The best un-miserable memoirs dealing with tricky family history written with wit and authenticity

Jools Abrams Author Of Girl in the Mirror
By Jools Abrams

Who am I?

I’ve been a life writer since I kept my first Mary Quant, Daisy diary in 1973. Reading and writing memoir, I’ve written thirty as a ghostwriter in the last six years and am working on my own. I’m fascinated by life stories. After an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, I won the Wasafiri Life Writing Prize, which led to a novel in biographical form, based on the life of my nan in the last century, Girl in the Mirror. I write stories, short and long, for adults and children, performing nationally and in London, was Writer in Residence for Talliston House, and have been published by Walker Books and Mslexia.


I wrote...

Girl in the Mirror

By Jools Abrams,

Book cover of Girl in the Mirror

What is my book about?

A novel of historical fiction that chronicles the life of Muriel: A giddy kipper of a girl who craves the spotlight of a movie star. An ordinary girl with extraordinary dreams, growing up on either side of the war in a family who behaves as if love is on ration, her restless spirit sparks through her dancing shoes and love of art. A spirit that creates struggles with her fragile mind. Can she find a balance in her fractured life held together with love?

"A human, complex and very beautifully crafted novel." (Kerry Hudson, author of Lowborn), "Fizzing with life." (Sophie Lambert, agent)

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Without Warning and Only Sometimes

By Kit de Waal,

Book cover of Without Warning and Only Sometimes

Why this book?

Kit and I share some life similarities, she’s a working-class girl with a Birmingham background, published later in life, and I was keen to read her story. Written as scenes from childhood with sharp observation and wit, her book illustrates an unpredictable childhood. The daughter of an Irish mother and Caribbean father in a large and sometimes chaotic family, where there is love in the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but not always at home. There are the familiar places, the family dynamics observed with the clarity of a child, and the tit-for-tat games her parents play - dad buys a new car, the next week, mum a harmonica and Davy Crockett hat. All quirks observed and challenging situations related with a lightness of touch and wit, a genuine pleasure to read.

Without Warning and Only Sometimes

By Kit de Waal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Without Warning and Only Sometimes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Vivid and compelling and so moving... both painful and comforting to read' Marian Keyes
**SHORTLISTED FOR THE BOOKS ARE MY BAG READERS AWARD AND AN POST IRISH BIOGRAPHY OF THE YEAR 2022**
**AS BROADCAST ON BBC RADIO 4**

Kit de Waal grew up in a household of opposites and extremes. Her haphazard mother rarely cooked, forbade Christmas and birthdays, worked as a cleaner, nurse and childminder sometimes all at once and believed the world would end in 1975. Meanwhile, her father stuffed barrels full of goodies for his relatives in the Caribbean, cooked elaborate meals on a whim and splurged…


Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

By Jeanette Winterson,

Book cover of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Why this book?

Jeanette Winterson writes her upbringing as an only, adopted child with a mother who hated being a nobody and found her life in church, who used face powder, but not lipstick – too fast and loose. Written with wry prose. "My mother was a snob and she didn’t like me mixing with the dog biscuit girls from Oswaldtwistle." A child longing for love and loyalty, wrestling with a mother who parcelled out either one on ration. It is a brilliant portrayal of the mother-daughter dynamic, a memoir that captures the Lancashire spirit of family life, roll up your sleeves and get on with it. 

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

By Jeanette Winterson,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The shocking, heart-breaking - and often very funny - true story behind Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

In 1985 Jeanette Winterson's first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, was published. It was Jeanette's version of the story of a terraced house in Accrington, an adopted child, and the thwarted giantess Mrs Winterson. It was a cover story, a painful past written over and repainted. It was a story of survival.

This book is that story's the silent twin. It is full of hurt and humour and a fierce love of life. It is about the pursuit of happiness,…


My Name Is Why

By Lemn Sissay,

Book cover of My Name Is Why

Why this book?

Mixing official documents with real, remembered events, Lemn Sissay’s memoir is a search for identity, for his true name. Left in a home in Liverpool for unmarried mothers, he is moved between a series of foster and care homes, until he is given access to all his records in 2015, after a thirty-year campaign to find them. He finds who he really is. It’s an honest, poignant, unsettling, and heartfelt journey, revealing how a small boy’s life is shaped by ‘the authority’ and the faceless state. Complimented with inspiring poems and useful resources, this is a hopeful and helpful book. 

My Name Is Why

By Lemn Sissay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Name Is Why as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE NUMBER ONE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
SHORTLISTED FOR THE GORDON BURN PRIZE
A BOOK OF THE YEAR IN THE TIMES, GUARDIAN, DAILY TELEGRAPH, SUNDAY TIMES, OBSERVER, NEW STATESMAN, METRO, DAILY MAIL, SUNDAY EXPRESS and HERALD

How does a government steal a child and then imprison him? How does it keep it a secret? This story is how.

At the age of seventeen, after a childhood in a foster family followed by six years in care homes, Norman Greenwood was given his birth certificate. He learned that his real name was not Norman. It was Lemn Sissay. He was British and…


Lowborn

By Kerry Hudson,

Book cover of Lowborn

Why this book?

A slice of real life for so many that grow up in poverty in Britain, a life lived pinballing from house to flat to school and back again, on the move with a single mother, Scotland, Liverpool, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, and the North East, Kerry writes about all her traumatic experiences with honesty, humour, and spot-on descriptions of setting – "Hetton- le Hole, hell hole." Formative experiences and a discovery of official documents, help her reflect on a childhood that she survived and thrived beyond. Never judgemental, always honest, required reading.

Lowborn

By Kerry Hudson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Totally engrossing and deliciously feisty' Bernardine Evaristo

A powerful, personal agenda-changing exploration of poverty in today's Britain.

'When every day of your life you have been told you have nothing of value to offer, that you are worth nothing to society, can you ever escape that sense of being 'lowborn' no matter how far you've come?'

Kerry Hudson is proudly working class but she was never proudly poor. The poverty she grew up in was all-encompassing, grinding and often dehumanising. Always on the move with her single mother, Kerry attended nine primary schools and five secondaries, living in B&Bs and…


The Liars' Club: A Memoir

By Mary Karr,

Book cover of The Liars' Club: A Memoir

Why this book?

Queen of memoir, and the only American in this bouquet of books, yet with so many similarities to my other recommendations. Mary Karr’s childhood starts with the violence of her mother, flows through adoration of her father, anecdotalist and storyteller supreme in The Liars Club of his local bar. She explores the family dysfunction through colloquial prose that suits each situation perfectly. It evokes the American south of the early sixties, lived in a family as volatile as the events surrounding them, and the contrast of Colorado in 1963, where the family moved by accident, and revisiting Texas in 1980 to nurse her sick father and relive his stories. The first book that changed the landscape of memoir, that raised it to a higher hill.

The Liars' Club: A Memoir

By Mary Karr,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Liars' Club as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#4 on The New York Times' list of The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years

The New York Times bestselling, hilarious tale of a hardscrabble Texas childhood that Oprah.com calls the best memoir of a generation

"Wickedly funny and always movingly illuminating, thanks to kick-ass storytelling and a poet's ear." -Oprah.com

The Liars' Club took the world by storm and raised the art of the memoir to an entirely new level, bringing about a dramatic revival of the form. Karr's comic childhood in an east Texas oil town brings us characters as darkly hilarious as any of J.…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in poverty, Texas, and childhood?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about poverty, Texas, and childhood.

Poverty Explore 55 books about poverty
Texas Explore 125 books about Texas
Childhood Explore 140 books about childhood

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Glass Castle, Fun Home, and Wild if you like this list.