Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A mother and daughter embark on a cross-country journey in pursuit of their dreams, navigating the complexities of family, love, and identity along the way.


In the captivating novel "Anywhere But Here" by Mona Simpson, the author takes readers on an emotional journey through the complex relationship between a mother and daughter. This poignant coming-of-age story explores themes of identity, ambition, and the search for belonging. With vivid storytelling and rich character development, Simpson invites readers to reflect on the universal struggles of family dynamics and the pursuit of dreams.

Brief Synopsis

"Anywhere But Here" is set in the 1970s and 1980s in the suburbs of Wisconsin and California. The story is primarily narrated by Ann August, a young girl who lives with her eccentric and unpredictable mother, Adele. Adele is a restless and impulsive woman who constantly dreams of a better life. Dissatisfied with their small-town existence, Adele convinces Ann to leave behind their familiar surroundings and embark on a journey to California, where she believes they can find success and happiness.

As they settle in California, Ann finds herself torn between her loyalty to her mother and her own aspirations. While Adele chases her dreams of fame and fortune, Ann struggles to navigate the challenges of adolescence and establish her own sense of identity. As the years pass, their relationship becomes increasingly strained, and Ann begins to question the sacrifices she has made for her mother's ambitions.

Main Characters

Ann AugustThe protagonist and narrator of the story. She is a sensitive and intelligent young girl who grapples with her mother's impulsive behavior while trying to find her own path in life.
Adele AugustAnn's mother, who is eccentric and unconventional. She is driven by her desire for a better life and often makes impulsive decisions that impact both her and her daughter.
LillianAdele's mother and Ann's grandmother. She provides stability and a sense of normalcy in Ann's life, offering a stark contrast to Adele's unpredictable nature.

Summary of Story Points

Chapter 1: Departure from Wisconsin

Ann and Adele leave their small town in Wisconsin and head to California in pursuit of a better life. Ann is excited about the adventure, but also apprehensive about leaving behind everything she knows.

Chapter 2: Settling in California

Ann and Adele settle in a small house in California. Adele dreams of becoming an actress and constantly seeks opportunities to break into the entertainment industry. Ann begins attending a new school and tries to adjust to her new surroundings.

Chapter 3: Adele's Romantic Pursuits

Adele becomes involved with various men, hoping to find someone who will support her dreams. Ann witnesses her mother's tumultuous relationships and struggles to understand her choices.

Chapter 4: Ann's Adolescence

As Ann enters adolescence, she begins to rebel against her mother's controlling nature. She starts to form her own opinions and desires, separate from Adele's influence.

Chapter 5: The Strained Relationship

Ann and Adele's relationship becomes increasingly strained as Ann grows more independent and challenges her mother's decisions. They argue frequently, and Ann starts to question whether she truly belongs with her mother.

Chapter 6: Finding Her Own Path

Ann decides to pursue her own dreams and leaves home to attend college. She discovers her passion for writing and begins to establish her own identity outside of her mother's shadow.

Main Events

  1. Ann and Adele leave their small town in Wisconsin and move to California.
  2. Adele pursues various romantic relationships in the hopes of finding someone who will support her dreams.
  3. Ann navigates the challenges of adolescence and rebels against her mother's controlling nature.
  4. Ann leaves home to attend college and discovers her passion for writing.

Themes and Insights


  1. Mother-Daughter Relationship: The novel explores the complexities of the mother-daughter bond and the challenges that arise when their desires and aspirations clash.
  2. Ambition and Dreams: Adele's relentless pursuit of her dreams serves as a backdrop for examining the power and consequences of ambition.
  3. Identity and Belonging: Ann's journey to find her own path highlights the universal struggle of discovering one's identity and sense of belonging.


  • The novel portrays the sacrifices individuals make in the pursuit of their dreams and the impact it can have on their relationships.
  • It delves into the emotional turbulence experienced during adolescence and the quest for independence.
  • The story sheds light on the internal conflicts individuals face when torn between loyalty to their family and their own desires.

Reader's Takeaway

"Anywhere But Here" is a compelling and thought-provoking exploration of the complexities of family dynamics and the pursuit of dreams. Through the vivid characters and emotional depth of the narrative, readers are prompted to reflect on their own relationships and the sacrifices made in the pursuit of personal fulfillment. Mona Simpson's masterful storytelling draws readers into the world of Ann and Adele, evoking empathy and understanding for their struggles. This novel serves as a poignant reminder of the universal human experience of seeking love, belonging, and a place to call home.


"Anywhere But Here" by Mona Simpson is a beautifully written novel that delves into the profound complexities of the mother-daughter relationship. With its vivid characters, rich storytelling, and exploration of themes such as ambition, identity, and belonging, the book offers readers a deeply engaging and thought-provoking reading experience. Simpson's ability to capture the emotional nuances of her characters and their journeys makes this novel a must-read for anyone interested in the intricacies of family dynamics and the pursuit of dreams.

Anywhere But Here FAQ

  1. What is the book 'Anywhere But Here' about?

    The book 'Anywhere But Here' is a novel that tells the story of a mother and daughter, Adele and Ann, as they navigate their tumultuous relationship and their pursuit of a better life in America.

  2. Who is the author of 'Anywhere But Here'?

    The author of 'Anywhere But Here' is Mona Simpson.

  3. When was the book 'Anywhere But Here' published?

    The book 'Anywhere But Here' was published in 1986.

  4. Is 'Anywhere But Here' a work of fiction or non-fiction?

    'Anywhere But Here' is a work of fiction.

  5. What are some themes explored in 'Anywhere But Here'?

    Some themes explored in 'Anywhere But Here' include family dynamics, the American Dream, and the complexities of mother-daughter relationships.

  6. Is 'Anywhere But Here' part of a series?

    'Anywhere But Here' is a standalone novel and is not part of a series.

  7. Has 'Anywhere But Here' been adapted into a movie?

    Yes, 'Anywhere But Here' has been adapted into a movie. It was released in 1999 and starred Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman.

  8. What is the target audience for 'Anywhere But Here'?

    The target audience for 'Anywhere But Here' is primarily adult readers, but it can be enjoyed by a wide range of readers interested in family dramas and coming-of-age stories.

  9. Are there any trigger warnings for 'Anywhere But Here'?

    Trigger warnings for 'Anywhere But Here' may include themes of emotional abuse, dysfunctional family dynamics, and mental health issues.

  10. Is 'Anywhere But Here' available in e-book format?

    Yes, 'Anywhere But Here' is available in e-book format, along with physical copies.