What My Mother Gave Me:
Thirty-One Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most

edited by Elizabeth Benedict



Algonquin Books, 2013. ISBN 978-1-616-20135-7.
Reviewed by Khadijah A.
Posted on 07/06/2013

Anthologies/Collections; Nonfiction: Relationships

I write a lot about my mother and her many gifts to me during the relatively short time I had her. Our relationship was complex on a number of levels, but I never doubted her love for me. I honored her wisdom and hoped to learn from her mistakes as I journeyed into young adulthood myself.

Knowing how complicated my relationship with my mother was, I was happy to find that Elizabeth Benedict, in editing What My Mother Gave Me, chose essays that demonstrated these many layers in an honest, clear-eyed manner. It would have been easy to gather essays that showed a candy-coated world in which mothers and daughters always got along and did and said all the right things. It would have been equally easy to gather those that showed only the darker side, showcasing only the hurt and misunderstandings. The essays in What My Mother Gave Me, though, are surprisingly balanced and thoughtful. Well, not surprising, actually, with authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Margo Jefferson, and Katha Pollitt.

I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite story from the book. I spent two days turning pages every chance I got, reading one essay and looking forward to the next. It was a quick, enjoyable read that offered glimpses into the lives of people so different, and yet so like, myself. Since putting it down, I have been thinking about not only my mother and her gifts to me, but of myself, and what gifts I could pass on to my own children. Perhaps that is the best present Benedict and these authors could have given—that of insight into others, as well as introspection into ourselves.


Elizabeth Benedict, a graduate of Barnard College, is a bestselling novelist, journalist, teacher of creative writing, editor, and writing coach. She has published five acclaimed novels, a classic book on writing fiction, and hundreds of reviews, essays, and magazine articles as well as editing two anthologies. Visit her website & her blog.

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