10 Books About Family Dynamics That Make You Feel Seen And Sane

by Allison Stadd
Mom reading a book about toxic families
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When you’re dealing with a challenging family situation, be it your jealousy-charged dynamic with your sister or your complicated relationship with your impossible in-laws, it can feel like even your therapist doesn’t get it.

And honestly, who doesn’t have at least one less-than-ideal family relationship? Human beings are too complex to have only blissful social interactions, especially with the people you’re related to.

There’s nothing better than a can’t-put-down read that nails a feeling or experience you thought was exclusive to you. It helps you realize you’re not losing your mind—which in turn, can make those real-life family relationships easier to manage.

Below are ten of my stand-out favorite books that cover some of those family dynamics–and make you feel not just seen, but sane.

1. Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Everything Jenkins Reid writes is excellent. This one hits home if you can relate to a sibling dynamic in which you have to be the “adult” (hand up!) because your parents weren’t present or capable, or because your siblings took up so much oxygen that your role in the family was being the easygoing one. This one’s also got an estranged dad, maternal abandonment, sibling adoption, and romantic betrayal among brothers.

2. The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade

You know how your relationship with various family members can be different depending on the year or even the day? Promise that’s normal. This fantastic debut novel set in New Mexico is a great representation of how, across five generations, the parent or grandparent or uncle you’re vibing with can change seemingly on a whim (especially when you’re pregnant or have a newborn).

3. Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

It’s hard to find books that capture the familial impact of having a relative, let alone a parent, embroiled in the criminal justice system. This memoir fits that bill.

4. Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

“She wanted to tell the girl: It’s complicated…. [M]y brain no longer functions as it did before the baby, and I am really dumb now. I am afraid I will never be smart or happy or thin again… Instead, she said, smiling, I love it. I love being a mom.” If you can relate to that quote, read this book immediately (if the title alone didn’t convince you).

5. In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn

It’s difficult to predict how people, even those you’ve known your whole life, will act in a crisis. I love how this thriller shines a light on the sometimes unexpected actions people take when motivated by fear, love, or both. If you’ve experienced an emergency situation alongside family, reading about how these characters each handled it could be helpful.

6. Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Everyone has that long-standing friendship that feels more like sisterhood, in all its splendor and complexity. This book captures that friend-as-family dynamic beautifully.

7. The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

If the word “ragtag” describes your family—siblings in different places, geographically and emotionally; step-parents; financial challenges making all of that even gnarlier—you’ll appreciate this one.

8. Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro

Shapiro writes about discovering as an adult that the man who raised her was not her biological father. This memoir speaks to anyone who’s dealing with family secret-keeping and the associated fall-out.

9. Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

Weddings bring out the worst in people, don’t they? If you have a family wedding in your recent past or near future, you’ll appreciate this read.

10. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

No list of books about fraught families is complete without Burroughs. If you, too, had an outlaw childhood or grew up in otherwise extraordinary circumstances, Burroughs is your man. Start with this one, then move on to Possible Side Effects and Magical Thinking if you get hooked.

Dealing with a unique family dynamic can feel just that: unique, like no one else can relate. But turning to books that explore those experiences can be cathartic. And you never know, sharing a copy with the relatives in question may be a relationship breakthrough. Family book club, anyone?

Allison Stadd is a writer and marketing executive, overzealous exclamation point user, voracious reader, and a mom (not in that order). She’s on a mission to make living and working better mutually inclusive.