All In The Family: 8 Families in Fiction and Memoir

Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina by claiming "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy one is unhappy in its own way." He clearly hadn't read about the families on this list (half of which are real, half fictional) or else he would know that happy or unhappy... every family is different.


The Glass Castle

by Jeannette Walls

The Walls family gives new meaning to "hardscrabble childhood". Jeannette, her brother and two sisters, struggle to grow up in a family where their parents have abdicated all parental responsibility. The premise may seem depressing — the siblings struggle with hunger and lack of descent shelter, while the parents essentially do their own thing, but Walls' matter-of-fact descriptions and her personal lack of anger allow the reader to keep plunging forward without being pulled under. The book compels you to keep reading (arriving home while listing to the last CD of the audio book my husband and I ran into our apartment to finish listening) and would be a great book club choice, if for no other reason than to discuss what was causing the parents behavior.


Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

by David Sedaris

The Sedaris family not only includes writer David, actress and author Amy, but also three other equally eccentric sisters and a brother named Paul (who's known as "the Rooster") as well as their sharp-tongued mother and old-fashioned father. This collection of essays catches the family at their best and worst and is at its most hilarious in the audiobook format, hearing the voices and inflections Sedaris gives his family.

This book also appears on Every Book by David Sedaris


Hons and Rebels

by Christopher Hitchens, Jessica Mitford

Lord and Lady Redesdale and their seven children are eccentrics from start to finish. As children, Jessica and her siblings run wild, inventing their own language so as to be able to safely sing dirty songs in front of their parents, shoplifting with their governess, and surviving their upbringing (including their mother's advice to take the bandages off their broken arm and do exercises with it, to prevent its becoming stiff). As adults, Jessica became a communist and noted journalist, sister Nancy a famous author (Love in a Cold Climate is a fictionalized account of the Mitfords) sister Unity, a fascist and personal friend to Adolf Hitler, and sister Deborah the Duchess of Devonshire. A notorious and hilarious family.


Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table

by Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl's family saga is a story of cooking. Ruth's mother eschews cooking (and food safety), giving food poisoning to the guests and serving the steaks, in the words of her son-in-law, raw. As she grows up Ruth learns how to cook and find the importance of preparing food for others from extended family and friends and gains perspective on her relationship with her parents. This is the first of several excellent memoirs and a must-read for anyone who thinks they out-cook their mother.


I Capture the Castle

by Dodie Smith

Cassandra and Rose live in a rundown castle with their brother, father (who wrote a noteworthy book years ago, but has been "blocked" ever since), and step-mother Topez, a 29 year old artist's model who has been married twice before. The book seems destined to follow in the footsteps of Pride and Prejudice, with penniless sisters finding love, but the story and the characters all turn out to be not what the reader expects.


The Cape Ann

by Faith Sullivan

Six-year-old Lark Ann Erhardt is just old enough to start to understand the dynamics of her family. Although she and her mother dream of building the Cape Ann home in the plans her mother sent way for, her father is satisfied with living a sectioned off room of the train depot where he works. Lark and the reader come to comprehend the depths of their troubles together in this memorable story of life in small town Minnesota in the 1930s. This book was the most beloved selection in five years of book club picks.


Bee Season

by Myla Goldberg

Eliza Naumann begins to win spelling bees and in doing so steps away from her established role as a forgotten second child. She and her father spend all their free time together preparing for the bees, which in turn shifts the entire dynamic of the family and causes her mother and older brother slip into new — and surprising — phases of their own lives. These characters stay with you long after you've finished reading.

This book also appears on In Honor of Darwin, A Menagerie of Species


The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery

by Alan Bradley

Eleven-year-old Flavia De Luce — the protagonist of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie — not only solves the murder of the body found in the family's garden, but avenges herself against her snotty older sisters and cracks her distant father's facade. Although the mystery is engaging, the De Luce family is the most enjoyable part of the book. My book club particularly enjoyed the sisters pranks on each other, which include poisoned lipstick and sabotaged crushes.