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

Why am I passionate about this?

The title of this post is a little misleading – when I say dysfunctional, I mean trauma has left these characters emotionally unavailable despite their love for one another, and searching for answers. When I was eleven, my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer on Thanksgiving and passed away in early February. In those eight weeks, my family unraveled. Relationships changed. Others disappeared. It was my first real loss. It was final and far-reaching. I believe this is why I write adult fiction in young voices about trauma. Emotional family journeys of love, loss, healing, forging ahead in unimaginable circumstances, are powerful reminders of why “survival is insufficient” and the brilliance of the human spirit.


I wrote...

A Frenzy of Sparks

By Kristin Fields,

Book cover of A Frenzy of Sparks

What is my book about?

It’s 1965, and thirteen-year-old Gia, along with her older brother and cousins, are desperate to escape their sleepy, tree-lined neighborhood where nothing ever happens. The only thing Gia would miss is the surrounding marsh, where she feels at home among sea birds and salt water.

But when one of Gia’s cousins brings drugs into their neighborhood, it sets off a chain of events that quickly turn dangerous. Everyone will be caught in the ripples, and some may be swept away entirely. Gia is determined to keep herself and her family afloat while the world is turned upside down around her. Can she find a way to hold on to the life she was so eager to leave behind, or will she have to watch it all disappear beneath the marsh forever?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Our Endless Numbered Days

Kristin Fields Why did I love 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.

By Claire Fuller,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Our Endless Numbered Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE DESMOND ELLIOTT PRIZE 2015

'Fuller handles the tension masterfully in this grown-up thriller of a fairytale, full of clues, questions and intrigue.' - The Times

'Extraordinary...From the opening sentence it is gripping' - Sunday Times

1976: Peggy Hillcoat is eight. She spends her summer camping with her father, playing her beloved record of The Railway Children and listening to her mother's grand piano, but her pretty life is about to change.

Her survivalist father, who has been stockpiling provisions for the end which is surely coming soon, takes her from London to a cabin in a remote…


Book cover of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Kristin Fields Why did I love 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.

By Karen Joy Fowler,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club introduces a middle-class American family that is ordinary in every way but one in this novel that won the PEN/Faulkner Award and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize.
 
Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she explains. “I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion...she was my twin, my funhouse…


Book cover of A Thousand Splendid Suns

Kristin Fields Why did I love 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. 

By Khaled Hosseini,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked A Thousand Splendid Suns as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE RICHARD & JUDY NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER

'A suspenseful epic' Daily Telegraph

'A triumph' Financial Times

'Heartbreaking' Mail on Sunday

'Deeply moving' Sunday Times

Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.


Book cover of Station Eleven

Kristin Fields Why did I love 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…

By Emily St. John Mandel,

Why should I read it?

24 authors picked Station Eleven as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Best novel. The big one . . . stands above all the others' - George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones

Now an HBO Max original TV series

The New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award
Longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction
National Book Awards Finalist
PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist

What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.

One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in…


Book cover of Defending Jacob

Kristin Fields Why did I love 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. 

By William Landay,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Defending Jacob as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If your son was on trial for murder, what would you do?

Andy Barber's job is to put killers behind bars. And when a boy from his son Jacob's school is found stabbed to death, Andy is doubly determined to find and prosecute the perpetrator.

Until a crucial piece of evidence turns up linking Jacob to the murder. And suddenly Andy and his wife find their son accused of being a cold-blooded killer.

In the face of every parent's worst nightmare, they will do anything to defend their child. Because, deep down, they know him better than anyone.

Don't they?


You might also like...

The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

Book cover of The Emerald Necklace

Linda Rosen Author Of The Emerald Necklace

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Novelist Swimmer Public Speaker Reader Lover of gardens

Linda's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

It’s 1969. Women are fighting for equality. Rosalee, an insecure sculptor, and Fran, a best-selling novelist, have their issues. Will their bitter envy of each other and long-held secrets destroy their tenuous friendship? Or will Jill, Rosalee’s granddaughter, and the story behind her emerald necklace bind them together?

A multi-generational novel of friendship and frenemies, envy, and long-held secrets that explores current issues through a historical lens. The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends, and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not.

The Emerald Necklace

By Linda Rosen,

What is this book about?

"Engaging and mysterious, The Emerald Necklace sheds light on that inevitable time when lovers, family, friends and circumstances change and force you to reinvent yourself whether you want to or not." –Rebecca Rosenberg, award-winning Champagne Widows series

Three months after her husband's death in 1969, Rosalee Linoff is determined to jump back into life.

For her, that means returning to her art. She desperately wants to be accepted as a talented sculptor, but that requires she dig up the courage to submit her work again - and be judged. Her paralyzing insecurity mounts when she meets her new neighbor, best-selling…


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