The best fiction featuring dysfunctional families

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m interested in characters and stories that reveal the light and darkness inside and between people. For me, the best stories are ones that feature screwed-up characters trying their best to put one step in front of the other, sometimes in a misguided way that costs those most dear to them. This kind of dynamic is most fraught in the family unit. Family members stunt and cultivate each other in unexpected and fascinating ways. So I’m drawn to reading about dysfunctional families, as well as writing about them as I have in my novels, The Promise of Pierson Orchard (2017) and Stone Creek (out in August 2024). 


I wrote...

The Promise of Pierson Orchard

By Kate Brandes,

Book cover of The Promise of Pierson Orchard

What is my book about?

This story is about a Pennsylvania family threatened by betrayal, financial desperation, old flames, fracking, and ultimately finding forgiveness.

In the novel, Green Energy arrives, offering the impoverished rural community of Minden, Pennsylvania, the dream of making more money from their land by leasing natural gas rights for drilling. But orchardist, Jack Pierson, fears his brother, Wade, who now works for Green Energy, has returned to town after a shame-filled twenty-year absence so desperate to be the hero that he’ll blind their hometown to the potential dangers. Family decisions lead to tragedy and Jack must fight to find a common ground that will save his fractured family, their land, and the way of life they love.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Little Fires Everywhere

Kate Brandes Why did I love this book?

This story takes place in the orderly, progressive suburban town of Shaker Heights. The lives of two families the “perfect” Richardson family and an enigmatic, artistic mother and her daughter – interweave and are changed forever. The novel explores the layered complexities of power, the conformist’s vs. artist’s life, and motherhood.

By Celeste Ng,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Little Fires Everywhere as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestseller!

"Witty, wise, and tender. It's a marvel." -Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train and A Slow Fire Burning

"To say I love this book is an understatement. It's a deep psychological mystery about the power of motherhood, the intensity of teenage love, and the danger of perfection. It moved me to tears." -Reese Witherspoon

From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Our Missing Hearts comes a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their…


Book cover of Familyism

Kate Brandes Why did I love this book?

These twenty-two, well-crafted flash fiction stories illuminate a wide array of family situations and humanity by exploring both mundane and extraordinary moments. This collection manages to be funny, quirky, and poignant, while examining the foibles of family life and relationships with a particular focus on the roles of women and girls.

By Tori Bond,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Familyism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twenty-two (very) short stories from Tori Bond create what Kathy Fish calls a "a collection of tightly woven, deliciously wrought stories" that, as Amy L. Clark writes, "allow Bond’s own words to soar like crows, or like chickens, and sometimes, like hope."


Book cover of The Corrections

Kate Brandes Why did I love this book?

I’ve heard people say that Jonathan Franzen is the master of dysfunctional families. In this novel, a troubled family of five gathers for one last Christmas together. There’s a rift between parents and children (now grown), partly because the parents judge the children in ways that are steeped in tradition and a culture of days gone by and partly because the children dismiss or override their aging parents.  I love this book because the characters are deeply flawed, selfish, and absolutely human.

By Jonathan Franzen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Corrections as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES Bestseller
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER

“A spellbinding novel” (People) from the New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Franzen, the author of Crossroads, The Corrections is a comic, tragic epic of worlds colliding: an old-fashioned world of civic virtue and sexual inhibitions, a new world of home surveillance, hands-off parenting, do-it-yourself mental health care, and globalized greed.

After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson’s disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the…


Book cover of Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Kate Brandes Why did I love this book?

In this wildly imaginative and delightfully funny novel that includes a family trip to Antarctica, the main character, Bernadette Fox, is an unconventional mother to say the least. Her marriage is in trouble and she abandons her daughter. And yet, this family loves one another so deeply, they find ways to face their problems that bring them closer together.

By Maria Semple,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Where'd You Go, Bernadette as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A misanthropic matriarch leaves her eccentric family in crisis when she mysteriously disappears in this "whip-smart and divinely funny" novel that inspired the movie starring Cate Blanchett (New York Times).

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect; and to 15-year-old Bee, she is her best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette vanishes. It all began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle --…


Book cover of White Oleander

Kate Brandes Why did I love this book?

White Oleander tells the story of Ingrid, a brilliant poet imprisoned for murder, and her daughter, Astrid, who is left to fend for herself in a series of foster homes. The turbulent, difficult mother-daughter relationship in this novel is forever seared into my mind. At its core, this is a novel about finding one's way, no matter what.

By Janet Fitch,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked White Oleander as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

White Oleander is a painfully beautiful first novel about a young girl growing up the hard way. It is a powerful story of mothers and daughters, their ambiguous alliances, their selfish love and cruel behaviour, and the search for love and identity.Astrid has been raised by her mother, a beautiful, headstrong poet. Astrid forgives her everything as her world revolves around this beautiful creature until Ingrid murders a former lover and is imprisoned for life. Astrid's fierce determination to survive and be loved makes her an unforgettable figure. 'Liquid poetry' - Oprah Winfrey 'Tangled, complex and extraordinarily moving' - Observer


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Transforming Pandora

By Carolyn Mathews,

Book cover of Transforming Pandora

Carolyn Mathews Author Of Transforming Pandora

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Creator Meditator Messenger Shopaholic

Carolyn's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Transforming Pandora, women's fiction with a metaphysical undercurrent, is written with humour and a light touch. As the plot slips between two time frames, separated by more than thirty years, the reader explores her life and loves: her ups and downs.

In the opening chapter, Pandora is attempting to come to terms with her husband's death. At a friend's suggestion, she reluctantly attends an evening of clairvoyance, after which her life is transformed by a mysterious spirit who sets her on a new path.

Her romantic life is reignited when she encounters a new man, but complicated by the appearance of a significant figure from her past. At the same time her spiritual life is presented with a challenge when she's offered the chance of enlightenment via a heavenly correspondence course. Her quest in life to find her true purpose is within her reach. Will she grasp this opportunity? Or will she choose love over light?

Transforming Pandora

By Carolyn Mathews,

What is this book about?

Pandora, 51, childless, and still beautiful, is attempting to come to terms with her husband's death. Having a history of being drawn to the esoteric, yet remaining a healthy sceptic, she reluctantly attends an evening of clairvoyance and raises a spirit who sets her on a new path...


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Interested in dysfunctional families, family secrets, and Washington state?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about dysfunctional families, family secrets, and Washington state.

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