10 Unputdownable Books About Big Family Secrets

By Stephanie Brown

These compelling reads deliver the drama.

As Leo Tolstoy wrote: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

If that quote sounds intriguing, then this reading list is for you. The following books about family secrets are chock-full of heartbreak, hilarity, and loved ones grappling with the challenges of the past on their way to better days ahead.

The Connellys of County Down

By Tracey Lange

Tracey Lange, the New York Times bestselling author of We Are the Brennans, delivers a beautiful story about an unforgettable family in The Connellys of County Down. When 30-year-old Tara Connelly is released from a short stint in prison, she’s forced to move back in with her brother and sister to put her life back together. Alas, Tara’s siblings have their own issues to work out, from her brother’s lingering medical complications and his daily challenges as a single parent to the long-held family secrets that are eating away at her sister. As Tara strives to heal her family — and maybe find a chance at love — it becomes clear that the entire Connelly clan must work through their shared secrets and fears if they hope to thrive. 

If We’re Being Honest

By Cat Shook

Is there a more dramatic setting for learning of a loved one’s secret life than at his funeral? In If We’re Being Honest, Cat Shook presents the heartfelt dramedy of the Williams family, a tight-knit clan who gather in Eulalia, Georgia, to mourn the passing of their patriarch, Gerry Williams. When Gerry’s close friend reveals a surprising truth during his eulogy, friends and family must reckon with the fallout. The novel follows the ripple effects of this disclosure, as cousins, parents, aunts, and uncles all process their feelings of loss, surprise, and confusion, as well as their funny personal dramas.

The Latecomer

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

In her acclaimed novel, New York Times bestselling author Jean Hanff Korelitz delivers a sweeping family saga about secrets and the unbreakable bonds that tie us together. The Latecomer introduces us to the Oppenheimers, a wealthy New York City–based family whose personal lives are in disarray. The Oppenheimer triplets, born during the early days of IVF and now leaving for college, aren’t particularly close despite their remarkable origin story. Salo, the Oppenheimer patriarch, never really wanted kids and is growing increasingly distant by the day. Meanwhile, Johanna, the Oppenheimer matriarch, laments her newly empty house and her inability to keep her family together. So, she decides to have a fourth child. But will this so-called “latecomer” bring the family back together or drive them even farther apart? Follow the Oppenheimers as they navigate grief, family, religion, and the unexpected arrival of a new baby in this excellent read.

A Nearly Normal Family

By M. T. Edvardsson

How far would you go to protect your family? That’s the question at the heart of M. T. Edvardsson’s propulsive psychological thriller A Nearly Normal Family. When teenage Stella is accused of murdering a much older man, it throws her family into turmoil. What could have motivated this seemingly normal teenager to brutally murder a businessman nearly 15 years her senior? Stella’s father, a pastor, and her mother, a defense attorney, weigh the love and protectiveness they feel for their daughter against their questions surrounding the killing. Stella’s father believes his daughter is innocent; Stella’s mother isn’t as sure. Stella, for her part, knows that neither parent understands the truth. Told via an inventive multivoiced narration, this gripping book about family secrets will have you guessing until the last page is turned. (When you’ve finished, check out The Woman Inside, Edvardsson’s twisty new domestic thriller.)

Everything I Never Told You

By Celeste Ng

From Celeste Ng, the acclaimed author of Little Fires Everywhere, Everything I Never Told You is a touching story about the secrets we keep from those closest to us. The novel centers on the Lees, a Chinese American family living in Ohio in the 1970s, who are grappling with the sudden death of their eldest daughter, Lydia. As the Lees struggle to figure out what led to Lydia’s death, the family wrestles with a haunting question: Can we ever fully understand and keep safe the other members of our family?

Black Cake

By Charmaine Wilkerson

Charmaine Wilkerson’s Black Cake has one of those delectable premises that you simply cannot pass up. When Eleanor Bennett dies, she leaves behind to her grown children two intriguing items: a black cake made from a family recipe and a tape recording recounting the wild story of her life in her own words, brimming with family secrets. Byron and Benny are classic siblings-in-opposition: Byron is the successful, scientist older brother, while Benny is the free-spirited younger artist sister. As they listen to the recording that has brought them back together after eight years apart, they gain a brand-new perspective on their upbringing as children of a biracial Caribbean mother, their mother’s sacrifices, and their family heritage.

The Vanishing Half

By Brit Bennett

Another fascinating story of estranged siblings, Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half follows twins Desiree and Stella Vignes as they choose remarkably different life paths after leaving their small Louisiana town. Desiree marries a Black man and eventually moves back to her hometown with her daughter, while Stella realizes that she can pass for a white woman, marries a white man, and moves to suburban Los Angeles, where she leads a double life as a different person. Bennett’s acclaimed novel, which is a follow-up to The Mothers, will pull you in deep with its layered family dynamics set against the backdrop of racism, class, and the politics of passing.

Pachinko

By Min Jin Lee

While it’s now a critically acclaimed series on Apple TV+, you’ll want to read this award-winning family drama before you watch. In Pachinko, Min Jin Lee transports us to Korea in the early 1900s. There, teenage Sunja finds herself pregnant with the child of her wealthy — and married — secret lover. Rejecting her lover’s offer of a life of comfort, Sunja ultimately marries a visiting minister who’s on his way to Japan. So begins a sprawling story of love, loyalty, and fate that flows across the years, cascading over four generations of family.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

By Kim Edwards

Kim Edwards’s The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is a powerful story of secrets and heartache that follows two parallel families separated by a fateful choice. The acclaimed novel begins on a frigid night in 1964 in Lexington, Kentucky, where a snowstorm forces Dr. David Henry to deliver his wife Nora’s twins with the assistance of a nurse named Caroline Gill. When the doctor realizes that his newborn daughter has Down syndrome, he makes the decision to send her away with Caroline to be placed in an institution. Caroline is unable to bring herself to part with the baby, however, and she decides to raise the infant in another city rather than institutionalize her.

The Family Upstairs

By Lisa Jewell

We couldn’t end our list of books about family secrets without a dark and twisty mystery that’s sure to keep you up all night. In The Family Upstairs, bestselling thriller author Lisa Jewell introduces us to Libby Jones, a young woman who’s been searching for her birth family for years. Soon after her 25th birthday, Libby receives a letter that appears to answer her wish. Indeed, not only does she learn the identity of her birth parents, but she also discovers that she’s inherited their abandoned mansion in a posh London neighborhood. The only hitch? Twenty-five years ago, the mansion was the site of a baffling crime that sent shockwaves through the lives of multiple families. There are others in the present who have never forgotten the transgressions of the past — and Libby is heading right toward them.

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