13 Heartfelt Books About The Complicated Bonds of Family
Being part of a family isn't always easy. It would be nice if all parents were supportive and all children were easy to handle, but reality often deals us a less ideal hand. The well-written works listed here delve into complicated family relationships and show readers how the characters deal with everything from abandonment to grief to forgiveness. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.
Books About Family: Our 13 Picks
Fun Family Activities
- Board game night
- Watching a movie
- Going on vacation
- Having a picnic
- Singing karaoke together
- Playing multi-player video games
- Taking a road trip
- Cooking dinner as a family
8 Great Films About Family
- A Quiet Place (2018)
- The Godfather (1972)
- Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
- Juno (2007)
- Little Women (1994)
- Boyhood (2014)
- Sisters (2015)
- Big Fish (2003)
The Philosophy of Family Obligations
Conflict with family members can last a lifetime, which is why these relationships are the source of such powerful literature. Some of these novels feature characters having tense reunions, while others involve saying good-bye to loved ones. Many of them span multiple generations, and include revelations about long-held secrets. In no particular order, here are thirteen heartfelt books about the complicated bonds of family.
First up, at #1, is "Serendipity" by Louise Shaffer. Carrie is having a tough time pulling her life together after the death of her mother. Seeking clarity, she traces her Italian lineage back through three generations of women. Her great grandmother, Mifalda, came to America to be married at sixteen, and her grandmother, Lu, starred on Broadway. Discovering the stories of the women who preceded her helps Carrie to understand her own mother and develop a new appreciation for her family.
#2 is "The Unseen World" by Liz Moore. In the '80s, Ada is being raised by her single father, David, a computer scientist with limited social skills. She grows up in his lab as a homeschooled kid who ends up much like her dad: shy and intelligent. But as David's work gains success, his mind begins to fail. One of his coworkers is left to raise Ada, who is yearning to know more about her dad's life. But doing so will unearth secrets she may not be prepared to learn.
But doing so will unearth secrets she may not be prepared to learn.
Next, at #3, is "Kind of Kin" by Rilla Askew. Sweet's father has just been convicted of a felony for allowing undocumented Mexican immigrants to stay in his barn. As the caretaker of her husband's great grandfather and mother to a rebellious son, she doesn't need more thrown on her plate, but now she must raise her nephew as well. This novel follows several characters as they navigate a new anti-immigrant law in their state and struggle to do the right thing.
#4 is "Fourth of July Creek" by Smith Henderson. Social worker Pete finds Benjamin, an eleven-year-old boy, living outdoors in Montana like a hungry, wild animal, and tries to offer his help. Then he meets Benjamin's father Jeremiah, a deeply paranoid man who is waiting for the End Times. He tries to gain Jeremiah's trust, but soon he's thrown into more than he bargained for as Jeremiah attracts the suspicion of the F.B.I.
At #5 is "Sisters One, Two, Three" by Nancy Star. The Tangles are good at keeping secrets. After a tragedy, the three sisters cope in their own ways. Ginger becomes risk-averse, Mimi buries herself in work, and Callie vanishes. But when their mother dies, and Callie returns, Ginger decides to go back to Martha's Vineyard, where catastrophe struck all those years before, and figure out exactly what occurred that day. Secrets begin to unravel, making way for forgiveness, and eventually, peace.
Secrets begin to unravel, making way for forgiveness, and eventually, peace.
#6 is "Up From the Blue" by Susan Henderson. Tillie has just moved into her new home, she's pregnant, and her husband is away on business. When she goes into early labor, the only person she can call is her father, who she hasn't seen in ages. Seeing him again brings childhood memories to the surface, including the year her mother left without a trace. Unable to continue running from her past, Tillie must face the reality of the troubled home life she grew up with.
#7 is "All Things Consoled" by Elizabeth Hay. This memoir explores the complexity of a daughter's relationship with her parents and how things change as the child becomes the caregiver. Hay tells stories from her past, when her father's temper was out of control, and her mother struggled to keep a peaceful home for her four children. She also writes of the present, when her parents' declining health causes her to move them to a retirement home close by, where she can visit and care for them.
At #8 is "A Place for Us" by Fatima Farheen Mirza, which takes an in-depth look at an Indian-American Muslim family. Amar hasn't seen his family in three years. When he attends his older sister Hadia's wedding, his parents grapple with the reasons he left in the first place, and they all must struggle to define what it means to be both American and Muslim.
Amar hasn't seen his family in three years.
#9 is "The Senator's Children" by Nicholas Montemarano. Years ago, a scandal ruined David Christie's chances of becoming president. When details of his affair with Avery's mother became public, Avery, who didn't even know David, was thrust into the spotlight. Meanwhile, Betsy, his other daughter, mourned the remains of her once-happy family. When the two sisters reunite, they must finally come to terms with their own relationship and the past that ties them together.
#10 is "Whiskey and Charlie" by Annabel Smith. Twin brothers Whiskey and Charlie are inseparable as children, but as they grow up, Whiskey becomes the outgoing, successful one, while Charlie feels left out and overshadowed by his brother. As adults, they don't communicate often. Then an accident leaves Whiskey comatose with little chance of ever waking up, which forces Charlie to rethink their relationship and examine his own memories of their life together.
#11 is "Shelter" by Frances Greenslade. Maggie and Jenny's rustic '70s childhood is idyllic until their father dies when Maggie is ten. Racked with grief, their mother leaves them with a couple they've never met and says she'll be back. When she doesn't show, the girls grapple with their abandonment while still clinging to hope that maybe one day she'll return. Eventually, Maggie decides to go back to their hometown to find her mom and discover why she left.
Maggie and Jenny's rustic '70s childhood is idyllic until their father dies when Maggie is ten.
Next up, at #12, is "Consequences" by Penelope Lively, which follows three generations of women in 20th century England. Lorna and Matt are in love and ready to build a family when their peaceful life is ruined by World War II. In the 1960s, their daughter, Molly, becomes pregnant with the baby of a rich man that she doesn't want to marry. Thirty years later, in the '90s, Ruth is unhappy in her marriage and sets out to find herself by exploring her family's past. Their stories offer a fascinating take on how people are impacted by history.
Lastly, at #13 is "Finding Charlie" by Katie O'Rourke. When Olivia's little sister, Charlie, doesn't return home one night, Olivia knows she has to find her and bring her back. As she digs into the evidence, which includes the car and phone Charlie left behind, Olivia uncovers secrets that are unlike the Charlie she knew. At nineteen, Charlie is technically old enough to leave on her own. But the girls' mother already left them in a similar fashion when they were kids, and Olivia isn't about to let Charlie do the same.