dysfunctional families

Cover image of the head and shoulders of a boy emerging from deep blue water, with a blue sky above

The Furrows

By Namwali Serpell
Star Rating

Rated by Alice Pi
Feb 15, 2023

The line between everyday truth and emotionally generated, alternative truth thins with every page turned in this new literary novel about a twelve-year-old girl, Cassandra, who loses her younger brother to undertow while swimming alone with him on a Delaware beach. But even at the beginning of this book, all is not as it seems. A few chapters in, Cassandra loses her brother again: this time, to a careless driver in their home neighborhood of suburban Baltimore. Rich sensory details make both versions of events feel believable, and as the novel progresses and Cassandra grows older, many more

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls

By T Kira Madden
Star Rating

Rated by Lisa A.
Jun 26, 2019

T Kira Madden's debut memoir in essays is brutal in the best way: gorgeously written, relentlessly honest, and impossible to put down. If you're into stories about daughters who love and struggle with imperfect parents, read this. If you relate to families filled with dysfunction, read this. If you love someone who is queer, read this. If you have a soft spot for essays that make you cry at work, read this. Seriously--I could find a reason for everyone to read this book. Been touched somehow by adoption? By trauma? By being a lost teenager? By having to leave home to find it again? This book

One of the Boys

By Daniel Magariel
Star Rating

Rated by Chris K.
Jul 3, 2018

Wow. This little book packs a punch. One of the Boys is short, quick reading, deceptively simple, and deeply affecting.

The twelve-year-old narrator has always revered his affable, charismatic father. After witnessing a "war" of separation and divorce, he desperately wants to be "one of the boys" with his dad and older brother when they decide to leave Kansas for New Mexico. He wants to be there to experience his dad's promised freedom to be like a kid again. So he does what it takes to make it happen.

As they settle into their new lives, the brothers gradually realize their dad uses drugs

The Best We Could Do: an Illustrated Memoir

By Thi Bui
Star Rating

Rated by Cheryl M.
Jun 24, 2018

In her immigrant's memoir told in graphic novel form, Thi Bui explores the saga of her family's escape from Vietnam in the 1970's to the United States.

Her debut opens with the birth of her first child in 2005. Will she be a good mother? How is she different from her mother? What was her mother's experience? How was her mother shaped after losing family, her country? How did her father's childhood shape his fathering abilities? And how has her own experience as a refugee, coming to a country she had to assimilate into that she was culturally so different from, as well as being confronted with

The Book of Polly

By Kathy Hepinstall
Star Rating

Rated by Hannah Jane W.
Feb 15, 2018

The Book of Polly is the hilarious and bittersweet story of Willow and her larger-than-life mom, Polly. Polly becomes pregnant with Willow in her late fifties, and Willow’s father dies during the pregnancy. Because her father dies before she is born and Polly has Willow so late in life, Willow only has Polly. Her siblings are long gone, and the bustling life that comes with having a full family is absent, so Willow clings to Polly with heartbreaking tenacity. Willow has always been consumed by the fear that Polly is going to die. Willow also tells a lot of crazy stories about Polly, stories


By Mary Anna King
Star Rating

Rated by Hannah Jane W.
Feb 28, 2017

Mary Anna King’s first six years of life are anything but stable.  Three out of her five siblings are put up for adoption, and as a small child, Mary Anna tags along with her mother to meet with potential adoptive parents for each of her unborn sisters.  Mary Anna explores the many reasons for her mom’s unwanted pregnancies, and though she’s never certain of any particular one, she is sure about one thing.  She’s going to meet those sisters someday, no matter what.  Bastards is not only Mary Anna's journey of discovering who her adopted sisters are, but also discovering who she is and how

The Boston Girl

By Anita Diamant
Star Rating

Rated by Hannah Jane W.
Feb 3, 2017

The Boston Girl is told by 85-year-old Addie, who revisits her long life of memories during an interview given by one of her grandchildren.  It’s an incredibly intimate one-sided conversation that completely ensnares the reader.  This storytelling style made me feel as if Addie was my grandmother.  Like other special books with superb storytelling, The Boston Girl envelopes the reader inside a bubble.  While reading it, you feel like you are living the story and your real life is just an inconvenience that exists outside of the bubble. 

Addie Baum is both fiercely independent and endearingly


By Jennifer Mathieu
Star Rating

Rated by Becky C.
Sep 2, 2016

As a children’s librarian, it’s uncommon that I recommend a book about a teenage runaway to parents looking for a book about relationship-building. But author Jennifer Mathieu has written an uncommon book. I just can’t recommend it highly enough. In this cautionary tale of what can go wrong when parents put too many restrictions on their teens, Rachel Walker is a seventeen-year-old girl who runs away from her strict, Quiverfull-adhering, fundamentalist Christian home in an effort to feed her curious mind and to build a life of her own. What I like most about this book is how complexly the

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things

By Carolyn Mackler
Star Rating

Rated by Becky C.
Mar 9, 2016

Good, but not great. Published thirteen years ago, it doesn't quite hold up today. Ginny is unbelievably pathetic throughout most of the story, and only toward the Hollywood-like ending does she-surprise-develop some confidence. Normally I love pathetic people because I can relate to their insecurity, but Ginny's character is a tad too two-dimensional, not a fully fleshed out character worthy of my concern. I also didn’t like how the author handled the date-rape subplot, as if she just needed a “juicy” reason for us to stop liking that character, rather than giving that heavy subject matter

We Were Liars

By E. Lockhart
Star Rating

Rated by Becky C.
Dec 23, 2015

Let me share a secret with you. I'm ashamed to admit, but I'm a total snob when it comes to wealthy characters. I generally find them unlikable, which I know is awful judgy of me. No matter how great John Green says it is, I wanted to barf all the way through The Great Gatsby. Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in The Catcher in the Rye, is a great character despite his upper-class upbringing, but he's had a mental breakdown, which makes him likable in my book. When I was still living at home, my mom used to try to get me to read her favorite romance novels about rich heiresses and their

Eleanor & Park

By Rainbow Rowell
Star Rating

Rated by Becky C.
Jun 19, 2013

I typically roll my eyes at romance novels--they are so fake! But Eleanor & Park is different. Perhaps because Eleanor and Park are different. Eleanor Douglas and Park Sheridan--the lead characters in this romance--are different from most romance novel characters, but also just different. Different from their boorish peers. Different from their lame teachers. Different from their parents. And it's their feelings of being different that brings them together in a glorious display of misfit love.

Eleanor and Park meet on the bus. It's 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska. Eleanor is the new kid at school

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

Star Rating

Rated by Josh N.
Dec 6, 2012

Isabel "Izzy" Spellman is a determined, insatiably curious, sarcastic private investigator. Not yet 30, she's already a seasoned pro at detective work. She's also an emotionally closed-off woman with a checkered past who drinks too much and will break the law without a second thought if she thinks it will help her get the information she wants. She refers to any guy she dates "Ex-Boyfriend," assuming the relationship won't last. She's a neurotic member of a crazy, dysfunctional family. A family that runs the private detective agency she works for. A family that casually spies on and blackmails

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Star Rating

Rated by Helen H.
Mar 20, 2012

What a strange little book about a strange little family in a strange little town. When the reader meets the Blackwoods, they are reduced to three:  Constance, the oldest sister; Merricat the younger; and Uncle Julian, an old invalid. They live in seclusion, ostracized in their once-regal castle minus the family who were all poisoned six years prior.   While Constance was tried and acquitted of the murders, the remaining Blackwoods do nothing to sway the accusatory opinions of the townsfolk. In fact, the Blackwoods tease, torment, and encourage speculation in their neighbors when opportunity

Oct 25, 2011

Budding cartoonist, Junior (Arnold) Spirit, a 15-year-old Spokane Indian boy, transfers to a white school off the reservation because of his eagerness to learn and frustration over conditions at the “res” school, including 15 year-old science textbooks.  This account of his adjustment to a school with a “Redskin” as mascot is sometimes funny, often poignant, including his adoration of the beautiful blonde Penelope.  Junior’s family and lifestyle come to life as he confronts culture clashes, deaths in the family and predictable bigotry.  His insight and coping skills would be enviable to a

The Art of Racing in the Rain a novel by Garth Stein

Rated by Library Staff (not verified)
Jul 6, 2011

The Art of Racing in the Rain is the story of a dog named Enzo, who has a very old soul. Enzo believes that if he tries hard enough to think like a man, he will eventually be reincarnated as a man.
He tries his best to help his family stay together despite a custody battle between the grandparents and Denny, Enzo's owner, over Denny's daughter Zoe.
Denny is a race car driver. He talks over all his strategies for racing with Enzo; while reading, I also learned some interesting race car facts.
Dog lovers, especially those of us who have lost one, will be sad, happy and maybe even hopeful while

Stay Close by Libby Cataldi

Rated by Library Staff (not verified)
Apr 29, 2011


In Stay Close, Libby Cataldi, the former head of the Calverton School (a private school in Maryland), writes from her own point of view about the challenges and worry she has faced as the mother of a son with a drug addiction.  Her story is poignant and so honest about the feelings of guilt and loss that she experienced as she watched her oldest son battle addiction to just about any drug you can imagine from his early teen years through his late twenties.  The book is interspersed with her son's own words and viewpoints regarding situations that occurred throughout his life, lending

Jar City and Hypothermia, by Arnaldur Indridason

Rated by Library Staff (not verified)
Jan 14, 2011

I love discovering new authors, well, at least new to me.  Indridason is an Icelandic writer who has won numerous crime novel awards in the Scandinavian countries, but is not yet too well known here, since JAR CITY is the first of his books to be translated into English in 2005.  Both books cover crimes in Iceland, specifically in Reykjavik, and have been compared to works by Simenon, Per Wahoo, and Henning Mankell.  Inspector  Erlendur, himself full of contradictions and dealing with family conflicts, heads the investigation team, also  quite an array of characters.  Erlendur is one of

Oct 12, 2010

Dennis McFarland’s The Music Room is one of those novels that you don’t forget. I first read it 20 years ago. When my aunt recently mentioned it, I immediately knew the book she was talking about. I decided to read it again. Alcoholism, suicide and divorce figure prominently, yet it’s still a lyrical, poetic work of beauty, sensitivity and dark humor. Martin Lambert is going through a divorce when he receives news that his brother Perry, a composer, has committed suicide by intentionally falling from a building in New York. Martin heads to New York to handle his brother’s affairs and to

Jun 8, 2010

winter.jpgAuthor Daniel Woodrell was born in Springfield, Missouri and graduated from KU before heading over to the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He currently lives in the Ozarks and this is his second book to be adapted to film. The main character, Ree Dolly, is a scrappy teenager who works hard to care for her two younger brothers and their mentally ill mother. Her father who cooks meth for a living has dissappeared and if he doesn't show up for his court date the bondsman will own their home. The dysfunctional families that surround Ree seem too horrific to believe but something tells me they do indeed

Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters

Rated by Library Staff (not verified)
May 3, 2010

Define Normal by Julie Anne PetersAntonia meet Jazz. Jazz meet Antonia.

Antonia signed up for a peer counseling program at her middle school to lend an ear to students who need someone to talk to...not girls who wear black lipstick and holes in her clothes...on purpose. What was she getting into?

Antonia's life is already upside down. She plays the role of parent at home since her dad walked out three years prior. Antonia has to take care of her two little brothers and her mom who suffers from clinical depression. Taking care of household chores, grocery shopping and feeding her family leaves her exhausted and little time to

Apr 20, 2010

A Family Tragicomic by Alison BechdelIt’s my turn to come out of the closet: I am a literature snob. I generally hide my inclination since I work at a public library where great works of literature often acquire dust while hundreds of people wait for trendier, lighter works. It’s a self-directed snobbishness—I appreciate that reading taste is subjective so I don’t judge others for what they like.

Part of my job is to become familiar with various genres I don’t normally read. Four years ago I set a goal to read a comic book, or what us snooty types call “graphic literature”. I just met my goal this month. Art history was one of

Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar

Rated by Library Staff (not verified)
Mar 14, 2010

Kalix MacRinnalch, youngest daughter of the reigning werewolf king and closet laudanum addict, is on the run. Which is unsurprising, since she attacked her father during an argument about her boyfriend and ran off. She's currently running from her family—who are split on the notion of whether she should be rescued or executed for treason—from rival clans, and from human hunters who see her and all her kind as abominations.

The absolute best thing about this book is how utterly prosaic it is, and I mean that in the very best of ways. You would think that a war of succession between the

Feb 12, 2010

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne TylerAnne Tyler considers Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant her best novel, and I can see why. Channeling his protagonist Holden Caulfield, J.D. Salinger says, "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it." There’s no ego present in Tyler’s writing, so when I finished Homesick, it wasn’t so much that I wanted to phone the author herself, but I had a driving desire to keep in touch with all her characters. I’d attempt to classify each of them