10 Queer Books For People With Mommy Issues

In literature, as in real life, complicated mothers and our relationships with them affect us whether they’re in the room or on the page with us or not. I’m interested in books where mothers are not necessarily central characters—some are dead when the story begins, for example—but whose impacts (or absence) are far-reaching. The sort of mothers who give their children mommy (or, for a certain brand of queer person, mommi) issues.

In my own novel, A Good Happy Girl, Helen is the remaining child of incarcerated addicts who might love her but definitely love each other. Listless, aimless, and sipping cough syrup, Helen dates a married lesbian couple who prods into her past just as her father calls with an already ignored request; will Helen help him get parole? Helen’s mother calls her  too, offering her only silence on a monitored line.

While editing the novel with my agent, I gave my protagonist what I considered a gift: closure with her mother in an on the page reunion. In edits with my editor, the entire chapter was cut. The book is more honest for it.

These ten queer books, I think, encapsulate the weird and sometimes wonderful ways our relationships with our mother figures shape us and the nurturing we seek.


The Price of Salt (Carol) by Patricia Highsmith

Therese, orphaned and sent to live with nuns at a young age, is a curious but timid shopgirl working at a department store and trying to get into theater set design. Carol, an unhappy divorcee, burns Therese’s bedtime milk, writes a check for her professional dues, and charms her into a cross country road trip with the classic high femme bullying approach. The pair cross paths while Therese is working at a department store (generally believed to be inspired by Highsmith’s winter working at Bloomingdale’s) and Carol buys a present for her daughter, whom she is on the brink of losing custody for because even her husband can’t deny she’s gay. It’s tragic! It’s funny! It’s perfect pulp.

Melissa Broder, Milk Fed; cover design by Jaya Miceli (Scribner, February)

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

Our main character, Rachel, a bisexual Jewish woman, is in therapy at the start of the book. She hates her body, seeks validation from a judgy older female coworker who loves to gossip, and yes, resents her weight-obsessed and fatphobic mother while longing for her approval. Even the cover of the book evokes a nipple. When Rachel meets Miriam, an orthodox Jewish woman working at a frozen yogurt shop, she becomes obsessed with this plump and seemingly unbothered stranger. For the Freudian crowd and everyone who loves the movie Disobedience.


Exalted by Anna Dorn

Anna Dorn writes fast-paced and observant books that are actually fun to read while also digging into your repressed psyche. In this case, Emily Forrest is the snarky Los Angelian who runs a popular astrology account and stalks the beautiful Beau Rubidoux around the city, fascinated by his seemingly perfect birth chart. Meanwhile, Dawn Webster is a single lesbian encroaching on fifty who can ́t get her son to call her back and finds comfort in the Leo rising memes she reads on a certain social media account. If you enjoy chaos, dysfunction, and the charm of beautiful women, Exalted is the ideal balm for your mommi issues. For fans of reality TV and Jenny Schecter apologists.

women in peril

Women! In! Peril! by Jessie Ren Marshall

Women! In! Peril! Is cinematic, charming, and disturbing. From the first story in the collection, Annie 2, readers are swept into the terrifying fate of a robot named Annie. She has been purchased by the mother of a sad, terrible man who lives at home after a recent breakup. If he penetrates the robot, she can’t be returned—this manufacturer’s rule is mom’s biggest concern. The rest of the collection is similarly upsetting and brilliant, so this one is a bit of a dealer’s choice. Do you want your mom-related-loneliness abated by a sweet sapphic love story in Late Girl? Or do you want your mommy issues to go global and patriarchal, a la the title story, Women! In! Peril!? To read if your mom’s disappointed you so badly, you just need to think about space and aliens for a while.

these letters end in tears

These Letters End in Tears by Musih Tedji Xaviere

This debut is short, tender, and heartbreaking, perfect for fans of The Death of Vivek Oji and This Is How You Lose the Time War. This is an epistolary novel set in Cameroon following Bessem, now a professor who quietly dates women, who, after running into an old mutual friend, begins searching for her adolescent love, Fatima. This story is filled with delicate beauty and an unfortunately realistic and utterly gut-wrenching ending. This one is a difficult but important read, and may be especially healing for readers who are survivors of family betrayal and anti-queer violence and abuse.

skye falling

Skye Falling by Mia Mackenzie

In Mia Mackenzie’s Skye Falling, Skye, a Black lesbian briefly home in Philadelphia, finds herself face to face with 12-year-old Vicky who, as she puts it, was once Skye’s egg. Skye, a hilariously haphazard and emotionally avoidant travel entrepreneur, donated her eggs for money while broke in her twenties and didn’t think much of it. Vicky put enough thought into it to personally track Skye down and the dynamic is as awkward as it is healing. Skye Falling manages to cover heavy subjects with grace, depth, and humor, and is a rare example of literary fiction being heartwarming without being cheesy. This one is for people who need a hug from their queer chosen family.

Bugsy and Other Stories 9781982189761

Bugsy & Other Stories by Rafael Frumkin

Bugsy is for readers who have mommi, daddy, and zaddy issues, in that order. The titular story in this collection follows Bugsy, a young queer person living with depression who finds a sort of family in sex work. Other stories in the collection include Fugato, following a psychiatrist having a mental health crisis who hears Alex Trebek’s voice in his head, and On The Inside, about a nonverbal child and his mom. These five stories are smart, original, and fearless. It is absolutely NSFW and should be given on Mother’s Day only as an act of violent rebellion.

honey girl

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Grace has a PhD in astronomy, a stern military father, a dead mother, and a little Las Vegas elopement to a woman whose name she can’t remember. On the brink of thirty, Grace feels overwhelmed and unfulfilled by her life fueled by academic success and her dad’s expectations, so she does what every dysfunctional queer person does—flees to New York for the summer to hang out with her wife, Yuki, who runs a radio show about monsters. If your specific brand of mommy issues manifests by trying to get straight As and work yourself to the bone for a modicum of affirmation, Honey Girl is sure to heal you.

knife river

Knife River by Justine Champine

Knife River is a startling literary thriller that manages to be about female relationships from just about every angle. Jess and Liz are sisters whose mother disappeared on a walk in their neighborhood. Liz stays put in small-town Knife River and tries to keep the investigation into their mother’s disappearance alive. Jess bolts and dates women to keep herself afloat in her life. When their mother’s bones are uncovered by a child nearby, the sisters get the answers they were—and weren’t—looking for. To read if you’re craving the comfort of a slow burn true crime podcast with sharp literary prose.

my education

My Education by Susan Choi

My personal favorite kind of campus novel, one in which we don’t get too far into the minutia of academia but we’re in that close world where everyone knows each other and considers themself to be very important. Regina, a graduate student, is invited to the home of a professor for a dinner party; it’s there that she impulsively kisses his pregnant wife, Martha. My Education is bold and funny and interesting, and should be read when you want to be reminded that your world is delicate and can be flipped on its head at any moment. This is a must read if your particular mommy wounds lend you to watching The Graduate on repeat.


Marissa Higgins, A Good Happy Girl

A Good Happy Girl by Marissa Higgins is available from Catapult Books.

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