Thank you for being patient, as I took a little hiatus to celebrate Thanksgiving!
This time of year is all about family for my husband and me. Thinking about all of the get-togethers and parties we have planned got me thinking about some of my favorite books that feature families. So, I thought I would put together a recommendation post!
[Please be aware: While many of these recommendations are heartwarming, others are totally devastating and heartbreaking. Also, I understand the holidays can be hard for many, particularly on the subject of family. I apologize if this list causes any kind of emotional pain for you; it is not my intention.]
Here we go!
Books Featuring Dads
I tend to find myself drawn to stories that focus on Dads. I especially enjoy stories where the dad-child relationship is less than simple.
I’m sure most of your have heard of or read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It is one of the most devastating books I have ever read. But the deeper message of hope and family is inspiring. I love the way Walls talks about father in particular. I would recommend it as a memoir with a dark subject, but a lot of familial love at its core.
I’ll be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot about The Shadow of the Wind by Carlo Ruiz Zafon. But, I remember that our main character’s father is the catalyst for his pursuit of the mystery at the heart of the story. It’s a great book; very complex and engaging, with family as a tangential, yet important, element.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is an essential book for this list. When I first read this book, I was totally transfixed by Atticus. I have since refused to read Go Set a Watchman. This book is good in more ways than one at capturing the meaning of family.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis is one of my favorite books of all time. I love the idea of a young orphan boy setting out to find his dad. And this book handles so many complex and serious topics well, especially for its target audience.
Another absent father “appears” (or fails to do so) in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I love Foer’s ability to capture how our main character sees his dad, even after death. He does a great job of writing the hero that we all believe in, because the son is able to convince us. Heartbreaking, but wonderful all the same.
I just finished Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney C. Stevens. I felt that it captured a unique father-daughter relationship that many small-town families will be able to relate to. The book certainly highlights dysfunctional families, but in a humorous and heartwarming way. I loved the ending message of fatherly love, in particular.
The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma just about broke my heart. It’s great story of a father who read to his daughter every night for years, told from her perspective. I loved so much of it. It’s a memoir that is basically a love letter to Dad, and I think Ozma does an excellent job of capturing what he means to her.
And finally, I have Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. It’s another recent read for me. It’s a graphic memoir detailing the relationship Bechdel had with her late father, and how their stories in discovering (or ignoring) their sexualities were similar. This book has the power to speak healing to those who feel disconnected from lost loved ones. And it is one of the only graphic novels that has ever made me cry.
Books Featuring Moms
I read less “mom” stories than I do “dad.” Not sure why! But here are a few favorites.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple is becoming a movie next year! I am so excited to see it; the cast looks amazing. This book is about a girl whose mom disappears one day, and her hunt to find her. I appreciate how this book captures the essence of a mother through the child’s eyes. And Bernadette is such a great, out-of-the-box, eccentric character herself.
I read The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller this year and enjoyed it a lot. It’s about a girl whose mom is very depressed, but she (the daughter) doesn’t really know what that means. I’m happy to see more young reader books addressing complicated real-life issues. This book does a great job of pointing out that the adults in our lives aren’t as put together as we may expect them to be–and that’s okay.
The Heartland series by Lauren Brooke is one of those devastating childhood books you stumble across on accident and then find yourself committed to. I’ll be totally honest: Mom dies in Chapter 1 of the first book. But this book is all about her daughters learning to run her horse ranch in a way that would make her proud. It’s an excellent series with a lot of heart.
Mosquitoland by David Arnold is one of my favorite books of the year. Mim is off looking for her mom, because she is so frustrated with her dad. This book also talks about relationships with a new stepmom, and other mothers here and there. It’s a fun, “ridiculous” road trip book that will leave you longing to know these characters in real life.
Walk Two Moons is a great book with a hard ending. It’s about a girl crossing the United States with her grandparents to find her mom. Sharon Creech creates some of my favorite families, ever, and this book is the perfect example of mothers and daughters and all the complexity in between.
My last recommendation is Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. This book also begins with mom dying early on, but the rest of the story still deals with Theo’s relationship with her. I have a lot of YA on most of my lists, so I’m happy that I am able to include a more “adult” fiction book in this section.
Books Featuring Siblings
Siblings are another favorite subject for me. I come from a big family, and I find books that focus on brother-sister relationships super relatable!
We The Animals by Justin Torres is a gut-wrenching and emotional novella. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this book, but the writing is gorgeous and the story is important. And, in terms of addressing a sibling relationship, it is excellent.
This Darkness Mine by Mindy McGinnis is almost a humorous inclusion, because it isn’t explicitly about family in the typical sense. It’s instead about a girl who believes her twin, who died in the womb, is taking over her body and turning her evil. It’s pretty crazy! But it’s a great play on the good twin/evil twin trope.
The Storyteller’s Daughter by Cameron Dokey is a retelling of Arabian Nights. While many great family relationships show up here, one of my favorites is the connection between the sisters. They work together to help stop the king from killing every bride he marries. And the younger of the two sisters is simply adorable.
I have Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle on the mind because I just read it last month. I mean, it does focus on sisters, so it certainly applies to family-style books, right? (We just won’t talk about the mass-murder of everyone else…)
The Thirteenth Tale is another all-time favorite of mine. And the sisters portrayed in it are excellent. Overall, it’s a great mystery with a lot of family at the heart of it.
Another favorite of mine for the year will probably be Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert. This is a beautiful story of stepsiblings learning about themselves and each other and working together as a family. I absolutely loved it, and would highly recommend it if you’re looking for good brother-sister vibes.
Fannie Flagg has to be here somewhere! The All-Girls Filling Station’s Last Reunion is another great look at sisters with some fun historical settings and topics. I like this one almost as well as Fried Green Tomatoes, even though they are entirely different books.
Liane Moriarty’s Three Wishes, is about triplets, so of course it belongs on the siblings list! This isn’t her best book, but it’s still fun and engaging, and it holds all the laughable (and cryable) dysfunction found in all of her creations.
Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender is not a book I expected to enjoy, but it ended up being a lot of fun (in a creepy way). And as a big sister, I was totally sucked into this book where the main plot is an older sister trying to save her younger sister from something disturbing… Excellent, engaging, and great sister rep, for sure!
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler is a different sort of book altogether. I don’t even know how to describe it… The long and short of it is, our main character suspects that his sister is a mermaid, and he has to try and save her from returning to the sea (i.e. drowning).
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is another book that needs to be included here, purely for the sister rep. But it’s also just an excellent piece of historical fiction. I highly recommend all World War II fiction fans check it out, if you haven’t yet!
And finally, how could I talk about siblings without mentioning I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson? This book in an incredible story about a brother and sister who have grown apart, and they are learning how to come together again. It made me weep. It is so beautiful. I consider it a must-read.
Books Featuring Extended Families
This is another favorite type of family book for me (but let’s be honest, I just love family stories, period!).
Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram is one of the books I am most thankful for this year. I absolutely loved this story about a boy, who doesn’t feel like he fits in in America, going home to meet his extended family in Iran. I am now obsessed with the saying, “Your place was empty.” And all around, this is a beautiful book about discovering who you are and what it means to be part of a family.
I have another Sharon Creech book to talk about! The Wanderer is a fun, adventurous story about a girl crossing the ocean with her crazy uncles to meet her grandmother. The relationships that strengthen in this sweet book are amazing, and we get an excellent picture of the connected-ness of extended families.
Cyclone by Doreen Cronin was one of my favorite books last year. This is a story about a girl whose cousin has a stroke. It explores some very deep topics, and I love how the friendship between the cousins is portrayed.
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani is a lot like Darius in many ways. It’s also about a girl going home–this time to India–to meet her extended family. Here, we get the added whimsy of learning about some of the cultural traditions and myths from her home. It’s a simple, easy read with a lot of family at the heart.
Backman has to come in somewhere, and since I’ve decided not to talk about spouses, I’m adding My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry here. This story is about a girl whose grandmother dies, and she is trying to find closure through connecting with all the people Grandma left behind. It’s a heartbreaking book that starts out slow, but builds to great things and familial love. It’s an excellent option for trying out Fredrik Backman.
As with the other sections on this list, I have one sort of random, dark one here: We Were Liars. This book is all about the extended family who owns an island. It is reminiscent of King Lear and the like. And it has a twist that really polarizes its readers: either everyone sees it coming, or you’re totally blindsided. I was a blindsided one. It’s a great book with a complex family network.
And, finally, to mention four books in one, I have The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. This series has several networks of extended families working together to solve mysteries. I love it so much; it’s one of the few magical realism/fantasy book series that I hold dear. And it’s a great one to read if you want family at the focus.
Books Featuring Found Families
While it’s great to read about real-life families, made by blood and kept together by biology, there are also some awesome non-biology-related families out there. Here are a few of my favorites!
Both The War that Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley are my favorite middle-grade duology. Set around World War II, this series tells the story of a young girl unwanted by her own mother who finds a home with the woman she is sent to during the London Blitz. It’s an excellent exploration of belonging, and the fact that sometimes “real” family has nothing to do with biology.
Fannie Flagg’s masterpiece, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe has a whole, complex network of found families throughout it. I love the ways in which so many characters step in to take care of each other. And it has one of my favorite love stories of all time. A great work of fiction.
Mindy McGinnis creates a beautiful picture of found sisterhood/motherhood in Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust. This duology will gut you. It’s about a world where water has run out, and one girl who is determined to protect her pond. The family she puts together in this world is definitely found, but absolutely lovely.
And finally, I want to include Counting by 7s. This is, perhaps, a more literal found family than the other books, because it is about an orphan girl who is taken in by another family, and the ways they change each others’ lives. It’s a great story with a lot of unique and fun characters, and it will give you all the wonderful family vibes.
And there you have it! I know I could go on and on with more, but this post is far too long as it is… So I will sign off for now.
And I hope, whatever your situation this holiday season, you can fill your days with people–fictional and real–who mean the world to you.