Families come in all shapes and sizes. Some are bound by blood, and others are bound by heart. We’ve gathered together here five novels of the latter kind: stories featuring the kind of bonds forged between people familially unrelated to each other, yet as strong as — if not stronger than — those of the family they were born into.
Young or old, we all need family, and it’s never too late to find yours. This is a novel of the “opposite sisters” trope, except these two sisters aren’t related, or even from the same background. Gray Howard is an entrepreneur who seems to have it all — wealth, beauty and a successful business — and an ex-husband who’s just married his assistant. Diana Harrington is a middle-aged beauty with rough edges, carrying more than her fair share of past trauma, not the least of which is a gambling boyfriend, an alcoholic mother and a lost childhood. Once these two unlikely friends from very different walks of life find a common thread, they become tied together for better or worse. They soon learn the definition of family isn’t what they had expected — friends are the family they choose, or choose them. (Read Heather Webb’s full review here.)
Blood may be thicker than water, but water is wider. This pithy paraphrase of the lines by Aldous Huxley is the premise of this novel about mother-daughter relationships, biological and otherwise, and new beginnings in the wake of loss. Eleven-year-old Phoebe runs away from home, searching for her father, who has incomprehensibly abandoned the family. Middle-aged spinster and proofreader Sidney has never ventured outside the confines of living with her mother and working at a small printing company. But when Sidney’s mother dies, her employer falls on hard financial times, and she faces the prospect of eviction from her home, her small world begins to fall apart. Despite their very different backgrounds and ages, when the lives of Phoebe and Sidney intersect, they will discover how the bonds between strangers can sometimes grow stronger than bloodlines. Self-Publishing Review calls this one “a poignant meditation on grief, meaning, and family.”
Many times, you don’t choose your “found” family. When circumstances throw us together, we are forced to find ways to make it work. In this post-apocalyptic novel, a flu-like virus, known as MSG, sweeps across the world, killing 70 percent of the American population. In its wake are three survivors: Rob, who is left alone to care for his young daughter Sunny after losing his wife Elena during the outbreak; Moira, who is hiding the truth about her past as the child star MoJo; and Krista, an event planner running away from her own childhood demons. Their lives unexpectedly converge and they find themselves suddenly reliant upon each other for help. Though Rob, Moira and Krista share no relation — at first, they’re hardly even friends — the challenging circumstances of their lives bring them together in a way that shows the enduring power of hope and community amidst a crisis. (Read Nikki Erlick’s full review here.)
In this tale, four orphans band together to create their own family unit, finding their way in the world, looking for a home. In 1930s Minnesota, two boys, Odie and Albert, run away from punishments and beatings and physically exhausting jobs at the hands of The Lincoln Indian Trading School, a school for Native American children who have been separated from their parents. They are joined by their best friend, Mose, a Sioux who doesn’t speak with his voice, and Emmy, the young daughter of a teacher who was killed during a tornado. With just the clothes on their backs, these four orphans venture down the river in a canoe to find a better life. The kids meet farmers and healers and other colorful characters, all the while avoiding being recognized and returned to their school and the evil folks that run it. If you have a soft spot for Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer’s adventures, there’s a lot to enjoy in this book. (Read Jennifer Blankfein’s full review here.)
Becoming part of a “found family” can have a dark side, though. Case in point: cults. What brings a person to join a cult? What conversations do you have with yourself before you cut ties with your old life and step into what you believe is a world that promises acceptance, love, security? And how is it that your whole sense of self-worth can then become hinged upon such a community? In this novel, Karina Olander is a troubled young woman burdened with guilt about a horrifying childhood family tragedy that has left her birth family broken and unable to emotionally support one another. When she meets Micah, head of The Sanctuary, a farming commune living off the grid, she sees a chance for a new life. But The Sanctuary, as it turns out, isn’t exactly what she envisioned, and Micah isn’t either. The novel is a complex and layered look at dysfunctional families — both those that are chosen and those given to us at birth. (Read Sherri Daley’s review here.)
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