.)

The Manicurist’s Daughter: A Memoir

Susan Lieu. Celadon, $30 (320) ISBN 978-1-250-83504-8
Playwright Lieu delivers a stirring debut memoir focused on the fallout from her mother’s untimely death in 1996. Dividing the account into six sections, each corresponding to different meanings of the Vietnamese word ma (“Mother,” “Ghost,” “Tomb,” “But,” “Newborn Rice Seedling,” and “Horse”), Lieu traces her anguish across decades and continents. The youngest of four children, and the only one born in the U.S., Lieu grew up helping her Vietnamese mother, Hà Thi (or “Jennifer” to her American clients) operate several nail salons in Northern California. When Hà Thi died suddenly after receiving an abdominoplasty from a surgeon with a history of malpractice, 11-year-old Lieu was set adrift. She took multiple trips to Vietnam as a young adult, attempting to understand her mother within the contexts of both the country’s history and her own family. She also consulted mediums and old family recipes in attempts to conjure her late mother’s spirit. After settling back in the U.S., Lieu wrote and performed an autobiographical play that fostered dialogue about Hà Thi among her mostly tight-lipped relatives, and helped ease tensions between Lieu and her often-harsh father. Lieu’s candor about her mother’s faults (body-shaming chief among them) and righteous anger at the surgeon who killed her set this apart from similar fare. It’s a generous portrait of grief that will touch those who’ve struggled with loss. Agent: Monika Verma, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary. (Mar.)

After Annie

Anna Quindlen. Random House, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-22980-4
A 30-something mother of four dies unexpectedly in the affecting latest from Quindlen (Alternate Side). “Bill, get me some Advil, my head is killing me” are the last words Annie Brown says to her husband before she drops dead on the kitchen floor in front of him and their four kids. Practical, kind, and unassuming, Annie was the glue that held together their lives, and the life of her best friend Annemarie. Without Annie, Bill falls apart and has an affair with an old girlfriend. Annemarie spirals back into the drug use that Annie saved her from. Bill and Annie’s oldest son acts up, the middle boy wets the bed, and the youngest son, at six, still believes Annie will walk back through the front door. It’s left to the boys’ older sister, 13-year-old Ali, to come up with makeshift dinners and do the wash. The lesson Quindlen offers is universal and incontrovertible: love and memories are powerful antidotes to grief. After Ali starts seeing her school counselor, things begin to turn around for the family. Though the ending ties everything together a bit too neatly, Quindlen makes the magnitude of her characters’ loss feel palpable to the reader. It’s another acute portrait of family life from a virtuoso of the form. (Mar.)

Mother Doll

Katya Apekina. Overlook, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4197-7095-1
Apekina (The Deeper the Water, the Uglier the Fish) turns the multigenerational family saga on its head with this sharply original and surprisingly witty tale of a young woman in contemporary Los Angeles, her dying grandmother in New York City, and their ancestor in revolutionary Russia. Zhenia, a 20-something translator based in California, is struggling to come to terms with her beloved grandmother Vera’s dementia and terminal illness, and shamed by her mother for not traveling back east to help. Zhenia has also just told her husband that she’s unexpectedly pregnant, and he’s unhappy with the news. Then she receives a call from a stranger in New York named Paul, who tells her that her dead great-grandmother Irina needs to talk with her. Paul, a medium who normally specializes in pets, met Irina in an overpopulated afterworld, and has agreed to relay her story to Zhenia. A parallel narrative portrays this purgatory as an “undifferentiated cloud,” where, in flashbacks, Irina remembers her passionate adolescence, when she was swayed to join the antimonarchist February Revolution of 1917 by one of her teachers. Now, via Paul, she seeks forgiveness from Zhenia for abandoning Vera in a Russian orphanage and other acts. Apekina avoids the ponderous tone of many historical novels by making Irina a thrillingly vital presence, and allows the parallels between her and her great-granddaughter as young pregnant women to emerge gradually and naturally. The result is a provocative vision of a world in which past and present are not as neatly separated as they appear. Agent: Bill Clegg, Clegg Agency. (Mar.)