9 Must-Read Books About Family Dysfunction and Drama

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If you like books about families, you’ll love these books about dysfunctional families and family drama. Dive into these fiction books about family relationships filled with great characters and complex stories.

Books about family dysfunction, drama, and relationships almost always go on my list of books to read, especially if they are multi-generational family sagas told over the years.

Novels about families are common, but the ones that handle intricate relationships with sensitivity and insight are the ones that keep readers coming back, mining for the nuance.

Many of these books delve into the complicated dynamics between siblings, as well as the way relationships between children and parents change as the children grow.

Reading Books About Dysfunctional Families and Family Drama

Whether you see yourself and your own family in these books or you just enjoy reading about families more dysfunctional than yours, all provide food for thought on the nature of love, devotion, and what it means to be a family.

And if there’s any single takeaway from all of these family drama books, it’s that families are as varied as the people who compose them, and there is no one way for a family to be.

Below are some of the best books about families I’ve read that delve into the complicated relationships between family members.

Whether you like sibling dynamics, complicated parents (and their relationships with their children), or unusual families, readers who enjoy books about dysfunctional families and family drama will find something here.

If you have a favorite that’s not on this list, please share in the comments!

9 Books About Family Relationships to Add to Your Reading List

Three Junes by Julia Glass, a book about family worth reading

Three Junes

Author: Julia Glass

This 2002 National Book Award-winning novel brings us into the lives of Paul, Fenno, and Fern over the course of three different summers. Their lives are woven together in different ways, but the story isn’t necessarily about their relationships with one another, but about each of their struggles to come to terms with the deaths of loved ones.

A slow-mover, for me, but a nonetheless fascinating look at families, love, and how death and the things learned in the aftermath can define the lives of those left behind.


Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, a multi-generational book about family drama

Commonwealth

Author: Ann Patchett

In Commonwealth, Ann Patchett brilliantly weaves together flawed families who fail one another over the decades but keep trying and trusting in spite of the failures. Where you would expect villains, she instead presents complicated characters struggling with their own hopes, inadequacies, and feelings about the past and how to move forward.

Where you would expect broken, bitter relationships, she shows the enduring power of loyalty, love, and forgiveness. This is not an action-packed novel, but one where the subtle emotional tensions will resonate. Highly recommended, along with all of her other books.


We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, a novel about family relationships

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Author: Karen Joy Fowler

Rosemary is 22 and hasn’t seen her brother or sister in years. Her sister was removed from the home before Rosemary was 6, and now she’s determined to learn more about the reasons. It’s been long enough since this book came out that you may already know the “secret” of this family, but if you don’t, I’ve removed it from the longer summary and won’t reveal it here. Go in blind and don’t read more reviews, if you don’t know.

If you have already read more, rest assured: what seems like it could be a gimmick is actually a smartly rendered novel about family, memory, and science. I loved this novel and would like to read it again.

Related: 13 Eco-Fiction Books about the Environment and Nature


The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin, a novel about family drama and relationships

The Last Romantics

Author: Tara Conklin

Much of The Last Romantics hinges on the moments that define four siblings in childhood. Together, Renee, Caroline, Joe, and Fiona have the Pause. Following their father’s early death, their mother’s years-long retreat defined their relationships, cementing a lifelong closeness, sense of responsibility, and knowing of one another.

But it’s the unknown traumas and struggles that sends each on their own paths into adulthood, paths that the others don’t understand–though they feel their connections should make understanding a given.

Told over decades, The Last Romantics is a beautifully rendered portrait of complicated familial relationships, examining the nature of love, commitment, and the strength of those bonds even as what we know changes. Read my full review.


The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson, a book about a dysfunctional family and family issues

The Almost Sisters

Author: Joshilyn Jackson

Leia Birch Briggs is a successful comic book artist who is working on the origin story of her most famous characters when her life turns upside down: she is pregnant. And the father is a man who was dressed as Batman at a comic book convention. In the midst of this, her stepsister Rachel’s marriage is falling apart and her beloved grandmother, Birchie, is revealed to have dementia.

Leia quickly travels to Birchie’s small Alabama town, with Rachel’s teenage daughter in two, to assess the situation and move Birchie out. She finds Birchie and her lifelong friend Wattie harboring more than just the secret of Birchie’s illness, forcing Leia to reconsider what she knows about family, race, loyalty, and commitment.

Joshilyn Jackson has a way of weaving together serious issues with situations that always feel a little preposterous and funny, without losing the overall gravity of them. Her turns of phrase add levity to the most grim scenes, and her audiobook narration is excellent.


All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, a fiction book about family and sisters

All My Puny Sorrows

Author: Miriam Toews

Elf and Yoli are two sisters who grew up in a Mennonite community in Winnipeg. Their family went against the grain, and as an adult, Elf is an acclaimed and glamorous pianist. Yoli is less successful–going through her second divorce and struggling to raise two teenagers–but it’s Elf’s struggles that dominate. Crippled by depression, she is determined to end her life.

Yoli grapples with what it means to approach her sister with love and compassion, without being complicit in her plans. This book is by turns witty, sharply observant, and heartbreaking.


The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell, recommended if you like books about dysfunctional families

The House We Grew Up In

Author: Lisa Jewell

The House We Grew Up In is a twisty family tale from one of my new favorite thriller authors, Lisa Jewell–except it’s not really a thriller, and I hadn’t even realized that Jewell was the author until I revisited this book. Her mastery of family and relationship intricacies is on point here, and as in her thrillers, there are secrets to untangle.

But this book is more about family–a seemingly perfect English family that is torn apart by tragedy one Easter weekend. Years later, the scattered children return and are forced to face their mother’s mental illness and the truth of what happened that long-ago holiday.


The Vanishing Half, a book about family drama and siblings

The Vanishing Half

Author: Brit Bennett

The story of two Black twin sisters, raised in a small town where light skin is valued and sought after when building families. The sisters run to New Orleans as teens and then take very different life paths, only to be reunited decades later and forced to reckon with their choices.

One of the best books of 2020, with intricately drawn, multi-generational characters exploring race, identity, and family.


The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters, an uplifting book about family

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters

Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal

When their Punjabi mother dies, British-born sisters Rajni, Jezmeen, and Shirina agree to carry out her last wish: a pilgrimage, carefully planned by their mother, to India. They are to visit places that were meaningful to her and to deliver her ashes to their final resting place.

The three sisters grapple with their grief, their strained relationships, and the stresses of their regular lives, while attempting to carry out their mother’s wishes and perhaps come together in a way they never have.

This was a fast, smart read, filled with vivid characters and places, as well as interesting reflections on India from a female generation raised outside of it.


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What are your favorite books about dysfunctional families and family dramas?


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12 Comments

  1. Oh man – this is my kind of list! I have The Last Romantics on my TBR, though I don’t have a galley. And, 2 author people have recently told me to try Lisa Jewell, so I’ll start with House We Grew Up In!

    1. I think you’ll like Lisa Jewell! I feel like her latest two (Then She Was Gone and Watching You) might have been a little stronger than The House We Grew Up In, but it’s been a few years since I read that one. It’s definitely less thriller and more family dysfunction story, though, so it depends on what you feel like reading. I’ll be interested to see what you think when you get to one of her books!

  2. Great topic, Allison! I love a good dysfunctional family story, too and have read some of these. I’m eager to get my hands on The Last Romantics soon and am so happy to hear that you liked it. Sadly, We Are All… was a DNF for me. The story seemed to be just taking too long to get going. Two I could add to the list are The Family Crusade by Ann Packer and Before the Wind by Jim Lynch. Both featured really interesting dysfunctional families and the writing was excellent!

    1. Thank you! I’ve definitely found that people have strong feelings either way about We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. There doesn’t seem to be much in between! I haven’t read either of those books, but I’ll have to check them out–I’ve particularly heard a lot about Ann Packer and would like to give her a try.

  3. Dysfunctional families or family drama is one of my favorite genres in fiction! This is a great list. I’d add This is How it Always Is and The Rules of Magic for two I loved recently. On the completely twisted side I’d say Dead Letters, which I absolutely loved.

    1. This Is How It Always Is is a great addition–and one of my favorites! I really should give Rules of Magic a try. So many people loved it, but it just didn’t hold much appeal for me (the “magic” element, I think).

      I’ll have to look into Dead Letters–sometimes twisted is good!

  4. Love this list! Family dysfunction at its finest! Commonwealth was a great book, as are most by Patchett. I haven’t read the others and now have more books for my TBR. Thanks for the great post!

    1. Thank you! I love Ann Patchett. Glad you found some others that look good as well!

  5. I’ve recently started reading THE LAST ROMANTICS, and I really like it so far! However, I tried reading COMMONWEALTH awhile back (after the author appeared on an episode of Trisha’s Southern Kitchen on Food Network!), and I was completely bored by it. I only got a few chapters in; the story just didn’t suck me in, which I was quite disappointed about. I read THE PATRON SAINT OF LIARS by her years ago and loved it, and I was hoping for the same magic.

    1. Oh, too bad Commonwealth didn’t work for you! I liked Patron Saint of Liars as well. My favorite of Patchett’s is Bel Canto (and I loved her memoir Truth & Beauty as well). Glad you’re liking The Last Romantics!

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