Favorite Family Sagas

The Fiction Addiction

Every page of Bonnie Rozanki’s Damaged People explores this. The story brings young Jack and Trina together, each attracted by a partner that is completely different from their original family. Over the years, those differences strain their relationship, and they handle setbacks and strain in different ways… just like their parents did. Even though some of the characters can be completely unlikable, it becomes clear why they behave that way. For me, the best novels show people with opposing goals and views, but without anyone being all bad or all good, and this goes double for family stories.


The Nest, the adult siblings all have plans for the money they’ll inherit from their trust, but the money’s been spent on bailing their brother Leo out of trouble. Although the “nest” was set up by their late father, designed to give each adult child extra luxuries and freedom later in life, naturally, the siblings have all plans for the money, and are maybe even relying on that money to resolve major debts and other problems. This engaging story shows how sibling bonds grow and are tested in adulthood. You can really see how they grew up in the same home, and all turned into such different people. (One small warning: The introductory scene, showing how Leo managed to get into trouble, is necessary plot exposition but still is the weakest point in the novel.)

Kathy Wang’s Family Trust has the same themes of adult siblings and inheritance. When Stanley Huang is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, his family wonders about their inheritance. Stanley’s told his son, daughter, and second wife that his estate is in the millions, but he’s made different promises to each. His ex-wife, Linda, wants to make sure their children are provided for, while his new wife pretends to be content with whatever modest provisions he’ll make for her. The money is the catalyst, but the story is really about family loyalty, relationships, and personal greed, in Chinese-American Silicon Valley. The Manhattan setting of The Nest was super familiar to me, but Family Trust was also familiar in a different way, with CES parties and the reversals of fortune in tech startups.


Young Jane Young is about a congressional intern, Aviva Grossman, who’s had an affair with a married congressman, her boss, and as the younger partner/less powerful partner/female partner, of course she takes the fall for the whole thing. The Monica Lewinsky parallels are obvious here, since Aviva finds herself publicly lampooned and privately broken-hearted, with a stalled career. Her name is synonymous with a particular sex act, while her affair partner continues his job and his marriage unscathed. Aviva changes her distinctive name, moves away and basically starts over, but as her daughter matures, parts of her past come back. Family is not the stated focus of the story, but it’s a clear theme as we see the rippled effects through Aviva, her mother, and her daughter.

In the Cannie Shapiro trilogy, Good In Bed, Good Men, and Certain Girls, author Jennifer Weiner explored motherhood and showed us a family over generations. In Mrs. Everything, she introduces two very different sisters in 1950s Detroit and takes us through their very different lives. This one works so well because Bethie and Jo are such fully developed characters, and their sisterly bond is realistic.

The Leavers, by Lisa Ko, is another exploration of how choices affect other generations of the family, but in this case, the main catalyst is absence. Deming’s mother, Polly, an undocumented immigrant to the US, leaves for her under-the-table job one day and is never seen again. Her son is eventually adopted by white parents and renamed Daniel, causing a confusing, splintered sense of identity. His adoptive parents aren’t the enemy, they’re loving and supportive, but they aren’t connected to China, to his first family, or to the life Deming remembers. When we see what took Polly away, and the tragic decisions of her life, she’s not the enemy, either. (Even Vivian, who traumatizes young Deming by delivering him to foster care after his mother disappears, isn’t the enemy either.) This is a story of people trying their best, in difficult situations, and ripples of effect from those choices.

Are you reading any good family stories? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

Comments / 0

Published by

Always reading, usually book blogging.

Boston, MA

More from The Fiction Addiction

Comments / 0