The best books about family drama, sacrifice, and how beautifully messy a family can be

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in a large family that initially didn’t include my mother or father. My mother made the sacrifice of leaving our island of Trinidad to make a home for us in Canada. She was separated from us for years while my grandparents raised me and my brothers. I think that type of upbringing triggered my curiosity about what a family can be. When I became a father at 18, the question of what kind of family I would build became the central theme of my life. It still is today, which is why stories that revolve around family are so captivating for me. 


I wrote...

And Then There Was Us

By Kern Carter,

Book cover of And Then There Was Us

What is my book about?

After years of physical and verbal abuse from her mother, fourteen-year-old Coi moved in with her father, and together they created a peaceful life. But now, four years later, that peace is shattered when her mother dies.

While Coi struggles to find kindness in her heart for the woman who did nothing but hurt her, her mother’s passing does help reopen the door to that side of the family. It’s only through reconnecting with her estranged family members, especially her younger half-sister Kayla, that Coi’s long-held views about her mother are challenged. When Coi begins to see visions of her mother in her dreams, she is forced to ask herself what it means to forgive and be forgiven and, most importantly, what it means to be family.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Pachinko

Kern Carter Why did I love this book?

I loved this book because it shows generations of family sacrifice and how the decisions we make in our lifetime can live on for decades after we pass.

I rushed to read this book every evening and had to pull myself away. It was so amazing to me that this author could weave through years and years of family history in a clear, coherent, and powerful way. 

By Min Jin Lee,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Pachinko as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

* The million-copy bestseller*
* National Book Award finalist *
* One of the New York Times's 10 Best Books of 2017 *
* Selected for Emma Watson's Our Shared Shelf book club *

'This is a captivating book... Min Jin Lee's novel takes us through four generations and each character's search for identity and success. It's a powerful story about resilience and compassion' BARACK OBAMA.

Yeongdo, Korea 1911. In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja…


Book cover of Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Kern Carter Why did I love this book?

Reading this book was like listening to beautiful music. It’s similar to Pachinko in that it covers a generational family saga, but this story has bite!

I loved how much I learned about pre-communist China in this book, but I also loved that the stories of family resonated so deeply. 

By Madeleine Thien,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Do Not Say We Have Nothing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life. I was ten years old."

Master storyteller Madeleine Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations-those who lived through Mao's Cultural Revolution and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers…


Book cover of Lucy

Kern Carter Why did I love this book?

Oh, this book was so spicy. It felt like reading someone’s personal journal mixed with celebrity gossip. I almost felt guilty for enjoying all of the drama in the home, which was the primary setting for most of the novel. I laughed and giggled and tried to put this book down, but it was no use.

What I admired most about this novel was the subtlety. Even though there was plenty of drama, the book felt almost calm (in the best way possible). None of the events felt super shocking or out of place. As an author, I just love how Kincaid was able to find that balance. 

By Jamaica Kincaid,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Lucy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The coming-of-age story of one of Jamaica Kincaid's most admired creations--available now in an e-book edition.

Lucy, a teenage girl from the West Indies, comes to America to work as an au pair for a wealthy couple. She begins to notice cracks in their beautiful façade at the same time that the mysteries of own sexuality begin to unravel. Jamaica Kincaid has created a startling new heroine who is destined to win a place of honor in contemporary fiction.


Book cover of White Lies

Kern Carter Why did I love this book?

Talk about teenage angst. This YA novel is like living inside the mind of an anxiety-driven, introverted teenager who constantly finds herself in precarious positions.

I loved the honesty of this book the most. I got so frustrated with the main character because she kept making decisions that I’ve seen people in real life make. I wanted to scream at her so many times throughout the novel, and several times, I put the book down and shook my head in frustration. That’s when you know the novel is a winner. 

By Sara de Waard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked White Lies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Missy’s sweet sixteenth is just around the corner, but her last three birthdays haven’t exactly been cause for celebration. Her beloved little brother died when she turned thirteen and now birthdays are just painful reminders of the void in their lives. If only she had walked him to school that morning, like she was supposed to ...

To add fuel to the fire, Missy’s mom was arrested just before she could blow out the candles on her fifteenth birthday.

To escape her guilt and her father’s alcohol-induced rages, Missy volunteers at a nearby store where she busies herself to shut…


Book cover of The Lowland

Kern Carter Why did I love this book?

The mother. The mother, the mother, the mother. I just couldn’t get over the decisions the mother made in this story. They were right for her but completely wrong at the same time.

Even thinking back on this novel now, I feel so conflicted. Like, do I even like this character? But that’s the thing, isn’t it? You get so caught up in a novel and feel like it’s somehow a reflection of your personal life and values.

To be completely honest, so much of this novel mimicked what I was going through in my real life. It resonated in ways I can’t even explain. 

By Jhumpa Lahiri,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lowland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2013. From Subhash's earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother's sight. So close in age, they were inseparable in childhood and yet, as the years pass - as U.S tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India - their brotherly bond can do nothing to forestall the tragedy that will upend their lives. Udayan - charismatic and impulsive - finds himself…


You might also like...

Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

Book cover of Ferry to Cooperation Island

Carol Newman Cronin Author Of Ferry to Cooperation Island

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Sailor Olympian Editor New Englander Rum drinker

Carol's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

James Malloy is a ferry captain--or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a "girl" named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island’s daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a plan for a private golf course on wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, James is determined to stop such "improvements." But despite Brenton's nickname as "Cooperation Island," he's used to working solo. To keep historic trees and ocean shoreline open to all, he'll have to learn to cooperate with other islanders--including Captain Courtney, who might just morph from irritant to irresistible once James learns a secret that's been kept from him for years.

Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

What is this book about?

Loner James Malloy is a ferry captain-or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a girl named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island's daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a private golf course staked out across wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, a Narragansett Indian, James is determined to stop such "improvements." But despite Brenton's nickname as "Cooperation Island," he's used to working solo. To keep rocky bluffs, historic trees, and ocean shoreline open to all, he'll have…


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