The best books about strange and unusual families

Sophie Overett Author Of The Rabbits
By Sophie Overett

Who am I?

Growing up in the sub-tropics of Brisbane, there was a magic in the heat. It was one that spoke to me from a really young age, and I’d daydream about finding portals to secret worlds in the stutter of a sprinkler’s spray, or the ooze of a monster in mid-afternoon sweat. There was no way I couldn’t find a story in the oppressive swelter of year-round summers, and in my head, I’d cast roles for my family and my friends. Over the years, that bred into a love of writing and reading stories about strange families finding their own sorts of magic with each other and their environments, and the ways that little taste of the uncanny can reveal and conceal in equal measure. 

I wrote...

The Rabbits

By Sophie Overett,

Book cover of The Rabbits

What is my book about?

Crippled by grief since the disappearance of her older sister, Bo, Delia and her mother became dysfunctional, parting ways not long after Delia turned eighteen. Now an art teacher at a Queensland college, Delia has managed to build a new life for herself and to create a family of her own. Only more and more that life is slipping: her partner, Ed, has gone, her daughter, Olive, is distancing herself, and all of a sudden, in the middle of a blinding heatwave, her sixteen-year-old son, Charlie, disappears too. 

The Rabbits is a multigenerational family story with a dose of magical realism. It is about family secrets, art, very mild superpowers, loneliness, and the strange connections we make in the places we least expect. 
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The books I picked & why

The House of the Spirits

By Isabel Allende,

Book cover of The House of the Spirits

Why did I love this book?

Telling the epic story of three generations of a family navigating post-colonial Chile, the story features a daughter who can see the future, another born with green hair, and a few family members who don’t quite go once they are dead. This novel often feels more tapestry than story thread, interweaving the complexities of history, trauma, relationships, and individual and collective imagination into something pretty magical. 

By Isabel Allende,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The House of the Spirits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Spectacular...An absorbing and distinguished work...The House of the Spirits with its all-informing, generous, and humane sensibility, is a unique achievement, both personal witness and possible allegory of the past, present, and future of Latin America.” —The New York Times Book Review

Our Shared Shelf, Emma Watson Goodreads Book Club Pick November/December 2020!

The House of the Spirits, the unforgettable first novel that established Isabel Allende as one of the world’s most gifted storytellers, brings to life the triumphs and tragedies of three generations of the Trueba family. The patriarch Esteban is a volatile, proud man whose voracious pursuit of political…

Book cover of St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Why did I love this book?

Magical realism short stories have always had their corner of the market, but Karen Russell’s debut collection really made its mark and it’s not hard to see why. It’s full of bold and dynamic stories that root us in the heart of the Florida Everglades, and spin out into tales of boys searching for the ghost of their dead sister, and wild wolf girls being reintegrated into civilisation. Families take on so many different meanings in this collection, but they always feel both fantastic and real.  

By Karen Russell,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Charting loss, love, and the difficult art of growing up, these stories unfurl with wicked humour and insight. Two young boys make midnight trips to a boat graveyard in search of their dead sister, who set sail in the exoskeleton of a giant crab; a boy whose dreams foretell implacable tragedies is sent to 'Sleepaway Camp for Disordered Dreamers' (Cabin 1, Narcoleptics; Cabin 2, Insomniacs; Cabin 3, Somnambulists. . . ); a Minotaur leads his family on the trail out West, and finally, in the collection's poignant and hilarious title story, fifteen girls raised by wolves are painstakingly re-civilised by…

Book cover of A Tale for the Time Being

Why did I love this book?

There are two families at the heart of Ruth Ozeki’s wondrous novel, which makes sense, given the story has two different timelines. In one, is teenage Nao, whose struggles with her suicidal father and her connection with her wise and funny great grandmother are documented in a diary, which is picked up in the second timeline by Ruth, an author struggling to write a novel who becomes entranced by Nao’s diary which seems to have a whole life and character of its own. Surreal and gripping, A Tale for the Time Being is about the past and future, and about how maybe both are capable of change. 

By Ruth Ozeki,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked A Tale for the Time Being as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliant, unforgettable novel from bestselling author Ruth Ozeki, author of The Book of Form and Emptiness

Finalist for the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award

"A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be."

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there's only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates' bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who's lived more than a…

The Animals in That Country

By Laura Jean McKay,

Book cover of The Animals in That Country

Why did I love this book?

There’s a lot of pandemic fiction, but rarely are they as creative and thrilling as this. The zooflu that rips through Australia allows people to talk to animals while they’re sick, and when it inches towards the family-run zoo at the heart of this novel, tensions rise and bonds are tested, especially between addict Jean, her granddaughter Kimberley, and prodigal son, Lee. 

By Laura Jean McKay,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?



Out on the road, no one speaks, everything talks.

Hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, and allergic to bullshit, Jean is not your usual grandma. She's never been good at getting on with other humans, apart from her beloved granddaughter, Kimberly. Instead, she surrounds herself with animals, working as a guide in an outback wildlife park. And although Jean talks to all her charges, she has a particular soft spot for a young dingo called Sue.

As disturbing news arrives of a pandemic sweeping the country, Jean realises this is…

Book cover of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Why did I love this book?

Okay, this is a little bit of a cheat, as there’s no magical realism exactly in Karen Joy Fowler’s novel, but there’s certainly the uncanny. This story of two sisters separated during childhood trying to find each other in adulthood is wry and funny, but also immensely heartfelt and dramatic, and the twist at the halfway mark (which I won’t spoil for you!) makes this one a personal favourite. 

By Karen Joy Fowler,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club introduces a middle-class American family that is ordinary in every way but one in this novel that won the PEN/Faulkner Award and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize.
Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she explains. “I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion...she was my twin, my funhouse…

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