The best novels about dysfunctional families worse than yours

Who am I?

Hi, I'm Bev Katz Rosenbaum, a young adult novelist whose fave topic is (surprise, surprise) dysfunctional families! I'm also a longtime fiction editor and writing instructor who loves to dance and hike in her spare time. Am trying to like yoga and meditation but am failing miserably.

I wrote...

I'm Good and Other Lies

By Bev Katz Rosenbaum,

Book cover of I'm Good and Other Lies

What is my book about?

I'm Good and Other Lies, my latest novel, is about Kelsey Kendler, a teen who's finally about to head to college and get away from her crap family members when COVID-19 comes along and she's suddenly stuck with them 24-7.

The books I picked & why

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Pride and Prejudice

By Jane Austen,

Book cover of Pride and Prejudice

Why this book?

Thought I'd start with a fave Regency-era novel featuring one of the OG crap families. What keeps generation after generation of readers fascinated by Austen, aside from her gorgeous prose and devastating wit, is that her books are about the big three: family, money, and marriage. In Pride and Prejudice, the exploits of Lizzie Bennett's relatively poor and highly dysfunctional family members directly influence her own marriage prospects. There's the embarrassing mom, the checked-out dad, and the fickle, immature sisters (perfect—too perfect?—Jane aside). If you're part of an imperfect, dysfunctional family and are despairing of your future prospects, given your crap relations, you'll be heartened, as I was as a teen reader, at Lizzie's eventual triumph! 

The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family

By Lindsay Wong,

Book cover of The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family

Why this book?

Wong's book is a gut-punching yet hilarious memoir about the Chinese immigrant experience and the searing impact of mental illness that left me with an overwhelming it-could-have-been-worse feeling. But seriously, the value in books like these is they make those in truly terrible situations know they aren't alone. That itself—that feeling of being seen—can keep one going. This book also reminded me of the importance of setting boundaries with family members--a lesson I could have used far earlier in my life. Yay for Wong, a beloved Canadian writer and writing instructor, for triumphing (like Lizzie) in the end! 

Nothing to See Here

By Kevin Wilson,

Book cover of Nothing to See Here

Why this book?

In Kevin Wilson's tour de force, narrator Lillian is so wrecked by her life with a heartless single mother, she's up for any way out, including taking care of the problematic stepkids of her rich friend (the term 'friend' used very loosely here). The big message in this often very funny book is another that wrecked people from dysfunctional families can use: your own impoverished upbringing has likely engendered a huge wellspring of compassion within you, and compassion's the most important quality of all. Another great lesson in this one: you can build a constructed family of your own. It'll likely be incredibly quirky, but that's okay, as you're a mess, too!

This Is Where I Leave You

By Jonathan Tropper,

Book cover of This Is Where I Leave You

Why this book?

Haha, it would be a nightmare having to spend seven days with the members of your family of origin, amirite? This book's main character is forced to do just that, as the Jewish ritual of shiva after a death requires it. After his father's death, not only can Judd Altman not get away from his oversharing mother and weird siblings (and everyone's exes, including his own), he's forced to keep secrets about, among other things, his own relationship status. Trust me, if you're about to head into a period at close quarters with your FOO, you can take heart at the fact that Judd made it through! (Also, I loved how this one made me realize that even most normal-seeming families are...not.) 

We Were Liars

By E. Lockhart,

Book cover of We Were Liars

Why this book?

Speaking of normal-seeming families that aren't, in Emily Lockhart's beautifully written young adult novel, every member of the wealthy Sinclair family is made to repress any unhappiness for image's sake.  Cadence suffered a head injury in her fifteenth summer and has only just returned to the family's summer estate in her seventeenth. Still recovering, she finds piecing together various secrets and lies even harder than usual... This is a great one to read if you're being gaslit by family members who are more afraid of word getting out than of you getting sick from secret keeping! (Always know that your intuition about everything is absolutely correct!) I'm very much looking forward to reading the just-released sequel to this one—which I think is actually a prequel—Family of Liars.   

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