Father–daughter relationships have always provided a deep well of inspiration for writers, from the fateful way that King Lear’s daughters competed for his riches to the life-changing adoption of a neglected girl in George Eliot’s Silas Marner. Here are some of our favorite contemporary novels and memoirs that explore this unique family bond.
8 Powerful Books That Explore Father–Daughter Relationships
Their relationship can be complicated, but fathers and daughters share a special bond.
By Jessica Dukes
Other People's Pets
By R.L. Maizes
La La Fine is an animal empath. Her father, Zev, is a locksmith who robs houses on the sly. When Zev learns of LaLa’s ability, he begins taking her on his nightly robberies. She calms anxious, barking dogs while he gets to work. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before Zev gets caught. When he does, LaLa must make a number of life-changing decisions. Does she pick up where her father left off so she can pay his legal bills? And what exactly does she owe her father, a man who, after all, made her an accomplice in his life of crime?
The End of the Ocean
By Maja Lunde
It’s 2041, and Southern Europe is suffering under the weight of war and drought. David and his daughter, Lou, have only each other as they leave their refugee camp to search for missing family members. Their luck seems to pick up when they find an abandoned sailboat. Twenty-two years ago, the boat had belonged to Signe — a determined 70-year-old woman who sailed across the ocean, also looking for a missing loved one. As David and Lou hit the high seas, they come to understand how Signe’s journey intertwines with their own.
By Mat Johnson
The last person Warren Duffy expects to meet at a Philadelphia comic book convention is his daughter. Yet when he sees the distinctive features of his white father and Black mother in the face of 17-year-old Tal, he knows they’re related. On the heels of a divorce and a failed business, Warren is determined to build a successful relationship with Tal. Their first hurdle: He identifies as Black and she as white. Their second hurdle: Tal needs to finish high school. They decide on a school with a multicultural focus, and that’s when things take yet another unexpected turn — they may have just stumbled into a cult and must now work together if they hope to escape.
My Absolute Darling
By Gabriel Tallent
Turtle (whose real name is Julia) has lived all of her 14 years in the woods with her survivalist father. Her considerable skills are a source of pride for them both, and their isolated life is interrupted only by Turtle’s days spent in class at a nearby school. After getting to know one of her classmates, certain things start clicking into place. Once she realizes she’s being abused at home, Julia’s battle for independence — and her very survival — begins.
Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares
By Aarti Namdev Shahani
NPR correspondent Aarti Shahani’s immigration experience in America has been a mixed bag. She and her Indian family arrived in New York City by way of Morocco. Although the family struggle at first to find their footing, young Shahani soon earns a scholarship to an elite Manhattan private school. But then Shahani’s shopkeeper father unknowingly sells goods to a drug cartel, resulting in serious legal trouble. Thus begins Shahani’s decade-long fight to save her father from being deported and survive a harrowing encounter with the harsh realities of the American dream.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
By Alison Bechdel
Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel seeks to make sense of the pain and the relief associated with her own and her late father’s coming-out stories. Growing up, Bechdel’s home buzzed with energy: Her family ran a funeral parlor, and her father’s eclectic tastes dominated every facet of family life. In college, Bechdel came out to her family, only to learn that her father was gay as well. From the perspective of an adult woman, Bechdel saw what she couldn’t see when she was younger — the tension in her parents’ relationship, the struggles her father faced — and considered whether any of it led to his death.
Dear Life: A Doctor’s Story of Love and Loss
By Rachel Clarke
Rachel Clarke followed in her beloved father’s footsteps by going to medical school. As a palliative care physician, she dedicates her life to guiding dying patients and their families through their final days together. But when Clarke’s father is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she finds it difficult to bring her professional passion to this deeply personal moment. She does, though, and readers will marvel at how a father and daughter find their way to let go.
Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father
By Alysia Abbott
Alysia Abbott is the only child of a single father — a writer, a widower, and an openly gay man. Growing up in San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s, Abbott stays by her father’s side as they revel in the city’s arts and activist scenes. The life they share is rich and full of meaning, yet it’s also unpredictable, marked by multiple moves and a revolving cast of roommates. When the AIDS crisis hits, painful truths about homophobia and discrimination are revealed. And when Alysia’s father contracts the disease himself, Alysia must rethink her freewheeling lifestyle if she hopes to care for him. Drawing on her father’s writings and photography, Alysia Abbott’s Fairyland is a gritty and tender account of a magical father–daughter bond.