May Reading Challenge – Family Relationship Books
Creating a Family of Books
One thread that connects us is family and the relationships within them: we all have them. They look different and feel different, but they’re family nonetheless. Like them, love them, despise them, or even mildly tolerate them, our families greatly impact who we are and our life stories. That’s why books with family drama are so compelling. It’s easy for readers to see themselves in the conflicts and characters. There’s empathy, emotion, and certainly a hefty dose of drama in family-centered books.
Regardless of your family situation, there’s a book or two on this list for you. There are no uncomplicated families, only messy families that are under tremendous pressure from inside and outside the walls of their homes. These families either pretend they’ve got everything under control or have let go of all pretense; either way, no one knows what they’re doing. In other words, these are stories of families like mine and, maybe, yours.
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Quick List of Best Family Relationship Literature Books
- The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
- Forty Autumns by Nina Willner
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
- This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
- Emma In The Night by Wendy Walker
- The Inheritance by JoAnn Ross
- The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
- East of Eden by John SteinBeck
- Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley
The Glass Castle
Jeannette Walls, 2009
If we were ranking tales about dysfunctional family relationships, this book must be in the top tier. Reading this book about the Walls family is like watching a train speed pell-mell along a track and waiting for the whole thing to crash and burn.
It’s part of this book’s appeal. The suspense of the family’s story is truly nail-biting. The mom is a free spirit, the dad is a mess in many ways, and the kids are surviving. And they love each other. You must read it to know how singular this almost unbelievable story is.
Nina Willner, 2016
The author worked as an intelligence officer for the United States in the years leading up to and following the fall of the Berlin Wall. While those experiences are interesting in and of themselves, what makes this book stand out is that Ms. Willner’s mother escaped from East Germany as a young adult, leaving behind her parents and siblings. While Forty Autumns does tell the story of the creation and reality of living behind the Iron Curtain, it’s primarily the story of how one family survived the separation.
Everything I Never Told You
Celeste Ng, 2014
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet…” With such a beginning, you might expect this to be a suspense novel. While there’s an element of that gently woven throughout the book, this is primarily a story about a family.
In this family, mom and dad struggle to figure out who they are and to really know their children. The kids feel like one sibling is favored. To make it more complicated the dad’s chineseness and the mom’s whiteness cause everyone to feel a bit uncertain. In this story, things go in a different direction than you might expect, which is a pretty solid metaphor for life in any family, proving again that family relationships are complex and unique.
This is How it Always Is
Laurie Frankel, 2017
The best books make us feel, and, by that definition, this book certainly counts as one of the best. A sensitive topic is discussed in this book: gender dysphoria in a young child. Ms. Frankel tackles this topic by telling the story of a family. This is a story of two people who fell in love, of parents who, though they try hard, don’t always get it right, and of kids who create normal family chaos. The family relationships are so relatable.
There’s much to learn about gender dysphoria and this book is a valuable contribution to the conversation. It reminds us that parents love their kids and everyone deserves to be treated kindly. If you are interested in expanding your perspective on this issue, you should read this book. It may not change your position, but it may change your heart. This is How It Always Is doesn’t focus on political controversies; it’s a book about a family.
Emma in the Night
Wendy Walker, 2017
If you’re a fan of psychological thrillers like, Gone Girl, then this novel is for you. One night, two sisters, Cass and Emma, disappear. Three years later, Cass comes home but without Emma. As FBI forensic psychologist Abby Winter endeavors to find out what happened, you’re introduced to an unforgettable family. At the center of everything is a narcissistic mother whose personality disorder wreaks havoc on every relationship.
Be warned; you won’t want to put this book down.
JoAnn Ross, 2021
Three estranged sisters. A dramatic WWII love story. An enigmatic family matriarch with stories and secrets. A magical setting at a vineyard in Oregon. What else could you want in a novel?
The Last Thing He Told Me
Laura Dave, 2021
Right before Owen disappears, he manages to get a note to his wife of one year, Hannah, that says, “Protect her.”
Hannah knows the note refers to Bailey, her indifferent stepdaughter. The story of this family and their secrets will have you on the edge of your seat. If you like the book, you’ll also want to check out the limited series of the same name recently released on AppleTV+ starring Jennifer Garner as Hannah.
Min Jin Lee, 2017
The accolades for this remarkable book abound. It was a finalist for the National Book Award, among the top ten New York Times book reviews, and in the USA Today top ten books of 2017, to name a few.
A brief summary of Pachinko might say it’s a multi-generational saga of a Korean family surviving and thriving in Japan. But the characters in this novel are complex and nuanced, and the conflicts are powerful and immersive. The brilliant writing and the unforgettable family drama will completely sweep you away.
East of Eden
John Steinbeck, 1952
Our family drama suggestions wouldn’t be complete without a few classics, and this novel from John Steinbeck is an obvious choice. If you haven’t read it, it’s time to correct that lapse; if you have, it’s time to read it again.
It’s the story of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, and a retelling of sorts of the first Biblical family—Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel. Steinbeck is one of the finest writers ever, and this novel is well worth your time and attention.
Roots: The Saga of an American Family
Alex Haley, 1976
Author Alex Haley based this landmark novel on his family history. The saga starts with selling Kunta Kinte into slavery and follows the family through ensuing historical events. It’s a must-read, even almost 50 years after its first publication.
Roots: The Saga of an American Family has the power to aggravate, educate, and captivate. The subject of race remains charged, making this book essential for anyone wishing to be well-read and educated on our nation’s past and present.
Need a Break from Your Family?
Is there a better way to take a break from your family than to read a great book about someone else’s? Discover Books has all these family dramas at low prices, so you can load up your cart and enjoy each one. You’ll find a story here you can relate to. Every family is messy in their own way; we’re all just trying to figure it out.
Are you ready to take the reading challenge? Sign up today so you always know what to read next. For April’s Reading Challenge click here.