Challenging and heartwarming stories about families that stick together.

By Jessica Dukes

The holidays have a reputation for being tense, even in the closest of families. As the festivities approach, let’s celebrate the relatives that want nothing but the best for us. These stories – some fiction, some true — might just make you appreciate your own families even more.

Fictional Families

A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson

A Nearly Normal Family by M. T. Edvardsson

The Sandell family seems to be living an average and safe life when their teenage daughter is accused of murder. As they head into a public and painful trial, loyalties are tested and horrible doubts turn their lives inside out. Unless they compromise the values they thought their family was built on, the Sandells may never find normality again.

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The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Danny and Maeve’s childhood home is a source of pride, but when their father dies he leaves everything to their stepmother. Abruptly rejected, the siblings will never enjoy the wealth they knew as children, much less the warmth of family in the house that symbolizes the last time they were truly happy. As their lives unfold, we see their truth: It has always been the two of them against the world.

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Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

When an old school friend reaches out and begs Lillian for help with two unpredictable stepchildren, she’s intrigued and agrees to give it a shot. The one catch to this new job: The twins burst into flames when they’re upset. Lillian gets the kids to chill out (literally) long enough to trust her, but can they form the family everyone so desperately needs?

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On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Little Dog feels compelled to write a letter to his mother despite her illiteracy. He has things to tell her – about their past in Vietnam, how much he loves her, the power of language to heal, and most importantly his life as a gay man. It’s a brave coming-of-age story told to an audience of one.

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The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

Marilyn and David built a family on love and connectedness, but their four daughters couldn’t be more different from each other as adults. Their careers and love lives are dramatic enough, and the sudden arrival of Jonah — a boy given up for adoption 15 years prior — threatens to upset whatever delicate family balance they’ve struggled to achieve.

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Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

At Melody’s sweet 16 party, we meet two families from very different economic backgrounds, linked forever through a past teenage pregnancy. Jumping through generations, we see Melody’s young parents struggle, her grandparents fear for their lives, and the weight of their history laid at Melody’s feet.

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This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

Two brothers and their two friends run away from the Lincoln School, where Native American children are sent for re-education. With a canoe, few supplies, and the Mississippi River as their guide, the four find their way to a new life. Their adventure is a reminder to cherish the family you’re born with and the one you create with others.

Non-Fiction Families

Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares by Aarti Namdev Shahani

The Shahani family immigrates to New York City and works hard to live the American dream. Unfortunately, the challenges also come hard and fast, like when her father finds himself in the middle of an international money laundering case and faces deportation. Race, class, and immigration law intersect painfully in this beautiful family memoir.

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Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children’s Home Society by Judy Christie and Lisa Wingate

Wingate’s novel, Before We Were Yours, fictionalized the lives of five Tennessee siblings, stolen from their family and sold to wealthy adopters – a plot based loosely on a very real scandal. Christie and Wingate track down 15 men and women who can trace their kidnapping and illegal adoption to the TCHS, and describe each of their searches for the families they never forgot.

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Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China by Jung Chang

The Soong sisters of Shanghai are easily among the most powerful siblings in world history, facing life-threatening dangers and shaping the fate of a nation, regardless of their disagreements. This is the fascinating sisterhood of Ching-ling, wife of Sun Yat-sen and vice-chair to Chairman Mao; May-ling, wife of Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of Nationalist China; and Ei-ling, adviser to Chiang Kai-shek and one of the wealthiest women in China.

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel’s much-lauded memoir details the roundabout way that both she and her father discovered and then took ownership of their own sexualities. Secret affairs plagued her parents’ marriage, but her father’s sudden death leaves a hole in her life she can’t fill. Open minds and open hearts will see her story for what it is: a family’s unconditional love.

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The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein

Bernstein’s small, working-class English town is divided in two, with Christian families living on one side, Jewish families on the other, and not much cultural understanding between the two. When Harry’s Jewish sister falls in love with a Christian boy, he keeps her secret until the day that love can finally conquer all.

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The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

In a little yellow house in New Orleans, the 13 members of the Broom family grieve, love, grow up, leave, return, and love some more. This is the story of the house’s neighborhood as much as its family, and when Hurricane Katrina tears it down, the family survives on the kindness of neighbors and strangers. It’s about how the Broom family built a home, with and without a house.

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Finding Chika: A Little Girl, an Earthquake, and the Making of a Family by Mitch Albom

In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, families like Chika’s were thrust into poverty. By age five, she is an orphan and has been diagnosed with a rare tumor. Mitch Albom and his wife take charge of Chika, traveling the world in search of a cure, bonding with the little girl who would be their only child. As with all families, even the worst heartache is worth every moment you have together.

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