Craft · Feature

Reading Recs for Family Dynamics

In our “Reading Recs for…” series we’ll recommend reads for certain topics that we run into often.

Family dynamics is something most readers can relate to. And complicated family dynamics is often a wonderful tool to understand our characters through their relationships with those closest to them. So, for this “Reading Recs” post we’re giving our recommendations for books that do family dynamics really well!

INEXPLICABLE LOGIC OF MY LIFE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Why we Rec: The family unit in this novel is not the nuclear family we often see in literature, that’s exactly why it works as the core heart of this book. Every character is deepened and further defined by how they interact with each other and create the central family in this book. It’s a beautiful thing to see come together and will stay with you long after you read.

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The first day of senior year:

Everything is about to change. Until this moment, Sal has always been certain of his place with his adoptive gay father and their loving Mexican-American family. But now his own history unexpectedly haunts him, and life-altering events force him and his best friend, Samantha, to confront issues of faith, loss, and grief.

Suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and discovering that he no longer knows who he really is—but if Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY by Amanda Foody

Why We Rec: Another found family narrative, but this time in a fantasy setting. Sometimes our family isn’t the one we’re born into but the ones we make. And Foody masterfully examines the lengths someone will go to for family.

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Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.

UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan

Why we Rec: Sometimes our families seem perfect until we find out mistakes they’ve made. This novel perfectly portrays that (though it’s not the central theme of the novel). Often fantasy YA can push the family/parents to the background in order to bring the teens to the forefront, what Brennan does so well is she acknowledges how our families shape our worlds and how we interact with them. And she does it with very witty dialogue.

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Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met… a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?

THE HATE YOU GIVE by Angie Thomas

Why we Rec: The family in this book lends so much heart and warmth and humor to the novel. It takes a story that could just be about tragedy and fear and trauma and gives a heart at the center to hold on to.

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Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

COURT OF FIVES by Kate Elliott

Why we Rec: The use of the main character’s family in this novel is very smart. They are at the center of it all for her. The actions of her father, the reputation of her mother, and the individual needs and wants of her sisters are what constantly drive Jessamy’s decisions. The novel is largely about how she takes control of her life, but many of her decisions are shaped and driven by her family and what they mean to her.

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On the Fives court, everyone is equal.

And everyone is dangerous.

Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.

Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.

Do you have any good recommendations for Family Dynamics? Tell us in the comments!

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