The best books on dysfunctional fiction families you can’t help but love

Kristin Fields Author Of A Frenzy of Sparks
By Kristin Fields

The Books I Picked & Why

Our Endless Numbered Days

By Claire Fuller

Book cover of Our Endless Numbered Days

Why this book?

Peggy is eight years old when her survivalist father takes her from her London home and moves her into a remote cabin in the woods and tells her the outside world has been destroyed. They can’t go back. 

If you know anything about my novels, it’s that I absolutely love writing adult fiction from the perspective of young adults. People often ask me why I don’t write YA if I enjoy that age for narrators: it’s because I love coming-of-age stories and the emotional spectrum of children learning to understand the nuances of adult life.  

This book nailed it for me: Mental illness, nature, and relationships to the natural world, a young narrator. I’ve read it twice and it broke my heart both times.

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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

By Karen Joy Fowler

Book cover of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Why this book?

One of the absolute joys of writing (and super annoying quirk to non-writer friends) is being able to see the writing or the narrative arc when you’re watching TV or a movie or reading a book. Everything eventually becomes a study of craft. 

But every once in a while, an author sets an arc that was (a) completely plausible and (b) that I didn’t see coming, and that’s magic. 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves did exactly that. I highly recommend not even reading the description, just start reading.

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A Thousand Splendid Suns

By Khaled Hosseini

Book cover of A Thousand Splendid Suns

Why this book?

Though they come from very different walks of life, Mariam and Laila are thrust together because they share a husband in Afghanistan. Mariam and Laila did not choose each other, but they become a family, making this one of the most haunting and unforgettable books I’ve ever experienced. 

This was the first audiobook I ever listened to. It was on CDs at the time that I swapped out while I was driving. There is one unbelievable scene that made me ugly cry so badly, I had to pull over. On the side of the road, I replayed that scene again and again. 

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Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel

Book cover of Station Eleven

Why this book?

The secret is out on this one, but for a little while, I felt it was my life’s purpose to tell other people about this book. 

It’d been on my list for a while, but I finally picked it up in April of 2020 when my life had effectively stopped. Was I looking for answers? Maybe. But this book spoke to my soul. In my own writing and life, I love the theme of “the families we create” and the lengths we will go to to protect them. 

“Survival is insufficient” became my mantra during the early days of the pandemic when I needed to break the fog of uncertainty and find a way to use my time. It is still something I remind myself of…

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Defending Jacob

By William Landay

Book cover of Defending Jacob

Why this book?

In 2017, an electrical fire destroyed our home. For ten months during repairs, we stayed in 24 different places. There were days I went to work with a suitcase because we had to check into a different place that night. 

Two days after the fire, my (now) agent offered to represent me. She wanted revisions, which I did from our temporary homes, and suggested I read Defending Jacob for inspiration. 

This thriller is a story of an unraveling family. I will always be grateful for the direction this novel gave my work, but also for the intense focus it gave me during such a disorienting time. 

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