The best memoirs about identity, resiliency, forgiveness, and the power of love

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been fascinated about other people’s family history mainly because I did not know one-half of mine. I have been intrigued by memoir writers’ descriptions of their childhoods, feeling like a detective looking for clues as to why they wrote and if their experiences could give me clues to my personality and longing for belonging. The more memoirs I read, the more confident I became in believing that I had a story to tell, and my voice could help others in their quest for family and identity. I hope you enjoy my list of books as well as my own memoir. Let me know what you think. 


I wrote...

Finding My Way: A Memoir of Family, Identity, and Political, Ambition

By Robin F. Schepper,

Book cover of Finding My Way: A Memoir of Family, Identity, and Political, Ambition

What is my book about?

A deeply personal memoir about finding family and belonging: Growing up torn between her single stewardess mom and brothel-owning grandmother in 1960s New York City, Robin never imagined that she’d one day have an office in the White House. Her childhood on the Upper East Side was peppered with half-truths and family secrets. In a world of self-absorbed adults, Robin largely raised herself. In the professional world, Robin quickly ascended in the political sphere. Through it all, Robin searched for her biological father. She felt that if she could find him, she could free herself from secrets, lies, and shameFinding My Way follows a woman who created a political career while simultaneously fulfilling her quest to heal from family trauma and discover her identity. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

Robin F. Schepper Why did I love this book?

This book touched me in a way I did not expect.

The story follows a young woman who gets leukemia and the lessons she learns. One character in the book talks about healing in a way that I never heard before – healing does not mean you are back to where you were before, but that you can live with the trauma and move forward. This comment resonated with me and my own trauma of raising myself, not knowing my dad, and getting sexually abused.

I am not like before, but I am able to move forward.  

By Suleika Jaouad,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Between Two Kingdoms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A searing, deeply moving memoir of illness and recovery that traces one young woman’s journey from diagnosis to remission to re-entry into “normal” life—from the author of the Life, Interrupted column in The New York Times

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, The Rumpus, She Reads, Library Journal, Booklist • “I was immersed for the whole ride and would follow Jaouad anywhere. . . . Her writing restores the moon, lights the way as we learn to endure the unknown.”—Chanel Miller, The New…


Book cover of Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

Robin F. Schepper Why did I love this book?

I was drawn to Inheritance by my own questions about paternity.

Dani’s discovery through a consumer DNA test, resembles my own story, thinking my dad was someone else and discovering through DNA he was not. Dani’s love for her father who raised her, not her DNA father, falls into my belief that you can create family without DNA.

As a mother of two adopted children from Kazakhstan, I believe love can create families. Dani explores family secrets, culture, and the age-old question of nature vs. nurture which resonated with my own search for my biological father.

By Dani Shapiro,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the acclaimed author of Inheritance and host of the hit podcast Family Secrets: a memoir about the staggering family secret uncovered by a genealogy test, an exploration of the urgent ethical questions surrounding fertility treatments and DNA testing, and a profound inquiry of paternity, identity, and love.

“Memoir gold: a profound and exquisitely rendered exploration of identity and the true meaning of family.” —People

In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had casually submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her beloved deceased father…


Book cover of The Glass Castle

Robin F. Schepper Why did I love this book?

When I first read The Glass Castle, I was relieved to know that I was not the only one to have a dysfunctional childhood.

The main character and her siblings learn to take care of themselves. It reminded me of how I raised myself and was not really allowed to be a child. Every morning, I brought my mother coffee in bed before I walked the dog. After school I did the shopping and cooked dinner.

The Walls children learn resilience at an early age, despite their destructive and alcoholic father. They also end up in New York, like me, surprisingly adjusted despite the neglect of their childhood.

By Jeannette Walls,

Why should I read it?

23 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 All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir

Robin F. Schepper Why did I love this book?

I read this memoir of a Korean girl adopted by white parents in Oregon because the issues of race, identity, and belonging were constant in the book. 

I looked for clues in the book of how the character was feeling, since my husband and I have adopted two Asian children from Kazakhstan. Nicole’s unearthing of painful family secrets mirrored my own search for answers of finding my biological father and the impact it had on my mother. 

This book explores so many issues of identity in a straightforward style that could help anyone, adopted or not, to understand their family and belonging in the world.

By Nicole Chung,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked All You Can Ever Know as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A NATIONAL BESTSELLER

This beloved memoir "is an extraordinary, honest, nuanced and compassionate look at adoption, race in America and families in general" (Jasmine Guillory, Code Switch, NPR)

What does it means to lose your roots—within your culture, within your family—and what happens when you find them?

Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of…


Book cover of Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A True (As Told to Me) Story

Robin F. Schepper Why did I love this book?

I was attracted to Bess Kalb’s memoir because it deals mostly with the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter.

My grandmother was a huge force in my life and her strength and independence were a big influence on me. She loved me unconditionally and like the grandmother in Kalb’s book, my grandmother came to the United States to escape.

Kalb describes her grandmother, Bobby, as full of strong opinions, glamorous, and the person that gave her unconditional love and pragmatic advice. Her support and unwavering love remind me that we all need a Bobby in our lives to remind us that we are loved.

By Bess Kalb,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Nobody Will Tell You This But Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

**I HAVE NOT BEEN AS PROFOUNDLY MOVED BY A BOOK IN YEARS' JODI PICOULT**
**I LOVED THIS BOOK MORE THAN I CAN SAY**NIGELLA LAWSON

A brilliantly original memoir of a grandmother speaking to her granddaughter from beyond the grave, telling the story of her life with hilarious candor and love.

Bess Kalb has saved every voicemail message her grandmother - her best friend, her confidante - ever left her until the day she died.

In this wildly imaginative memoir, Bobby Bell's voice is still in Bess's head. Stubborn, glamorous, larger than life, she gives Bess critical advice on everything and…


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The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

Book cover of The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

Kathryn Betts Adams Author Of The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I was first a clinical social worker and then a social work professor with research focus on older adults. Over the past few years, as I have been writing my own memoir about caring for my parents, I’ve been drawn to memoirs and first-person stories of aging, illness, and death. The best memoirs on these topics describe the emotional transformation in the writer as they process their loss of control, loss of their own or a loved one’s health, and their fear, pain, and suffering. In sharing these stories, we help others empathize with what we’ve gone through and help others be better prepared for similar events in their own lives.

Kathryn's book list on Memoirs illness aging death moving vivid prose

What is my book about?

The Pianist's Only Daughter is a frank, humorous, and heartbreaking exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her mother, an English scholar and poet, and her father, a pianist and music professor. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' newly single father flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Their daughter watches in disbelief…

The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

What is this book about?

Grounded in insights about mental health, health and aging, The Pianist’s Only Daughter: A Memoir presents a frank and loving exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her English scholar and poet mother and her pianist father. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' father finds himself single and flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with…


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