The best books about family secrets

Barbara Mariconda Author Of Bird with the Heart of a Mountain
By Barbara Mariconda

Who am I?

Family secrets aren’t always intentionally planned. The expectations of each generation often determine what’s spoken and what’s left unsaid. Uncannily, my fiction has revealed what’s been left unspoken in my family - not deep dark secrets, but the more ordinary ego and generationally-driven variety. In my writing there’s an unconscious precognition that occurs, pointing to mysteries in my own life. My work explores themes of family and longing, revealing the undercurrents of life that can be sensed but never grasped. In fact, after writing Bird with the Heart of a Mountain I discovered my own secret - that my Eastern European ancestry contained Romani blood!

I wrote...

Bird with the Heart of a Mountain

By Barbara Mariconda,

Book cover of Bird with the Heart of a Mountain

What is my book about?

Set during the Spanish Civil War, sixteen-year-old Drina yearns to dance flamenco. When she dances, she forgets what seems to be her legacy: I am nothing. I belong nowhere. Why does her mother forbid her to dance? She wonders about the dark family secrets her mother keeps that somehow hold them prisoner.

From her Gypsy campagna to the estate of a paternal grandmother she’s never known, Drina fights to discover who she is and where she belongs. She must carve out an identity all her own and discover what it means to be a “bird with the heart of a mountain.” Full of mystery, loss, and longing, this novel captures Drina’s quest to learn where she came from and to determine her own destiny.

The books I picked & why

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Magic Lessons

By Alice Hoffman,

Book cover of Magic Lessons

Why this book?

Alice Hoffman’s Magic Lessons is the last in her Practical Magic series that chronicles 200 years of dark secrets that each generation of the Owens family must grapple with. We follow protagonist Maria Owens from her childhood in England to the Caribbean, Massachusetts, and finally New York, carrying her legacy with her. The complexity of mother-daughter relationships, generational wounds, family secrets, plus a good dose of witchcraft and magic holds the tension throughout not only this book, but across the entire series. Part historical fiction, part magical realism, part family saga – Hoffman shows us that, in the end, it’s really all about love. 

The Dutch House

By Ann Patchett,

Book cover of The Dutch House

Why this book?

The Dutch House is a novel about assumptions, misunderstandings, loss, and the secrets that shadow the lives of the Conroy family. Following WWII, Cyril Conroy purchases the extravagant Dutch House estate for his wife and two children, a place where he imagines their perfect, privileged lives would unfold. Told through the point of view of Cyril’s son Danny, we learn of the mysterious disappearance of his mother and watch as Cyril’s subsequent marriage and blended family leaves Danny and his sister Maeve outcasts in their own home. The Dutch House itself becomes a tragic symbol, a dark and foreboding backdrop for the unspoken questions and hidden wounds that dominate Danny and Maeve’s adult lives. Beautifully written, and powerfully narrated on audio by Tom Hanks, this is a must-read!

Miss Benson's Beetle

By Rachel Joyce,

Book cover of Miss Benson's Beetle

Why this book?

In Rachel Joyce’s Miss Benson’s Beetle we see, very clearly, how hazy half-formed memories and closely guarded family secrets can overshadow and drive a life. Surprisingly, prim, plain Margery Benson abruptly leaves her teaching position to set out on an expedition to New Caledonia as an amateur entomologist in search of a rare or possibly fictional golden beetle. With no training or practical experience Miss Benson hires an equally unqualified assistant. Together they head into this uncharted territory, meeting every imaginable obstacle. Through struggle and loss Miss Benson eventually unravels the mystery surrounding her beloved father’s death and reconciles this with the life she’s chosen. As always, Joyce’s unique quirky characters capture the heart and leave the reader believing in the power of healing.

The Book of Longings

By Sue Monk Kidd,

Book cover of The Book of Longings

Why this book?

Brilliant, feisty, and intrepid Ana, raised in privilege and wealth in ancient Israel, is the heroine of this painstakingly researched historical fiction novel. Her mother discourages Ana’s intellectual curiousity, forbidding Ana’s writings about the secrets of repressed, abused women of her day. Her adopted brother Judas is part of the resistance against the Roman occupation, and her father plans on marrying Ana to a rich older man. Amidst this complexity, Ana defies him and marries far beneath her station. Her groom? Jesus of Nazareth. After the crucifixion, Ana goes to her Aunt Yaltha in Alexandria where she helps Yaltha locate her long-lost daughter. The Book of Longings chronicles Ana’s challenge to overcome the family secrets and cultural repression meant to silence and subdue her. Compelling, intriguing, and powerful! A must-read!

The Indigo Girl

By Natasha Boyd,

Book cover of The Indigo Girl

Why this book?

This historical fiction novel opens in 1739 as sixteen-year-old Eliza Lucas is left in charge of her father’s plantations when he mysteriously leaves to pursue his military ambitions. Boyd uses historical documents as the basis for Eliza’s story that unfolds amidst family drama, near financial ruin, political tensions, and unrest among the slave population. In an attempt to prevent bankruptcy, Eliza decides to grow indigo and sell it to the lucrative dye-making market. With little familial support, Eliza negotiates with a reticent slave to teach her the secret process of growing indigo in exchange for unlawfully teaching slaves to read. As is often the case, Eliza continues to weave the web of family secrets in order to survive – and ultimately, to thrive.   

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