Review: Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

Posted September 19, 2013 by Heather in Book Reviews / 13 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher / TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Mother, Mother by Koren ZailckasMother, Mother by Koren Zailckas
Published by Crown on September 17, 2013
Genres: Fiction, Suspense / Thriller
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 384
Source: the publisher / TLC Book Tours

Goodreads | Amazon

Josephine Hurst has her family under control. With two beautiful daughters, a brilliantly intelligent son, a tech-guru husband, and a historical landmark home, her life is picture-perfect. But living in this matriarch's determinedly cheerful, yet subtly controlling domain hasn't been easy for her family, and when her oldest daughter, Rose, runs off with a mysterious boyfriend, Josephine tightens her grip, gradually turning her flawless home into a darker sort of prison

As the remaining two children, Violet and Will, attempt to uncover the mystery of Rose's whereabouts, Josephine struggles to maintain the family's impeccable facade. But when a violent incident leads to a visit from child-protective services, the truth about the Hursts might finally be revealed.

(from the back cover)

Let me start by saying that Mother, Mother is a real page-turner. I could have plowed through it in about a day if I’d had the time. It’s fast-paced, the writing is simple, and the subject matter is of the I’m-feeling-really-uncomfortable-but-can’t-stop-reading kind.

Mother, Mother is part psychological thriller, part study of a dysfunctional family. It’s written in the alternating perspectives of two of the Hurst children, Violet and Will, ages sixteen and ten or eleven, respectively. Their mother, Josephine, is the perfect mother on the outside–she quit her job to home school Will after he was diagnosed with Asperger’s and epilepsy; she cares about her family…and the way her family is perceived by others. But from the first few paragraphs of the book it is obvious that something is not quite right with the Hurst family, and Josephine is the one who seems to be at the center of that nagging feeling of off-ness.

Mother, Mother ended up being darker than I expected it to be, and less surprising. Though I didn’t want to put it down, much of it is rather predictable. There is quite a bit more telling than showing, and Zailckas doesn’t really leave much to the imagination. In that way, it becomes more about how the dysfunction of one parent can affect an entire family, and how it affects each member of the family differently. Even though I had much of the plot figured out well before I think Zailckas meant me to, that didn’t necessarily detract from my desire to finish the book. I was interested to see how Violet, Will, and their father ended up coping with the big reveals and their life after the fact.

Character-wise, it was hard for me to like any of them aside from Violet. I felt sympathy for all of them in different ways and for different reasons (even Josephine), but Violet was the only really likable Hurst. She was also the one who seemed to come out the least scathed, psychologically and emotionally. But none of the characters felt fully-formed to me, and this is where I’m torn about the book: to me, the dysfunction of the individual Hursts and of the family as a whole was the better part of the book, but it felt like Zailckas sacrificed the character development for a plot that didn’t quite hit the mark.

Reading what I’ve written so far, it sounds like I didn’t enjoy Mother, Mother, but I really did (although “enjoy” isn’t really the right word for a book dealing with the subject matter of abuse). I think Zailckas has a lot of potential and I certainly stayed interested enough to want to finish the book. I’m a very close, picky reader, though, and there were lots of things about Mother, Mother that I think could have been done better. With that said, Mother, Mother is definitely one of those books that demands conversation and it would be a great book club selection. I’d be interested in discussing some of it with others who’ve read it. Zailckas did a good job writing about a pretty severely dysfunctional family, and the majority of the characters’ emotional and psychological reactions rang true to me. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, easy (but not light) read, I recommend Mother, Mother.

(Trigger warning: Mother, Mother contains detailed scenes of emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of a domineering, narcissistic parent.)

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  • I was really surprised by the ending, which hasn’t happened to me in a long time. I think I was looking for hints in all the wrong places and thought I had everything figured out, but was totally backward. You’re definitely right about it being a great book club choice – there’s quite a bit to discuss!

    • [SPOILERS]

      I should say that I knew Rose was dead, but I didn’t know how it happened or how it was made to look like she’d taken off on a train.

  • I hate how it seems so much easier to pick apart what you don’t like about a book than it is to talk about what you do like. I once heard the term “specific criticism and vague praise” and that really does sum it up.

    • It does. If I really love a book, I’m less likely to point out its weaknesses. I was watching something a couple of weeks ago in which Juno Díaz said that no book is perfect–we love the books we love because we’re more willing to embrace or forgive their weaknesses. I didn’t love this book enough to do that.

  • I appreciate the trigger warning. I think this would be an interesting read but I definitely would have been put off by that.

    • I was okay reading the book, but many parts left me very angry and tense (and I never went through that with a parent). I can only imagine how it might make someone feel who had a childhood like that. I felt like it needed some kind of note, just in case.

    • cinqm

      In the end you don’t read books anymore. You read trigger warnings. Glad to avoid that ‘danger’.
      Is it all you wanted? Being safe in your cosy fluffy pink cloud?

  • I really “enjoyed” this book, but you’re right, it was predictable. That being said, it kept me hooked from start to finish and I thought there were a few things that happened that I hadn’t expected exactly.

    BTW, congrats on finishing your Goodreads challenge!

  • Pingback: Koren Zailckas, author of Mother, Mother, on tour September/October 2013 | TLC Book Tours()

  • I’m glad that you enjoyed this one overall in spite of your critiques. Thanks for being on the tour.

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  • I think I would want to read this book despite. Your powerful review has piqued my interest. Except that my reading has gone rusty of late 🙂

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