The most recommended dysfunctional family books

Who picked these books? Meet our 145 experts.

145 authors created a book list connected to dysfunctional families, and here are their favorite dysfunctional family books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of dysfunctional family book?

Loading...
Loading...

Book cover of The Vet's Daughter

Emily Midorikawa Author Of Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice

From Emily's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Reader Mother Teacher Enthusiastic dancer

Emily's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Emily Midorikawa Why did Emily love this book?

I’ve never read anything quite like The Vet’s Daughter. First published in 1959, this Gothic novel—set half a century before, in Edwardian London—has both period character and a decidedly modern feel.

Its heroine, Alice Rowlands, endures a bleak existence in the home of her diabolical veterinarian father, who fills their house with animals and treats his family with such vicious contempt that I was hoping the tables would turn on him from the very start of the book. And turn they do, in a very unexpected way that sends the story veering into fantastical territory.

I won’t say more about the plot for fear of ruining the ending. I’ll just add that this was the first book I’d read by Barbara Comyns and that I’ll be seeking out more of her work.

By Barbara Comyns,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Vet's Daughter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

INTRODUCED BY JANE GARDAM

'A small Gothic masterpiece . . . I have read it many times, and with every re-read I marvel again at its many qualities' SARAH WATERS

'It projects its fantastic story with a tangible realness . . . A wonderful and original novel' ALAN HOLLINGHURST

'She shows mastery of the structures of a fast-moving narrative and a consistent backdrop to the ecstasies and agonies of the human condition' JANE GARDAM, SPECTATOR

Growing up in Edwardian South London, Alice Rowlands longs for romance and excitement, for a release from a life that is dreary, restrictive and lonely.…


Book cover of Sunny Side Up

Sylvie Kantorovitz Author Of Sylvie

From my list on kids you’d want to be friends with.

Why am I passionate about this?

My family was from Morocco and settled in France when I was five. Moreover, we were Jewish in a very Catholic world. Even with my friends, I often felt like I didn’t fit in. I now live in the US and still feel very drawn to stories of people who have felt at odds with their surroundings, who have had a difficult upbringing, who tried so hard to fit in. I find comfort in the book-company of others who also have struggled and yet found their own ways to deal with their difficulties. I have chosen books where the characters felt like friends to me.

Sylvie's book list on kids you’d want to be friends with

Sylvie Kantorovitz Why did Sylvie love this book?

Sunny is spending the summer with her grandfather in his retirement community after the family’s plan of a beach vacation is cancelled. I loved the connection between Sunny and her grandfather. Neither one was counting on this long visit and they both make the best of it. At first, it seems there is nothing much for Sunny to do. Luckily she meets the only other kid in the community and they become good friends, bonding over his beloved comics collection. 

But there are things Sunny sees and doesn’t tell, secrets that weigh on her, troubling memories of home. From funny moments to poignant ones, I couldn’t put this book down. 

By Jennifer L. Holm, Matthew Holm (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Sunny Side Up as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Sunny Lewin has been packed off to Florida to live with her grandfather
for the summer. At first she thought Florida might be fun
-- it is the home of Disney World, after all. But the place where
Gramps lives is no amusement park. It's full of . . . old people.
Really old people.
Luckily, Sunny isn't the only kid around. She meets Buzz, a boy who
is completely obsessed with comic books, and soon they're having
adventures of their own: facing off against golfball-eating alligators,
runaway cats, and mysteriously disappearing neighbors.
But the question remains -- why is…


Book cover of One Plus One

Julie Shackman Author Of A Secret Scottish Escape

From my list on romance books with an irresistible hero.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a feel-good romance author from Scotland, published with the HarperCollins imprint One More Chapter. I trained as a journalist and studied Communication and Media, but I always wanted to write romance novels. When I’m not doing that, I write verses and captions for greeting card companies. I’m also a huge music fan, which gave me the idea for my first published novel with One More Chapter, A Secret Scottish Escape.

Julie's book list on romance books with an irresistible hero

Julie Shackman Why did Julie love this book?

I am a huge fan of JoJo Moyes, and this book was so beautifully crafted, I could see it running through my head like a movie.

Ed Nicholls is the personification of the saying, “Not all superheroes wear capes.” Despite his own troubles, he makes sure he’s there for others when they need him. He has a dry wit, too. He’s adorable!

By Jojo Moyes,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked One Plus One as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One single mom. One chaotic family. One quirky stranger. One irresistible love story from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Giver of Stars

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can't afford to pay for. That's Jess's life in a nutshell-until an unexpected knight in shining armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess's knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has…


The Cowboy's Lost Family

By Roxanne Snopek,

Book cover of The Cowboy's Lost Family

Roxanne Snopek

New book alert!

What is my book about?

He’s looking for the one thing she’s done with: family.

Brade Oliver arrives in Grand, Montana, looking for blood—and answers. Genetic tests reveal that his biological family may reside in the small, western town, and he’s on a mission to finally discover the one thing his adoptive family couldn’t give him: the truth.

Kendall McKinley craves a normal life, free of the demands, drama, and constraints of her dysfunctional family. Despite being focused on building her career and working on a restoration project, Kendall can’t help herself from noticing a handsome stranger the first night he arrives. But when Brade…

The Cowboy's Lost Family

By Roxanne Snopek,

What is this book about?

He’s looking for the one thing she’s done with: family.

Brade Oliver arrives in Grand, Montana, looking for blood—and answers. Genetic tests reveal that his biological family may reside in the small, western town, and he’s on a mission to finally discover the one thing his adoptive family couldn’t give him: the truth.

Kendall McKinley craves a normal life, free of the demands, drama, and constraints of her dysfunctional family. Despite being focused on building her career and working on a restoration project, Kendall can’t help herself from noticing a handsome stranger the first night he arrives. But when Brade…


Book cover of At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life

Heidi McCrary Author Of Chasing North Star

From my list on family dysfunction to read while drinking.

Why am I passionate about this?

I like to say I had a colorful childhood. With a mentally unstable mother who bred children as a hobby, I was part of a band of siblings that lived life pretty free-range. It made for dark, but arguably, entertaining times. If you came from an abnormally normal childhood and can’t relate, I’m not sure we can be friends. Escaping with a book and glass of wine is balanced living, and I’ve given tips on the best wine selections to go with the following books featuring dysfunctional families. But just between you and me, any wine will do.

Heidi's book list on family dysfunction to read while drinking

Heidi McCrary Why did Heidi love this book?

While I have never dreamed of living in the middle of nowhere (that’s why they call it nowhere), I do know that many people dream of trading the chaos of city living for a more tranquil life in the country. Wade Rouse was one of those poor blokes who, with his partner, decided to move from the big city to the deep woods located just south of the artsy town of Saugatuck Michigan. Rouse’s snarky depiction of life in redneck country is laugh-out-loud funny and not the least bit insulting to those living the simpler lifestyle. OK, it actually is, but hey, it’s funny!

Best read with a medium body Pinot Noir.

By Wade Rouse,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We all dream about it, but Wade Rouse actually did it. Discover his journey to live the simple life in this hilarious memoir. 

Finally fed up with the frenzy of city life and a job he hates, Wade Rouse decided to make either the bravest decision of his life or the worst mistake since his botched Ogilvie home perm: to uproot his life and try, as Thoreau did some 160 years earlier, to "live a plain, simple life in radically reduced conditions."

In this rollicking and hilarious memoir, Wade and his partner, Gary, leave culture, cable, and consumerism behind and…


Book cover of The Republic

Beverly A. Li Author Of The Elbow Grease Legacy

From my list on seeking to unravel dysfunctional family cycles.

Why am I passionate about this?

It took a career as a librarian to help me understand my need for order, instead of the emotional chaos I grew up with in a large family. Being the child of an alcoholic father and a codependent mother gave me little personal value. After gaining some sense of worth in college, I wanted to give my kids the stability and support every child deserves, but I had to learn how to do this. I used my resources: education, self-scrutiny, honesty, art, nature, and the good Lord of the universe.

Beverly's book list on seeking to unravel dysfunctional family cycles

Beverly A. Li Why did Beverly love this book?

The key to understanding our lives is to enlarge our perspectives, and human behavior hasn’t changed much in 2000 years.

Plato gives several suggestions for maintaining stability in organized society, including guarding against the influence of Sophists, who manipulate language to manipulate their listeners, reminding me of our salesmen today.

Especially valuable is his allegory of the cave, where educators present images to an audience chained in place since early childhood. The glare of the sun awaits anyone who manages to leave the cave, and coming back in won’t be easy, but those who leave and find genuine truth need to come back and serve those still in the cave. Make the world a better place.

By Plato, Desmond Lee (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Republic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic translation of the cornerstone work of western philosophy

Plato's Republic is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential works in the history of philosophy. Presented in the form of a dialogue between Socrates and three different interlocutors, it is an inquiry into the notion of a perfect community and the ideal individual within it. During the conversation other questions are raised: what is goodness; what is reality; what is knowledge; what is the purpose of education? With remarkable lucidity and deft use of allegory, Plato arrives at a depiction of a state bound by harmony and ruled…


Book cover of Just Listen

Marie Jaskulka Author Of The Lost Marble Notebook of Forgotten Girl & Random Boy

From my list on YA about overcoming abuse and assault.

Why am I passionate about this?

I fell in love with reading in fourth grade but felt like real girls weren't reflected in young adult books. The characters had friend problems and boy problems, but books about really big problems like sexual assault were rare because most people thought subjects like addiction and abuse weren't appropriate for young readers. It's one of those weird dichotomies: we know kids deal with big problems, but we're afraid to broach the subject. I used books to help me understand stuff I didn't feel comfortable talking about so I appreciate books that show people how to claw themselves out of a bad place and be their own hero.

Marie's book list on YA about overcoming abuse and assault

Marie Jaskulka Why did Marie love this book?

Just Listen has one of my favorite male protagonists of all time, the guy I wish I would have met in high school. As a music-head, I also love the way Annabel and Owen bond over their favorite songs. Getting over an assault requires support. On one hand, you have to be incredibly strong to tell the truth about what happened. But once you tell your people, they hold you up as you walk through healing. Telling is so hard, but support is key.

By Sarah Dessen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Just Listen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

From the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Once and for All

To find the truth you’ve got to be willing to hear it.
 
When she’s modeling, Annabel is the picture of perfection.
 
But her real life is far from perfect.
 
Fortunately, she’s got Owen. He’s intense, music-obsessed, and dedicated to always telling the truth.
 
And most of all, he’s determined to make Annabel happy. . .
 
“This is young adult fiction at its best.” —School Library Journal
 
Sarah Dessen is the winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her contributions to YA literature, as well as…


Book cover of Daughter's Keeper

Katie O'Rourke Author Of Finding Charlie

From my list on deeply lovable dysfunctional families.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born and raised in New England, growing up along the seacoast of New Hampshire. I went to college in Massachusetts and graduated with a degree in gender and sexuality. I live in Tucson, Arizona with my sweet yellow lab and even sweeter boyfriend. I’m a hybrid author. My debut novel, Monsoon Season, was traditionally published along with A Long Thaw, which I later rereleased on my own. Finding Charlie was chosen for publication by KindleScout in 2015. My fourth book, Blood & Water launched in 2017. I write the kind of fiction I like to read: character-driven, relationship-focused, and emotionally complex.

Katie's book list on deeply lovable dysfunctional families

Katie O'Rourke Why did Katie love this book?

Waldman is an expert at her depiction of the complicated mother/daughter relationship. Every interaction between Olivia and Elaine is thick with their history of built-up resentment and guilt, an intense love that can often overwhelm and feel burdensome, the competing desires to please and to hurt complicating every moment.

By Ayelet Waldman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Daughter's Keeper as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How much would you sacrifice to save someone you love?


When Olivia, wild-haired and headstrong, makes a terrible mistake, she must turn to the person least likely to help—her mother, Elaine. Motherhood was a role that Elaine never embraced and her best never amounted to much. But now Olivia faces prosecution for a naïve connection to a drug deal and she needs Elaine more than ever. As the days count down and Olivia's future hangs in the balance, Elaine must decide just how much she is willing to give for a second chance with her daughter.

With Daughter's Keeper, Ayelet…


Book cover of The Wrong Family

CJ Vermote Author Of As If Yesterday

From CJ's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Author Reader Poet Photographer Entrepreneur

CJ's 3 favorite reads in 2023

CJ Vermote Why did CJ love this book?

I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. As an adult I struggled to raise my children and keep a roof over our heads. Homelessness is not always for the reason one assumes. 

How Juno wound up where she is in her struggles doesn’t make you want to disrespect her, but to understand her heart. I laughed, cried, and panic ripped through me as pages turned. The rich family in the story carry an air that is deceiving, but Juno sees it clearly. 
The twists and turns created the need to read veraciously. More than once my heart was racing or hurting in agony. As soon as I thought I had it figured out I was thrown for a loop. 

By Tarryn Fisher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wrong Family as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of Never Never, co-written with Colleen Hoover!

From the author of the New York Times bestseller The Wives comes another twisted psychological thriller guaranteed to turn your world upside down—an instant bestseller!

Have you ever been wrong about someone?

Juno was wrong about Winnie Crouch.

Before moving in with the Crouch family, Juno thought Winnie and her husband, Nigel, had the perfect marriage, the perfect son—the perfect life. Only now that she’s living in their beautiful house, she sees the cracks in the crumbling facade are too deep to ignore.

Still, she…


Book cover of One Last Shot

Marcia Strykowski Author Of Roller Boy

From my list on featuring boys who crave success.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been a fan of stories where the underdog makes good due to their own strength and determination. Although my book picks are all connected to sports I don’t happen to participate in, I feel the power of choosing the life you want by working hard encompasses all fields whether it be learning to sing or dance or becoming an expert in science, chess, juggling, or whatever one’s passion might be. For me, I guess it would be writing and not giving up even when it sometimes feels like playing the lottery each time one of my manuscripts is sent into cyberspace.

Marcia's book list on featuring boys who crave success

Marcia Strykowski Why did Marcia love this book?

I love how Malcolm, a kid who doesn’t like sports despite his athletic dad’s enthusiastic encouragement, finally finds a place to call his own in mini-golf. Malcolm has always felt like a loser but once he signs up for lessons and meets some friends, he slowly improves, in his game and in his opinion of himself. Unfortunately, Malcolm also carries the weight of feeling it’s up to him to keep his parents’ troubled marriage together. With tournaments and family problems mounting high, this is an exciting read. The eighteen chapters, set up like holes on a golf course, are a fun addition.

By John David Anderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Last Shot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

The beloved author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and Posted returns with a humorous and heartwarming story of family, friendship, and miniature golf.

For as long as he can remember, Malcolm has never felt like he was good enough. Not for his parents, who have always seemed at odds with each other, with Malcolm caught in between. And especially not for his dad, whose competitive drive and love for sports Malcolm has never shared.

That is, until Malcolm discovers miniature golf, the one sport he actually enjoys. Maybe it’s the way in which every hole is a puzzle to be…


Book cover of I’m Sorry You Feel That Way

Sarah Edghill Author Of His Other Woman

From my list on domestic dramas making you glad life is normal.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love writing about families and what makes them tick: the minor dramas being played out behind every front door, make for intriguing reading. As a journalist, I have interviewed so many people with fascinating stories to tell, and with my fiction I throw my characters into a tricky situation and see what unfolds. Inevitably, if you pull one playing card from the bottom, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. When faced with unexpected challenges, my characters often behave badly, make poor decisions and get themselves into the kind of mess that makes you want to read one more chapter before turning out the light at night. 

Sarah's book list on domestic dramas making you glad life is normal

Sarah Edghill Why did Sarah love this book?

Yet more dysfunctional families and tormented sibling relationships, but this book is funny as well as clever, and I loved the fractured relationships between Alice and Hanna, twins who have always been saint and sinner. Now the two women are adults, nothing has turned out as they expected in their lives and they struggle with each other as well as with their domineering mother and critical older brother. Some great family tension and well-written dialogue, and despite the subject matter, this isn’t a book that will leave you down-hearted.

By Rebecca Wait,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I’m Sorry You Feel That Way as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Times Best Fiction Book of the Year
A Guardian Best Fiction Book of the Year
A BBC Culture Book of the Year
'IT'LL EASILY BE ONE OF MY BOOKS OF THE YEAR' Hannah Beckerman

'It's a warm book and a touching one. And did I mention it's funny? Just read it. You'll see' The Times

'Funny, tender and sad' Sunday Express

'If you liked Meg Mason's Sorrow and Bliss, you'll love this novel' Good Housekeeping

'One of the richest explorations of family dysfunction I've read' the i newspaper

'Shades of Fleabag in this smart, funny drama' Mail on Sunday…