In My Library Tote: Family (Dys)function

I think on some level everyone considers her family to be a little bit dysfunctional. That's why I think there could be a whole genre wholly devoted to novels about dysfunctional families. It's great, because if you're feeling the need for a break from your own family's brand of crazy, there are so many fictional families to turn to, many of whom are likely much more crazy than your own. Here are a few dysfunctional family novels I've enjoyed recently.


{recent reads: family (dys)function}




{The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang} Charles Wang left his native China to pursue the American dream. Unlike many who do the same, he is wildly successful, building a business and providing his family--his wife and three young adult children--more than enough. By society's standards, they are beyond wealthy and used to living well. However, Charles makes a slew of poor business decisions, and in the blink of an eye loses everything that he worked so hard to amass. Angry at America, Charles's solution to get his life back together is to round up his kids, drive across country, and go back to China to reclaim his family's ancestral lands. Despite the bleak description, this was a fun read with characters, many of whom I was unsure of at first,  I was eventually charmed into rooting for. My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

{The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas} Joan Ashby is a critically acclaimed writer, completely committed to her craft. She falls in love and marries someone she believes is as driven as she is, and they agree: absolutely no children. Of course, she winds up pregnant. To her surprise, her husband is thrilled, and she decides to add "mother" to her identity, where "writer" once held a singular place. She immerses herself in motherhood, but continues to seek ways to make writing part of her life once again. After decades of work while her children were sleeping or occupied, she completes her novel; one that had been much-anticipated by the literary world once, but that has been long since forgotten. Before she can submit her manuscript and bask in the glory of her accomplishment, her life is turned upside down by a betrayal by one of the very people she sacrificed her very identity for. Unlike The Wangs vs. the World, this novel was more introspective and character-driven; it was not a light or quick read. However, I found myself completely absorbed. The writing is beautiful, and I loved the exploration of the themes of identity, motherhood, and sacrifice. My rating: 4/5 stars. 

     Memorable quote: "Joan thinks then that writers have infinite choices and mothers nearly no choice at all." 

{My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent} Since her mother's death, Turtle Alveston has lived an isolated existence with her father Martin. While she knew their off-the-grid, survivalist life wasn't necessarily normal, she resigned herself to it and with it, the complicated and abusive relationship with her father. However, meeting a boy with a life altogether different from hers opens Turtles eyes, and she begins to see her reality from a new perspective. With triggers galore (sexual abuse, violence, language), this was a tough read, emotionally. It was dark, raw, and gritty, and Tallent's portrayal of Turtle was fittingly complex; she was neither the downtrodden victim nor the bright and shining hero, but a believable mix of both. This one ran me through the wringer but it's one I'm glad I read. My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

{Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie} After her mother's death, Isma put her dream of going to America to study on hold in order to care for her younger siblings. Once they're mostly grown, Isma embraces her freedom and leaves London to study under her American mentor. She worries about her sister Aneeka, still in London, and her brother Parvaiz, who has disappeared, they fear, to follow in the footsteps of their jihadist father. When Eamonn, the son of a local and controversial politician, enters their lives, their already fragile relationships become even more tenuous. Home Fire examines what it means to be loyal, the importance of family, and how the "right thing" isn't always clear. My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

{Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng} In case you've been living under a rock and haven't heard about this book (it's everywhere, right?), it's the story of a family in the planned community of Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Unlike most of the other books mentioned here, the Richardson family's dysfunction is only visible under the surface. It takes the arrival of Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl, moving into the Richardson's rental home, to bring the family's issues to a head. I was somewhat wary to read this, as I was one of the few who didn't love Everything I Never Told You, but Little Fires far exceeded my expectations. If you pick up any of these, make it this one. My rating: 4/5 stars. 

     Memorable quote: "It's not that she was afraid. It was simply that Shaker Heights, despite its idealism, was a pragmatic place, and she did not know how to be anything else. A lifetime of practical and comfortable considerations settled atop the spark inside her like a thick, heavy blanket." 

Have you read any good family dramas lately? 

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