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Book playlist: The Family That Stays Together

This playlist includes novels, nonfiction, and parenting books about the complicated and wonderful aspects of home and family. Listen to the family-themed playlist below while you read!


Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385543767
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Published: Doubleday - April 7th, 2020

In the first twenty years of marriage to Don Galvin, his wife Mimi bore twelve children, and six of them were diagnosed in their lifetime with schizophrenia. All of these births were too late to have prompted pregnancy counseling.This Colorado family became both the best hope for finding a genetic link and a cure to our most feared mental illness, and the reality check for how difficult it would be. From Freud's theory about the destruction of the ego, to nurture theories of "refrigerator mothers," and the as yet unfulfilled promise of psychotropic drugs and genome sequencing, the author shows us how far we've come. He also manages to paint memorable portraits of each of the family members (nine of the children are still living) and the researchers who have followed them for decades. —Carla

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The Dutch House: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062963673
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Published: Harper - September 24th, 2019

I’ve been an Ann Patchett fan since college. I regularly recommend her writing, enjoying both her non-fiction and her novels over the years, but this is definitely her best work yet. I love this fairytale-like novel of two siblings Danny and Maeve, told through the eyes of the younger brother Danny and spanning from their childhood to middle age. It is the story of how our personal history is created partially by imagining the inner lives of those within our family orbit. Ultimately, it is the characters’ confrontation and grappling with their childhood perceptions of familial roles and situations that propel the novel. A thoughtful meditation on the shifting sands of personal histories and how the stories we tell ourselves, often clouded by misconceptions, can be radically altered with a little empathy. —Hilary

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A Place for Us: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781524763565
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: SJP for Hogarth - March 5th, 2019

Layla and Rafiq come to America, a land that holds no past for them, but one in which they must make a future in. Both are immigrants from India looking to create a fruitful life together. We witness them try their best to raise their children Hadia, Huda, and Amar, and instill a deep reverence for their Muslim faith. This proves a challenge in a defiantly indifferent America. The novel blooms as it follows each child's struggle in their path to adulthood. These alternating perspectives provide a nuanced portrait of the ways we reconcile the lives we wish to pursue and the ones our parents envision for us. Heartbreaking, timely, and genuinely moving. —Hilary

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Far from the Tree Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062330635
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Published: HarperTeen - June 4th, 2019

Robin Benway won the National Book Award for this fantastic realistic young adult novel. I'm going to warn you: this one is a tear-jerker, but in the best possible way. Sixteen-year-old Grace, having given up her own baby for adoption, seeks out her biological mother and half-siblings, Joaquin and Maya. In alternating chapters, we meet all three teens and learn how their very different family placements have affected them. particularly Joaquin whose father was Latino. Just as the siblings begin to grow closer, they pull back emotionally and keep secrets from each other for fear of being rejected. Sad, yes, but also funny and hopeful, this is a book about learning to trust that some people really can be counted upon to stand by you. —Jill

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Unbecoming Cover Image
ISBN: 9781338160727
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Published: David Fickling Books - June 27th, 2017

Seventeen-year-old Katie always does what she is supposed to do. She does well in school, helps care for her mentally handicapped brother, and obeys her strict mother, Caroline, without question. Then a grandmother, Mary, she never knew appears, suffering from dementia and in need of a home. Through flashbacks into Mary’s early life, we learn the reasons for her estrangement from Caroline, and why Caroline is so overprotective of Katie now. This is a YA novel that adults will appreciate, too, a multi-generational story of three women and how the times they live in can dictate the choices they make, and the lives they lead. A great read for teens and adults alike. —Jill

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The Nest Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062414229
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Published: Ecco - April 4th, 2017

It should be a truth universally acknowledged that sorting out an inheritance can bring out the worst in a family. It should also be acknowledged that a novel about an inheritance makes for some very funny social satire and entertaining story-telling. This story concerns the four Plumb siblings- Beatrice, Jack, Leo and Melody- middle-aged, upper-middle class New Yorkers, all of whom have been counting on their share of the family trust fund to save them from poor financial decisions, only to have that "nest egg" subsumed to save one of them from an extraordinarily bad decision. I loved the way debut novelist Sweeney weaves together in alternating chapters the siblings' tales, and the way that post 9/11 New York becomes a character as well. Ultimately, this book concerns what many family sagas do: are we our brother's keeper; how much do we owe family members who prioritize their needs over our own; and, are we able to detach from our family of origin and stand, finally, as adults, on our own two feet. —Jill

Failure to Launch: Why Your Twentysomething Hasn't Grown Up...and What to Do About It Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780525542186
Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons - January 7th, 2020

It's a rare book on developmental child psychology and parenting, that can capture the interest of a reader not actively involved in childcare. Yet, this book caught mine. McConville explores, using examples from his private practice, three types of transitions that adolescents must navigate on their way to adulthood: becoming responsible administrators for their own lives (e.g. paying bills and keeping appointments); making supportive new relationships with friends and mentors, while moving their parents from a supervisor to a counselor role; finding direction and commitment, i.e. relevancy, in their new adult world. Reading Failure to Launch, you may start looking in a new light at the behaviors of other family members--not just your child, but also your partner, parent, sibling, and of course, yourself! The author also addresses the complications of anxiety, guilt, shame, depression, catastrophizing (particularly in parents), and risk avoidance. This is a motivational master class in family dynamics. —Carla

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The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity Cover Image
ISBN: 9781538730287
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Published: Grand Central Publishing - October 15th, 2019

Since 'Hillbilly Elegy," more publishers have discovered that readers are interested in the lives and struggles of the rural working class.  This memoir about growing up in small town Indiana has a big twist: someone committed identity theft against the author's parents and herself when she was a young girl. The author's mother, the self-appointed financial manager for the family, took charge of the investigation and the accounts, while her father worked two full-time jobs as a farmer and a grocery store manager to stay ahead of the past due notices. The culprit and the  full extent of the crime is not revealed for another 25 years, and the repercussions continue to this day. It's a true crime tale with an ending that both satisfies, and makes you mull over how much we really know about anyone, even family members. A classic portrait of marital dysfunction and child neglect, that you will not be able to forget. —Carla

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How to Be a Family: The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to Find a New Way to Be Together Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316552622
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Published: Little, Brown and Company - September 17th, 2019

In this amusing travelogue, Slate journalist Kois and his attorney wife, trade in DC beltway affect disorder for 3 month stays in New Zealand, Delft, Costa Rica, and small town Kansas, dragging their skeptical 9 and 11 year old daughters with them. The daughters, particularly older daughter Lyra, are great characters:  I have not identified with a child in a book as much since "Harriet the Spy." The natural beauty ( although Kois admits "Quiet reflection in nature is for Thoreau,  because he is childless and dead") and  the idiosyncrasies of each location are explored, from friendly Kiwis to the unfailingly polite Dutch, who are, however,  just not very interested in you. The author contrasts his own parenting style with the  laissez-faire New Zealanders and the family decision-making by consensus of the Dutch:  “my way or the highway” might not make a lot of sense in a country where most people travel by bicycle. The effects of expat gentrification in Costa Rica mean local Ticos live further and further from the beach. The residents of Hays, Kansas just live further away from everything. —Carla

In the Country of Women: A Memoir Cover Image
ISBN: 9781948226226
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Published: Catapult - August 6th, 2019

A memoir and a family history as a legacy for the author's daughters, "In the Country of Women" has an enormous cast of characters. Luckily for the reader, each chapter is riveting enough to stand on its own. Novelist Straight mentored with James Baldwin in college, but returned to her hometown to teach at UC in Riverside, the 58th most populous city in the country, and a California city you've probably never thought about. As a small blonde woman who married her tall black high school sweetheart in the 70s, she learned to navigate the inevitable public and private tensions, from skeptical relatives on both sides, to police pullovers (two black teenagers is okay, but three is a gang...). Stories of Jim Crow and a direct family connection to the 1921 Tulsa race riot, poverty, abuse and parental neglect in both families, are overcome often due to the strength and sacrifice of strong female relatives This is an unforgettable story of resilience and reconciliation. —Carla

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Family Trust: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062855268
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Published: William Morrow Paperbacks - October 29th, 2019

Silicon Valley and its job status merry-go-round, international banking fraud, family drama and relationship hilarity, and most central, the story of Chinese Americans melding old traditions and new realities.  Matriarch Linda, while navigating a dating site for Asians, is working to get her children Fred and Kate to safeguard a family inheritance from their new stepmother, before ailing father Stanley dies.  All things will do not go well. Read it on your next airplane flight: "since this was American Pacific, the stewardesses were either preemptively hostile or undergoing  the slow inertia of death.”  A fast and furiously funny read. —Carla

Home Is Burning: A Memoir Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781250068866
Published: Flatiron Books - October 11th, 2016

My love for this book was somewhat unexpected. It's the "Cards Against Humanity" version of a caretaking memoir. This is the "ice bucket challenge" as a lifestyle. And even if you aren't usually a fan of the scatalogical, you will not fail to laugh. A lot. Especially at the most tasteless moments!  Five youngish siblings, who have little in common but their love for their Dad, take care of each other through a family's worst nightmare. And they screw up:  they drink too much, they fight too much, they act selfishly...and magnanimously. In other words, they're just like the rest of us. —Carla

Some Hell: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781555977986
Published: Graywolf Press - February 13th, 2018

As Some Hell unfolded, I couldn't stop triggering my own reader savior complex, imagining how I might rescue the novel's family members who are drowning in myopia and self-loathing. There's a depressed father we only get to know through his notebooks, a bitchy teenage daughter and a severely autistic middle child who are both out of reach and out of control, and mother Diane and fourteen year old gay son Colin. Diane and Colin are wracked with survivor guilt and struggling for love and a lifeline. They embark on a road trip from the Midwest to California, hoping to leave their heartbreak behind them.  A powerful debut coming-of-age novel whose shocking ending will haunt you. —Carla

The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250077707
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Published: Flatiron Books - April 25th, 2017

A shocking, addictive account of Wariner's childhood growing up in a polygamist community in Chihuahua, Mexico in the 1970s, part of a splinter sect that left the LDS Church after multiple marriage was banned. The high church status of her biological father--murdered by his own brother--does not protect her from poverty or abuse from her stepfather. A couple of her siblings are obvious victims of malnutrition, leading to diminished lives. The epilogue is both uplifting and sadly ironic. It's clear that women and children suffer the most in this community. Perhaps the most powerful memoir that I've read since The Glass Castle. —Carla