While I love to recommend romances, there’s more to life than just romantic relationships. Family drama is a whole subgenre of fiction that has become increasingly popular after the success of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half. Here are my favorite recommendations for fiction featuring all types of relationships: friends, siblings, and parents.
Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels are modern masterpieces, beginning with book one, My Brilliant Friend. Through the four novels, readers grow up and experience life through the eyes of two friends, Elena and Lila. As much as Ferrante’s books are about a friendship, they also encompass life in Italy in the 1950’s and growing up in a working-class neighborhood outside of Naples. Ferrante’s novels have a strong sense of place, which can be felt through the HBO adaptation, now available on DVD.
If you’ve read or watched Little Fires Everywhere, you understand the power of Celeste Ng’s writing. Set in small-town Ohio in the 1970s, Everything I Never Told You is a story of a family unraveling. After Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the Lee family’s delicate balance tumbles. In this moving story of family secrets and longing, the struggling relationships between mother and daughter, father and son are explored and exposed. This book is just under 300 pages, and you will want to finish it in one sitting.
The story of the Conroy family is told through the perspective of Danny, the only son of Cyril Conroy. Cyril built a massive real estate empire at the end of the Second World War, and used that money to purchase the Dutch House, a unique and undeniably lavish estate in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Through the span of five decades, the unlikely story of Danny and Maeve, two siblings with a deep relationship, unfolds. Don’t skip the audiobook, which is narrated by Tom Hanks!
Brit Bennett’s debut novel has just as much force as The Vanishing Half. The Mothers is set in Black church community in Southern California. In the wake of her mother’s suicide, Nadia Turner begins a relationship with the pastor’s son and football star, Luke Sheppard. Their brief fling has repercussions and secrets that carry through their adult lives. After Nadia graduates and leaves the small community behind, Luke and Nadia’s best friend, Audrey, fall in love. Bennett’s prose carries this exceptional novel that continually asks, “what if?”
This book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Set in 1580s England amongst the black plague, an unnamed young Latin tutor (read: Shakespeare) falls in love with eccentric Agnes. They settle in Stratford-Upon-Avon and live with their children. O’Farrell’s writing carries readers through decades of joy, loss, and grief in this beautiful portrait of marriage and parenthood.
Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko is the ultimate family saga. A century of Korean history starts with Sunja, who becomes pregnant as a teenager. Her decision to scorn the father-to-be (a wealthy, married merchant) sets off a chain of events that will change the history of her family forever. Lee writes about loyalty, sacrifice, and the history of Korea and Japan in the 20th century and her complex cast of characters face familial issues. Pachinko is just under 500 pages, but the story is worth the time and effort.
If you haven’t read Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, stop what you’re doing immediately and request it here. Gyasi’s second novel is a moving and heart-wrenching story of a family of Ghanaian immigrants. Gifty, a PhD candidate of neuroscience at Stanford, is studying depression and addiction neural circuits. Her brother, superstar athlete Nana, died of a heroin overdose at a young age. Her severely depressed mother no longer leaves her bed. Gyasi spins a phenomenal story of faith, science, religion, and love, using Gifty’s pursuit to help make sense of the suffering. This was my favorite novel from 2020. Don’t forget to grab the tissues!
Enjoy this diverse list of books about friendship, families, and parenthood!