Review: Mothered by Zoje Stage

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A claustrophobic psychological thriller about one woman’s nightmarish spiral while quarantined with her mother.

Grace isn’t exactly thrilled when her newly widowed mother, Jackie, asks to move in with her. They’ve never had a great relationship, and Grace likes her space—especially now that she’s stuck at home during a pandemic. Then again, she needs help with the mortgage after losing her job. And maybe it’ll be a chance for them to bond—or at least give each other a hand.

But living with Mother isn’t for everyone. Good intentions turn bad soon after Jackie moves in. Old wounds fester; new ones open. Grace starts having nightmares about her disabled twin sister, who died when they were kids. And Jackie discovers that Grace secretly catfishes people online—a hobby Jackie thinks is unforgivable.

When Jackie makes an earth-shattering accusation against her, Grace sees it as an act of revenge, and it sends her spiraling into a sleep-deprived madness. As the walls close in, the ghosts of Grace’s past collide with a new but familiar threat: Mom.


This is my third Zoje Stage novel, and I have had nothing but praise for the first two books I read by her. I loved Baby Teeth and Getaway, and I recommended them to everyone I see (I still share a link with all of my reader friends when Baby Teeth is on sale.) Her latest book, Mothered, is a pandemic book, and I realized quickly that books about Covid-19 and isolation are going to irritate and anger me. 

The story starts in the middle of the shutdown, with Grace losing her job and spending most of her time talking to her friend, Miguel, and a group of girls that she is catfishing on the internet, using male avatars to make these girls feel attached to her. (She has also skewed her thinking that she is doing these girls a favor by catfishing them because all she is being charming and trying to help them with their lives.) When Grace’s mother, Jackie, convinces her that she can move in to help with the house while Grace is unemployed in the middle of a lockdown, things quickly turn. There are memories of Grace’s childhood, and her twin sister, Hope, and the reason why Jackie has been distance from Grace since Hope’s death. 

Zoje Stage has written another Mother/Daughter/Sisters codependency book. This is okay, but the setting is what bothered me the most, the actions that Grace in particular takes. I know that the lockdown was difficult for almost everyone, and many people struggled. Getting outside did not bother me. Them sitting on the porch is a nice way to get out of the house. Even walking around the neighborhood as long as Grace avoided contact with someone. These are solutions that could help Grace cope with the things she was feeling. When Grace thinks about calling an ambulance and checking herself into the hospital or having her mother go to the hospital just to get away from her, this is when I have my biggest problems with her. There are times when she is supposed to be quarantined because she is exposed but wants to go to the grocery or the drugstore to get something. Even though Stage has written Grace as someone who is careful about spreading Covid, there are moments when it feels like she is not very careful at all. The passages about her contemplating going to the hospital as a solution to her problems made me want to throw the book across the room. I am a frontline health care worker who watched hundreds of people slowly die on ventilators and throughout the hospital. The hospital is never a place she would ever want to be, especially because she is fighting with her mother.

I did not like these characters. I did not like the situation. I did not understand the point of the throwaway prologue and epilogue, but I still like Zoje Stage and her novels. Maybe this one hit too close to me, and I tried very hard not to nitpick about the character’s pandemic behavior, but I found myself growing more and more irritated with Grace and her life decisions as the book progressed. 

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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