The best books that put the fun into dysfunctional families

Who am I?

As Korean immigrants growing up in largely white suburbs, my siblings and I were keen observers of American life particularly the customs and affectations of the upper class. A tight-knit trio, we learned how to fit in to our adopted country by inhaling pop culture: television and movies, books and magazines, album covers and clothing catalogues. The one thing we valued above all else was humor. To this day, my favorite books are those that make me laugh, cry, and nod in delighted recognition—sometimes simultaneously.

I wrote...

A Good Family: A Novel

By A.H. Kim,

Book cover of A Good Family: A Novel

What is my book about?

A Good Family has been hailed as a “lively suspense diversion” (Maureen Corrigan, The Washington Post) and an “addictive, over-the-top dramedy that would make for a great TV series” (Publishers Weekly). Combining elements of black comedy and domestic noir, A Good Family is told from the alternating perspectives of Hannah Min, a Korean-American law librarian, and Beth Lindstrom, her glamorous sister-in-law who pleads guilty to a white-collar crime related to her work as a high-powered pharmaceutical executive. While in prison, Beth suspects someone in the family set her up and asks Hannah to help figure out who it was. My debut novel was inspired by my personal experience supporting my brother and nieces while my sister-in-law served time in Alderson Women’s Prison.

The books I picked & why

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My Sister, the Serial Killer

By Oyinkan Braithwaite,

Book cover of My Sister, the Serial Killer

Why this book?

Of all family relationships, I am particularly intrigued by the bond between sisters—think: Little Women, Sense and Sensibility, The Vanishing Half. In Braithwaite’s debut novel, older and more practical sister Korede is hopelessly devoted to younger and more impetuous sister Ayoola. This familiar family dynamic is given a fresh and fabulous take when it turns out Ayoola’s boyfriends keep ending up dead, leaving Korede to clean up the mess. Sister melodrama and serial murder—what could be more fun, right?

Eligible: A Novel

By Curtis Sittenfeld,

Book cover of Eligible: A Novel

Why this book?

Sittenfeld is one of my very few “auto-buy” authors: I gobble up everything she writes. Eligible is arguably her breeziest book, updating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to the modern day, complete with Cross-Fit workouts, Paleo diets, and reality TV dating shows. All of your favorite characters—the Bennet sisters, Bingley, and of course swoon-worthy Darcy (elevated from Mr. to Dr. here)—are represented, and Sittenfeld’s wry dissection of contemporary life would make even Ms. Austen smile.

The Wangs Vs. The World

By Jade Chang,

Book cover of The Wangs Vs. The World

Why this book?

Fans of Schitt’s Creek, Crazy Rich Asians, and Little Miss Sunshine will delight in Chang’s debut. At turns bawdy and brilliant, The Wangs vs. The World tells the hilarious story of Charles Wang, a Chinese immigrant who achieves the American Dream by turning waste into wealth only to get hit by the financial crisis and lose his dazzling Bel Air home and everything he holds dear—everything, that is, except his quirky but lovable family. Chang’s razor-sharp humor and bold writing style have made me an instant fan.

The Hotel New Hampshire

By John Irving,

Book cover of The Hotel New Hampshire

Why this book?

In our teens and twenties, my brother and I bonded over the works of John Irving. It’s hard to name a favorite, but The Hotel New Hampshire is certainly right up there. Perhaps it’s Irving’s trademark humor and unconventional plotting, or the unnaturally close relationship between siblings John and Franny, or the memorable quotations sprinkled throughout (“Sorrow floats,” “Keep passing the open windows”), but Irving’s fifth novel will always have a special place in my heart.

The Nest

By Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney,

Book cover of The Nest

Why this book?

When brainstorming “comps” for my book, my first impulse was to cite Sweeney’s debut, but that seemed presumptuous given that The Nest was an instant NYT bestseller and named best book of 2016 by countless reviewers. But like my own debut, The Nest is a darkly comic exploration of middle-aged siblings, their relationships and rivalries, and the way that money can insinuate itself into our lives in ways both unwelcome and unimaginable. 

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