The best books on the power of family to shape us in ways we can’t imagine

Maya Bernadett Author Of Stories My Grandmother Told Me: A multicultural journey from Harlem to Tohono O'dham
By Maya Bernadett

The Books I Picked & Why


By Louis Sachar

Book cover of Holes

Why this book?

This is my favorite book of all time. Though a children’s book, I found this book to be wise beyond its years, and to offer insights that no book written for adults has quite been able to capture. Family curses, combining past and present, unsolved mysteries- it has everything! Most of all, it shows how family legacies can impact generations, for better or for worse. We can’t escape our families, so it is best to come to terms with where we come from and even see the good in it, rather than trying to break away from something so integral to who we are. 

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Evening Is the Whole Day

By Preeta Samarasan

Book cover of Evening Is the Whole Day

Why this book?

And you thought your family was crazy! Set in Malaysia, this fascinating story combines family drama with class issues, ethnic tensions, the effects of colonial rule, and even ghosts. I love how writer Preeta Samarasan evokes a mysterious, almost magical feel to the setting and characters, as the reader gets acquainted with the wealthy, yet deeply dysfunctional family at the center of the story. No matter how bitter, enraging, or disappointing these characters feel towards each other, they are still bonded together, and the story ends on a hopeful note. This family can redeem itself-even if it takes moving to another country to do it.

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Home: How Habitat Made Us Human

By John S. Allen

Book cover of Home: How Habitat Made Us Human

Why this book?

Family is not just a metaphor- it resides in a physical place, and that place is home. I found this book extremely valuable because it takes an anthropological approach to the meaning of home, exploring the sociological, historical, and even scientific reasons why home is so fundamental to the human condition. The image of a hearth stands out most from this book: that the most fundamental way for humans to make food - fire - created the foundation for viewing home as a place that is crucial to our nourishment and flourishing. This basic aspect of human survival led to a space of protection, peace, comfort, and security- a home. And where there is home, there is family.

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How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century

By Bella DePaulo

Book cover of How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century

Why this book?

Family can be an emotionally charged word, especially for people who come from toxic families or don’t even know their biological families. This is why I appreciate this non-fiction book by Bella DePaulo, which acknowledges that there is more than one way to be a family. She goes well beyond the typical nuclear family of mother, father, and biological children to explore how people are living together in the 21st century. One type of configuration she explores, the multi-generational household, is near and dear to my heart because I grew up like that, and it changed my life for the better.

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Mending Skins

By Eric Gansworth

Book cover of Mending Skins

Why this book?

Family is the core of Native American identity, and nowhere is this more exemplified than in Eric Gansworth’s book Mending Skins. The book centers on two Tuscarora women, mother and daughter, and their triumphs and struggles as professional women trying to do right by their tribe. I recommend this book because it looks at the complexities of trying to keep Native families together among the backdrop of colonialism and government meddling, which was bent on destroying the Native family. Though broken, the women in this book never feel sorry for themselves, and, as the title suggests, look towards the future and ways to become whole again.

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