Families are complicated. They can be loving, compassionate, estranged, vicious, mysterious, and all things in between. Novels with unique family dynamics often offer a different perspective that stays with you for some time. Whether you’re looking for something transformative or secretive, with humor or betrayal, these are 14 fiction novels about families that will have you thinking about them long after you’ve turned the last page.
He Gets That From Me by Jacqueline Friedland
Maggie Fisher’s job at a checkout counter in Phoenix doesn’t give her much financial flexibility, especially as a young mother with a toddler and a live-in boyfriend. When Maggie discovers that people pay thousands of dollars to women who gestate other peoples’ babies, she laughs at the idea, but eventually, she is enticed by the world of possibilities that the extra money would open to her. A few months later Chip and Donovan Rigsdale, a married New York couple, choose her as a gestational carrier, and Maggie delivers twin babies for them. She goes back to school to earn her degree, gets an amazing job, and is able to build the family she always dreamt of. Ten years after the delivery of the twins, a confused Maggie receives a call from the fertility clinic asking for a follow-up DNA test. In this dynamic novel, Jacqueline Friedland takes readers on a journey about what being part of a family truly means.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Rosie and Penn are parents to five young boys. When the youngest, Claude, decides he wants to be a girl, Rosie and Penn are supportive, but afraid of what the outside world will think. They make the decision to keep Claude’s secret from anyone outside the family, until one day, the secret explodes. This novel explores parenting, transformations, revelations, and learning how to navigate the unknown.
We Are The Brennans by Tracey Lange
Twenty-nine-year-old Sunday Brennan has been living in Los Angeles for five years, but after causing a drunk driving accident that puts her in the hospital, she goes back home and attempts to rebuild her life. She’s forced to confront the family and ex-fiancé she left behind with little explanation and begins to realize that they need her as much as she needs them. When the family’s pub business is threatened by a man from Sunday’s past, the Brennans must acknowledge the secrets that have gone unspoken, even if they threaten to destroy everything they know about their lives. Together, the Brennans must face their painful past and find a way to move forward.
All Adults Here by Emma Straub
When Strick family matriarch, Astrid, witnesses a fatal school bus accident in her town, she reflects on her parenting and realizes she’s made a few mistakes. Astrid’s youngest son is lost and struggling with his own parenting ways. Her daughter is pregnant but still grappling with the idea of growing up and leaving adolescence behind. Her eldest assesses his life based on unattainable levels. Only Astrid’s thirteen-year-old granddaughter and her new friend seem to really understand the courage it takes to tell the people you love the truth. In this powerful, multigenerational story, Emma Straub uses witty humor and wisdom to explore the different struggles each family member faces.
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
In 1995, when Joan is ten years old, she flees to Memphis with her mother and sister, to escape her violent father. They return to her mother’s ancestral home which holds the past of her family. The home was built by Joan’s grandfather in a historic Black neighborhood, but he was lynched just days after he became the first Black detective in the city. Struggling with her new life and the family secrets coming to life, Joan finds refuge in her art, using it to connect with the Memphis community. She spends time with Miss Dawn, a neighbor, who helps Joan understand the matrilineal traditions of her family. A moving, multigenerational story spanning over seventy years, Memphis follows the women in this family through the complexities of family and country.
L.A. Weather by María Amparo Escandón
L.A. is in a drought and Oscar Alvarado is desperate for a little rain. He’s hiding a costly secret from his family that doesn’t allow him to focus on anything else. His obsession with the Weather Channel and the lack of intimacy in his marriage forces Keila, his wife, to end their marriage. The announcement shakes up the beliefs of their three adult daughters, who are forced to take a closer look at their own relationships and make some hard choices. Filled with wit and humor, L.A. Weather ties together secrets, betrayal, deception, and the difficult decisions a family must make in times of turmoil.
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
The Plumb family has been dysfunctional for years, but everyone has a breaking point. Leo Plumb, the eldest brother, is known for being charismatic and reckless. Fresh out of rehab after a drunk driving accident, Leo is confronted by his siblings, Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb. The Plumbs are just months away from receiving their joint trust fund, “The Nest”, but the trust has been jeopardized after Leo’s accident. Their deceased father planned for The Nest to be a humble mid-life assistance for his children, but the stock market has made the value soar, and each sibling is counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems. The Plumbs are forced to deal with past resentments, hidden truths, and the aftermath of Leo’s accident if they want to save The Nest. This story explores the dynamics of a family and how money has affected their relationships with each other, as well as the unbreakable bonds between loved ones.
Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
When Luz “Little Light” Lopez’s brother, Diego, is forced to leave Denver by a violent white mob, Luz is left on her own. While navigating life alone in the 1930s, Luz starts having visions that take her to the nearby Lost Territory, her Indigenous homeland. Luz discovers where her ancestors came from, her family’s prosperity, and the threats made against them. She is forced to see the evil that destroyed her people and their homelands for generations. This multigenerational story depicts the betrayal, survival, and love that exists within the complex Lopez family, as well as Luz’s destiny to ensure her family’s stories stay alive and do not disappear.
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
When Eleanor Bennett passes away, she leaves a confusing and mysterious inheritance for the two children she leaves behind, Bryon and Benny. Along with a voice recording, Eleanor leaves a black cake that’s made from a family recipe which contains a long history. In the voice recording, Eleanor details a heartbreaking story about a young swimmer who flees her home island after being accused of murder. Eleanor reveals long-hidden secrets, including ones about a long-lost child. Byron and Benny’s beliefs of their family, their lineage, and themselves are challenged by their mother’s revelations. Will the estranged siblings be able to piece their once-close relationship back together, discover the truth about their mother’s history, and carry out her last request for them to “share the black cake when the time is right”? This evocative novel depicts a journey of a family forever changed by the actions and decisions of its matriarch.
Don’t Cry for Me by Daniel Black
On his deathbed, Jacob writes letters to his estranged gay son, Isaac, in an attempt to reconcile. In his letters, he shares important stories about their ancestors, the hidden secrets of his turbulent relationship with Isaac’s mother, and the regret he feels for their family breaking apart. Jacob explains what shaped him into the father he was and his response to Isaac’s sexuality. Through these letters, Jacob empties his heart and shares unspoken truths that he has held in for too long. With a heartfelt intensity, Daniel Black casts lights on the lives and perspectives of Black fathers and queer sons through a powerful story of judgment and reconciliation.
The Guncle by Steven Rowley
A once-famous sitcom star, Patrick retreated to Palm Springs where he mourns his great love and his acting career. Known as Gay Uncle Patrick, or GUP for short, to his niece and nephew, Patrick loves spending time with them for a week here and there but feels out of his element when it comes to caretaking or connecting with children. When tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother while their father has a health crisis, Patrick is thrown into the role of primary guardian for them. With tenderness and humor, this story explores love, grief, and the power of family even in the most challenging times.
All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad
When Maggie’s mother, Iris, suddenly passes away, Maggie discovers five envelopes addressed to men whose names she doesn’t recognize. Although Maggie was never close with her mother, especially once Maggie came out, she never anticipated running out of time to reconcile. Attempting to escape grief, both her own and her family’s, Maggie decides to go on a road trip and personally deliver each letter. Along the way, Maggie hears stories about her mother, and learns secrets that change Maggie’s perception of Iris and the things she thought she knew about her. Taking place over nine days, this story reflects on family, grief, sex, and identity with a heartfelt and gripping voice.
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
Hannah Hall is happy in her marriage with Owen Michaels, despite her strained relationship with her sixteen-year-old step-daughter, Bailey. But when Owen disappears, leaving her a note that simply reads Protect Her, Hannah’s world is flipped upside down. Unable to get in touch with Owen, and with unannounced US marshals and federal agents showing up at her home, Hannah realizes Owen isn’t who he said he was. With Bailey’s safety as her priority, Hannah takes them on a trip to uncover the truth, and as they start connecting the dots, they also start to build a future neither expected. With a quick pace and plot twists woven throughout, this mystery explores the hidden story of a family and how far one might go to protect those they love.
All the Things We Don’t Talk About by Amy Feltman
Morgan Flowers has been raised by their neurodivergent father after their mother Zoe fled to Europe on Morgan’s first birthday. While Morgan never knew Zoe, they feel plagued by her absence as they explore their gender identity and the rollercoaster of first love. When Zoe’s girlfriend, Brigid, dumps her, Zoe suddenly reappears in Morgan and Julian’s lives, risking the peace they have painstakingly created. While Julian and Brigid have become pen-pals, Morgan is captivated by Zoe, leading to a series of harmful missteps, and Brigid might be the only one that can put a stop to the trouble. Filled with betrayal, trauma, queer love, and resilience, this story both celebrates and reckons with the power and pain of a modern family.
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Her life at a crossroads, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job and heads to her parents’ home, only to find the situation there is more complicated than she’d realized. Her father is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as her father’s condition worsens, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her grief.
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