The best books with female protagonists from dysfunctional families

Why am I passionate about this?

As a female writer, I love digging into the minds of women characters, especially in light of their family circumstances. I think we can sometimes underestimate the importance of a strong, loving family unit in terms of personal development. But what’s amazing is how a person’s story can be redeemed even if they were raised in a less-than-ideal environment. Even though I got pretty lucky in the parent department, I know not a lot of people have. And I love showing others through fiction that despite hardships they’ve had to face along the way, they are still loved and still wanted by a God who knows them better than anyone.


I wrote...

A Violent Hope

By Ericka Clay,

Book cover of A Violent Hope

What is my book about?

Mack Reynolds is battling his demons. After years spent attempting to heal wounds from being abused as a child, he confronts the author of his nightmares-his uncle-leading to a catastrophic decision and permanently sealing his fate. As the reality of Mack’s decision unfolds, his wife and daughter live life in a void, falling into addictions and assessing their pain through ways that only force them farther apart. It’s not until Mack’s mother, Rochelle, can confront her past, that Natalie and Wren can receive the guidance they both desperately need. But is it too late?

Told through the lives of the three women touched by Mack’s struggle, A Violent Hope takes a deeper look into the human heart and the God who repeatedly heals all wounds. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Glass Castle

Ericka Clay Why did I love this book?

This book got lodged into my soul the day I read it. Here’s a girl with well-meaning yet destructive parents, and the belief she has in them, her father especially, is so heartbreaking. Have you ever loved someone who can’t stop letting you down? Then this book is a must-read.

By Jeannette Walls,

Why should I read it?

21 authors picked The Glass Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major motion picture starring Brie Larson, Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson.

This is a startling memoir of a successful journalist's journey from the deserted and dusty mining towns of the American Southwest, to an antique filled apartment on Park Avenue. Jeanette Walls narrates her nomadic and adventurous childhood with her dreaming, 'brilliant' but alcoholic parents.

At the age of seventeen she escapes on a Greyhound bus to New York with her older sister; her younger siblings follow later. After pursuing the education and civilisation her parents sought to escape, Jeanette eventually succeeds in her quest for the 'mundane,…


Book cover of Holy Ghost Girl: A Memoir

Ericka Clay Why did I love this book?

Donna Johnson grew up as a follower of David Terrell, a big tent revivalist in the 1960s and 1970s. As a former atheist, the book spoke to me because it reminded me of why I was once reluctant to follow Jesus. It captures the way man twists God’s Word for his own purposes, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Yet Johnson reminds us that love ultimately heals all wounds.

By Donna M. Johnson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Donna Johnson's remarkable story of being raised under the biggest gospel tent in the world, by David Terrell, one of the most famous evangelical ministers of the 1960s and 70s. Holy Ghost Girl is a compassionate, humorous exploration of faith, betrayal, and coming of age on the sawdust trail.

She was just three years old when her mother signed on as the organist of tent revivalist David Terrell, and before long, Donna Johnson was part of the hugely popular evangelical preacher's inner circle. At seventeen, she left the ministry for good, with a trove of stranger- than-fiction memories. A homecoming…


Book cover of The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity

Ericka Clay Why did I love this book?

This book hooked me from the get-go. Axton Betz-Hamilton is raised by two parents who are the victims of stolen identities. She lives in a world of paranoia fostered by this incident and watches as the two people she’s closest to begin to turn on each other. Years later, Axton discovers she’s also the victim of identity theft and the journey she takes to figure out why is a nail-biter!

By Axton Betz-Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Less People Know About Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Axton Betz-Hamilton grew up in small-town Indiana in the early '90s. When she was 11 years old, her parents both had their identities stolen. Their credit ratings were ruined and they were constantly fighting over money. This was before the age of the Internet, when identity theft became more commonplace, so authorities and banks were clueless and reluctant to help Axton's parents.

Axton's family switched PO Boxes, changed all of their personal information and moved to different addresses but the identity thief followed them wherever they went. Convinced that the thief had to be someone they knew, Axton and her…


Book cover of Rosie Colored Glasses

Ericka Clay Why did I love this book?

I’m recommending this book because it made me cry, and I don’t cry. The warped triangle between two divorced parents and their daughter is tragic enough, but what really stirred me was the way Willow so fiercely wants to live life with her “fun” mom, not really understanding that not everything in life is as it seems.

By Brianna Wolfson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Little Miss Sunshine meets About a Boy in this piercingly bittersweet novel which shows how the most meaningful love can last a lifetime.

Willow's mother Rosie isn't like the other mums. She's wears every colour of the rainbow, has midnight feasts, and sends Willow to school covered in paint.

Meanwhile, Rex is the sort of father who checks Willow's homework, has a rule for everything, and would never dream of playing in the dirt.

Now Rosie and Rex live in different places, Willow knows her mum needs her even more. But Rosie's multi-coloured way of looking at the world can…


Book cover of Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Ericka Clay Why did I love this book?

Bernadette is technically from a dysfunctional family but that dysfunction is mostly centered around her. She’s an incredibly intelligent recluse who mysteriously leaves her daughter and husband after a school fundraiser goes south. I could relate to Bernadette’s paranoia and the way fear can rear its ugly head if you’re not careful.

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 --…


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Rewriting Illness

By Elizabeth Benedict,

Book cover of Rewriting Illness

Elizabeth Benedict

New book alert!

What is my book about?

What happens when a novelist with a “razor-sharp wit” (Newsday), a “singular sensibility” (Huff Post), and a lifetime of fear about getting sick finds a lump where no lump should be? Months of medical mishaps, coded language, and Doctors who don't get it.

With wisdom, self-effacing wit, and the story-telling artistry of an acclaimed novelist, Elizabeth Benedict recollects her cancer diagnosis after discovering multiplying lumps in her armpit. In compact, explosive chapters, interspersed with moments of self-mocking levity, she chronicles her illness from muddled diagnosis to “natural remedies,” to debilitating treatments, as she gathers sustenance from family, an assortment of urbane friends, and a fearless “cancer guru.”

Rewriting Illness is suffused with suspense, secrets, and the unexpected solace of silence.

Rewriting Illness

By Elizabeth Benedict,

What is this book about?

By turns somber and funny but above all provocative, Elizabeth Benedict's Rewriting Illness: A View of My Own is a most unconventional memoir. With wisdom, self-effacing wit, and the story-telling skills of a seasoned novelist, she brings to life her cancer diagnosis and committed hypochondria. As she discovers multiplying lumps in her armpit, she describes her initial terror, interspersed with moments of self-mocking levity as she indulges in "natural remedies," among them chanting Tibetan mantras, drinking shots of wheat grass, and finding medicinal properties in chocolate babka. She tracks the progression of her illness from muddled diagnosis to debilitating treatment…


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