Monthly Recommendations is a Goodreads group hosted by Trina from Between Chapters and Kayla from Kayla Rayne. We were so excited about November’s theme – it’s probably our favourite we’ve done so far – because it’s all about family! Due to our running late, we decided to post these recommendations during the festivities, because this time of the year is, just like this post, all about family. We absolutely adore when books feature family dynamics and relationships, especially when they are realistic and well written, and we often find that this aspect really elevates our enjoyment of a book. Nina and I have lots of books to recommend this time around, so we decided to make little categories to give a better overview. Hopefully, you’ll discover some new amazing books! As always, clicking on the title will lead you to our reviews (if there is one).
Favourite supportive family
Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: If you’re looking for a YA book that shows both a positive as well as realistic portrayal of family, look no further than Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Simon’s family is far from perfect, they sometimes say the wrong things at the wrong time and aren’t always helpful, but they try their best to support him and are always there when he needs them. I loved the banter between Simon and his parents and sister and the family aspect made this book so heartfelt. Their conversations felt incredibly real to me and it really added another layer to the story, on top of the cute romance and awesome friendships. In a world where YA is saturated by either absent or negative parental figures, this book is a breath of fresh air.
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella: This book definitely has its flaws but the fact remains that I really enjoyed it and the family dynamics were probably my favourite part. The entire story is quite light-hearted for a book that deals with mental illness and the familial relationships were a big part of that. From the overly hassling mother to the semi-absent father to Audrey’s video-game obsessed brother (who was my favourite character in the book!), Finding Audrey is hilarious, albeit a bit stereotypical at times. Ultimately, despite all their little quirks and issues, Audrey’s family is supportive and wants to help her overcome her struggles.
Harry Potter by JK Rowling: A mother’s love is a key aspect throughout the Harry Potter series and is openly acknowledged as contributing a significant part to the plot. A lot more subtle, however, is the aspect of familial support. Harry faces tremedous struggles, obstacles, and opponents in this series, but is backed up a lot by his family – in this case, a family does not mean kindred relatives but the characters Harry’s fate is most tied, too. His family consists of his closest friends, his best friend’s family, his godfather, his deceased parents’ friends, his mentor and so on. Most of all, I would like to point out the amazing support given to him by, not only his friends, but specifically Molly Weasley. Ron’s feelings of envy do not result from nothing, for Molly Weasley immediately epitomises the role of a supporter, a protector, a mother. When criticized that she’s not his mother in the fifth book, she replies that she’s as good as, which is absolutely heartwarming.
Best-written sibling relationships
One by Sarah Crossan: Featuring conjoined twins, this contemporary shines its spotlight on a unique and very close sibling bond, as the cover already suggests. What does it feel like to share your body with your twin sister? How do experience privacy when constantly attached to one’s sibling? One is an incredibly touching story, told in verse, which moved us both with its strong focus on friendship, family, and sisterhood.
I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson: Since it is common knowledge that twins share somewhat of a special bond, it comes as no surprise how many contemporary authors pick twins as their main characters. Whereas novels like One depict a special but positively valued sibling relationship, I’ll Give You The Sun shows us the pain that can be caused by those closest to us. This is a book that will take a sledgehammer and smash your heart to pulp. In combination with Nelson’s flowery writing, the heartbreak of this novel is simply bittersweet. Narrated by Jude and Noah, the chain of events that ripped these twins apart are slowly uncovered, highlighting the importance of communication between siblings (and in a family in general).
And I Darken by Kiersten White: The siblings in this historical reimagining of Vlad the Impaler could not be more different if they tried. “If Lada was the spiky green weed that sprouted in the midst of a drought-cracked riverbed, Radu was the delicate, sweet rose that wilted in anything less that the perfect conditions.” The sibling relationship dynamics between Lada and Radu Dracul are extraordinary, constantly wavering between affection, resentment, and rivalry. Flawed but incredibly relatable characters, these two embark on personal journies that will slowly have them drift apart. Similar to I’ll Give You The Sun, the magnificent And I Darken is a take on the realistic ambivalence experienced by a brother and sister.
A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston: “My sister burns, and she does not burn for you.” Can you feel the power in those words? Not only is A Thousand Nights empowering to women and the craft of storytelling, it is a testimony to sisterhood. It is the purest of sibling bonds, a love stronger than fear, than death even. What I love even more about these two nameless women is that they’re half-sisters, which proves another important point: You do not need to share the same mothers to share a tight bond, for blood does not necessarily equal true family.
A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab : Though they bicker a lot, Kell and Rhy share an incredibly strong bond. Raised as brothers in spirit, but not related by blood, the sassy prince and the broody magician look out for each other in a way only siblings can. Kell is responsible for watching Rhy’s back, because when Rhy smells trouble, he pursues it relentlessly, whereas Rhy gives Kell the moral support he needs dealing with being ‘other’ (and possibly with heartbreak but you never heard us say anything on the matter). These two troublemakers definitely share an amazing brotherly relationship and we’ve watched it grow stronger with each book, curious to see their dynamics develop further in the highly anticipated A Conjuring of Light.
Blood Red Road by Moira Young: Saba and Emmi share a difficult bond, based on the tragic event of their mother’s death due to Emmi’s birth. I’m sure this was an incredibly wide-spread topic back in the days when childbirth entailed enormous risks, which is why I thought it was clever of Young to introduce such a burdened sibling bond. In spite of her love and her feelings of responsibility towards her younger sister, Saba unloads a tremendous amount of blame on Emmi for the loss of their mother. Similar to And I Darken, Blood Red highlights the existence of ambivalent feelings toward a sibling.
Family, mental health & grief
Still Alice by Lisa Genova: Still Alice follows the storyline of cognitive psychology professor Alice Howland who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Genova tackles this sensitive subject with incredible care, perfectly balancing the novel between science and fiction. Most of all, Still Alice beautifully shows how the burden of a disease can be carried by a family. Even in tragedy, there is beauty to be found in a family’s love and support.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness: I won’t say much about this book except that I think that everyone should read it and that it is one of the most moving and heartfelt stories I have ever read. The story follows young Conor who is struggling to come to terms with the fact that his mother is suffering from terminal cancer. The story is beautifully written and incredibly sad: be prepared for a major book hangover.
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta: This was one of my favourite contemporaries growing up. Marchetta’s wonderfully written Saving Francesca offers a realistic, touching, and sensitive take on the impact a mentally ill parent can have on the wellbeing of a child and a family. Perhaps even more importantly, Marchetta shines some light on an aspect of mental illness that is often overlooked: The often strained relationship between the children and the parent who’s supposed to function properly and hold everything together. By losing one parent to depression, one may lose the other, too – to anger, grief, and self-blame. I cannot stress enough what a moving and realistic portrayal Saving Francesca is of living with and supporting a mentally ill parent.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: The epitome of a family book, Everything I Never Told You is all about a dysfunctional family trying and miserably failing to communicate with another. The death of the middle daughter Lydia serves as a catalyst for some of the events in the story and explores the deep connections we have with one another, both in terms of relationships between parents and children and among siblings. The story looks at how our external environment shapes who we are and how that impacts the rest of the family, while asking difficult questions about parental expectations and racial dynamics. Celeste Ng writes characters like nothing I’ve ever read, in a way that is so poignant and to the point and captures the essence of emotion perfectly.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Purple Hibiscus is a story that is both hopeful and tragic as it dives into the psyche of a 15-year-old girl living in Nigeria and portrays the hardships of growing up with an abusive parent. The book captures complex relationships with a variety of family members, from the abusive father and Kambili’s mother to her brother and cousins and aunt. Every single person in this book complex; Kambili’s father is not portrayed as a villain but drawn as a righteous man who is trying to do the right thing but blinded by his own religious fanaticism. Family is at the absolute core of this beautiful novel and shows it both as a source of fear and despair, as well as strength and love.
Which books that you have read represented supportive families, well written if yet troubled family relationships, or dealt accurately with family, mental health and grief? Is a realistic portrayal of family an important aspect in books for you? We’re always looking for new recommendations so please leave them in the comments below!