Book clinic: which books can help me weather my parents’ divorce?

A selection of books to offer guidance and comfort through painful times

Q: What books, fiction and nonfiction, can you recommend to help me get through my parents’ divorce?
Holly, 17, UK

Francesca Segal, the award-winning author of The Innocents and The Awkward Age, writes:
First of all, may I say how sorry I am. Seventeen is a significant cusp, and you should be thinking about the exciting next stages of your own life. It is a horribly inconvenient time to be reminded that parents are people, with all the mess and complexity that reality entails. I hope you find the space to spread your wings, nonetheless.

If you are of a mind to empathise with them as they navigate the end of their marriage, Sharon Olds’s collection Stag’s Leap is a breathtaking, subtle collection, exploring the pain but also the possibility that comes with the end of a long relationship. If you are of a mind to subscribe to the fecklessness and general unreliability of parents, Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud is a classic – two young sisters are dragged off after their mother on a spiritual quest around Morocco, and must use their own imaginative resources to find stability. Eat Pray Love recounts Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s year of recovery from her own divorce, but is an uplifting and accessible read for anyone battling to overcome life’s difficulties. Anne Fine’s Madame Doubtfire and The Parent Trap by Erich Kästner are both for younger readers, but some fantasy and escapism can be just the ticket when one’s feeling low.

I don’t know if there is anyone else involved, but a wonderful and touching stepmother can be found in Dodie Smith’s classic I Capture the Castle, which in any case is one of the world’s most delicious comfort novels. Topaz is a wonderful subversion of the stepmother trope, while allowing the girls to have naturally ambivalent feelings about her very existence. Whatever you do, don’t read Henry James’s novel What Maisie Knew.

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Francesca Segal

The GuardianTramp

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