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If you’re a fan of the TV shows This Is Us, Parenthood and/or Friday Night Lights, this post is for you. The best fiction family drama books navigate the interrelations of complex families throughout time. These books have exceptional character development that makes you feel palpable emotions as a reader. See what books made the list for my favorite genre below.

collection of family drama books on the floor.
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Top 3

TOP PICKS

My top 3 picks showcase how deep my love runs for family drama books. Each of these family drama books was my favorite of its publication year out of 100+ books I read. They are also bestselling award-winners popular with readers worldwide.

The Dutch House: my favorite book of 2019

The Vanishing Half: my favorite book of 2020

Hello Beautiful: my favorite book of 2023

Quick List

  1. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
  2. The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters
  3. Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
  4. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
  5. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
  6. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  7. Happiness Falls by Angie Kim
  8. Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano
  9. Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland
  10. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
  11. The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
  12. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
  13. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  14. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  15. Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  16. Mercury by Amy Jo Burns
  17. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
  18. Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson
  19. Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro
  20. Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
  21. Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand
  22. This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel
  23. Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
  24. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  25. A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

Details of the Best Fiction Family Drama Books

Leo Tolstoy said it most memorably in Anna Karenina:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

– Leo Tolstoy

Let’s take a closer look at what makes unique families unhappy in these thought-provoking family drama books.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Best for fans of decades-long stories involving neighbors

In Ask Again, Yes, Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are rookie cops in the New York Police Department who are also next-door neighbors. As the years go by, they marry and have children, two of whom become special friends. However, the mental illness of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for a tragedy that both tears apart and pulls together the families for decades to come.

In addition to mental illness, Ask Again, Yes tackles addiction, forgiveness, growth, and love from numerous perspectives. This book will both break your heart and put it back together again.


The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters

Best for fans of stories about separated siblings and/or Indigenous people

  • 2023 Barnes & Noble Discover Prize Winner
  • Winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
  • Named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon, Apple, People, Barnes & Noble, The New YorkerHarper’s BazaarGood Housekeeping, and more

The Berry Pickers is about a Mi’kmaq family who arrives in Maine from Nova Scotia in 1962 to pick berries. There, their youngest daughter, Ruthie, disappears under the care of her six-year-old brother, Joe.

The loss has impacted this family for decades, particularly Joe, who is now aged and unwell.

Meanwhile, in Maine, a girl named Norma grows up feeling different from her parents, one who is distant and the other, overbearing. Something feels wrong, and after navigating a series of losses, she discovers the truth and seeks to reconcile her present with her past.

It’s a layered story of race, class, identity, and the lasting impact of family trauma.


Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Best for fans of diverse family mysteries

In Black Cake the plot is a familiar one, but the execution was uniquely brilliant, making it a favorite of so many readers worldwide.

Two estranged siblings must come together to deal with their mother’s death and, in the process, they learn secrets about her past.

What makes this story remarkable is how this story spans from California to London to the Caribbean, while weaving throughout it the story of a Caribbean black cake made from a family recipe and the mysterious story of a young swimmer who escaped her island home under the suspicion of murder.

It’s as indulgent as the cake after which it’s named.


Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Best for fans of character-driven novels

  • #1 New York Times bestseller
  • NBCC Award Finalist
  • Named a best book of the year by the New York Times, USA Today, TIME, New York Magazine, and Oprah Winfrey

Commonwealth, by the incomparable Ann Patchett, tells the story of how a romantic encounter changes the lives of two families. After Bert Cousins attends Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited, he kisses Franny’s mother, Beverly. Over five decades, their marriages dissolve and the two families are joined.

When Franny is in her 20s, she tells author Leon Posen about her family and it forms the basis of a book, forcing the family to deal with the events of their lives. This unique twist to a common plot is exactly what makes this book so special — and only Ann Patchett could have done it the justice it deserves.


The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Best for fans of audiobooks and sibling stories

  • 2020 Audie finalist for audiobook of the year and best male narrator
  • Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
  • New York Times bestseller
  • Named one of the best books of the year by NPR, New York Times Book Review, TIME Magazine, The Washington Post; O: The Oprah Magazine, Real SimpleGood Housekeeping, VogueRefinery29, and Buzzfeed
  • The Today Show’s book club pick

The Dutch House is one of the best books to read in the Fall in addition to being one of the best fiction family drama books on this entire list.

First things first — the audiobook is narrated by Tom Hanks. He exquisitely captures the sentimental spirit of the book and of narrator Danny, who tells the decades-long story of his family, but more precisely, of his sister Maeve, who is so beautifully pictured in the cover art.

The lives of the Conroy family are forever changed when they move into “The Dutch House” outside of Philadelphia, and Danny and Maeve are ultimately left to fend for themselves (without spoiling any storylines). Maeve essentially becomes a mother figure to Danny as they navigate decades of life and often return to “The Dutch House.”

The story so beautifully comes full circle that I had chills in the last few minutes of the audio. It’s an all-time favorite, and it’s undoubtedly best on audio.

Related Posts: Review of The Dutch House | Discussion Questions for The Dutch House.


East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Best for fans of the classics

Oprah’s Book Club pick

East of Eden is long, but it is truly one of the best books of all-time across all genres. It’s basically the definition of the term “family saga” and, despite being a classic, it’s hard to put down.

Set in the Salinas Valley of California from the Civil War to the end of World War I, it’s the compulsively readable retelling of the story of Cain and Abel, told through the Hamilton and Trask families, and sharing profound themes of good versus evil.

Like the stories of the Bible, this is the kind of story that sticks with you forever.


Happiness Falls by Angie Kim

Best for fans of mysteries and books about coping with disabilities

  • New York Times bestseller
  • Good Morning America book club pick
  • Named a best book of the year by Oprah Daily, People, Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews, New York Post, Good Housekeeping, Book Riot, Real Simple, and more
  • Finalist for the New American Voices Award

Happiness Falls begins with a captivating sentence: “We didn’t call the police right away.” This catapults the journey of one family attempting to locate their missing patriarch — but this isn’t a “missing person” story at the end of the day.

The only witness is his bloody son, Eugene, who has a rare genetic condition and cannot speak. His analytical older sister Mia, along with her mother and another brother, are left to parse what her father left behind to uncover the truth: a psychological analysis of happiness.

These mysteries are the impetus for the drama that unfolds, offering the reader unique ways to question common themes like family, race, disability, communications, and, of course, happiness.


Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

  • Instant New York Times bestseller
  • A best book of the year by The New York Times Book Review, NPR, The Washington Post, Time, Vogue, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, New York Post, She Reads, Bookreporter
  • Oprah’s Book Club pick

Best for fans of Little Women

In Hello Beautiful, William is a young man whose family endured a tragedy decades earlier that left him with parents who didn’t nurture him. 

As a college freshman, however, he meets a woman named Julia who lifts his spirits along with her three unique sisters, who hail from a loving family, hearkening to the sisterhood outlined in Little Women.

When the past resurfaces, William’s, Julia’s, and all the Padavano’s lives are inexplicably changed for generations. It’s an epic family saga told in beautiful literary prose that imparts masterfully woven themes of family, love, anger, forgiveness, and so much more.

The characters feel alive and real (I even referred to them as real people at one point), and their choices offer the most abundant amount of things to think about and discuss.

Related Posts: Review of Hello Beautiful | Hello Beautiful Book Club Questions


Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

Best for fans of historical fiction

  • Amazon Editors’ pick
  • New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice
  • One of USA TODAY‘s Best Books of 2020

Florence Adler Swims Forever takes place in Atlantic City 1934, where one Jewish American family deals with a tragic family death by concealing another tragic family death. 

Esther and Joseph Adler rent their Atlantic City house out to Summer vacationers and move into the small apartment above their bakery. Daughter Florence is training to swim the English Channel, and daughter Fannie is pregnant and on bed rest after losing a baby the year before. Joseph also brings into the home a young woman whom he recently helped emigrate from Nazi Germany. 

As the family schemes to keep a tragic secret throughout the Summer, long-buried family tensions arise.

It’s loosely based on the author’s family history, and the result is both heartfelt and completely engrossing.  It’s, quite simply, a great story told really well, weaving in world history and the American Dream, and how they affect one family’s dynamics, particularly in coping with grief. 


The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Best for fans of books that question philosophical questions of life and death

  • Instant New York Times bestseller
  • A best book of the year: The Washington Post, NPR, Entertainment WeeklyReal SimpleMarie Claire, New York Public Library, LibraryReads, The Skimm, Lit Hub, Lit Reactor

In The Immortalists, it’s New York City in 1969, when a traveling psychic claims to be able to tell anyone when they will die. The four adolescent Gold children seek their fortunes, and their prophecies impact the following five decades of their lives.

This novel about dying takes the reader inside each character’s world and questions destiny versus free will and reality versus illusion. It’s the type of book that makes you think, and it remains one of my favorite books of the last several years.

Related Post: Book Club Questions for The Immortalists


The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

Best for fans of sibling stories

  • Instant New York Times bestseller
  • The Today Show book club pick

The Last Romantics is one of the best fiction family drama books I have read. It’s a sweeping, epic drama of the lives of the four Skinner siblings after their father tragically dies and their mother goes into a deep depression they call “The Pause.”

One of the siblings, Fiona Skinner, tells the story of her family in her older age when she is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, “The Love Poem.” The prose of the book, too, is poetic and it relays a mix of small, medium, and large events, including another tragedy, that occurs over the span of decades.

It’s the type of book you don’t want to end.


The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

Best for fans of mystery and suspense

  • #1 Instant New York Times bestseller
  • Reese’s book club pick
  • Best Book of Summer selected by:  Vogue, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, CNN, Town & Country, Parade, Bustle, and more

The Last Thing He Told Me is about a man who disappears after leaving a note to his new wife: “Protect her” — his 16-year-old daughter. When his boss is then arrested for fraud and FBI agents appear at her home with questions, she realizes her husband may not be who she thought he was.

She and her rebellious stepdaughter pursue the truth about his past while attempting to build a new future for the family in this suspense-filled tale.

It’s a propulsive family mystery I binged in 24 hours, and it leaves you questioning what you know about your family members, what you will do to protect them, and how to move forward from dramatic events as a family.

Related Post: The Last Thing He Told Me Book Club Questions


Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Best for fans of storylines about diversity and motherhood

Little Fires Everywhere is a great book in general, but it’s an especially great book for moms. The Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights is the kind of place that is all laid out according to plan. And resident Elena Richardson is a rule follower.

But when artist and single mother Mia Warren rents a house from the Richardsons with her daughter, Pearl, the Richardsons are intrigued by them — including Mia’s mysterious past and lack of conformity to their community standards.

When friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, the town becomes divided, with Elena and Mia on either side of the issue. Elena then becomes fixated on figuring out Mia’s past, which ends in disaster.

Little Fires Everywhere is unique in exploring the dynamics of multiple families, particularly those who are minorities, engaging with each other in society at large.

Related Posts: Little Fires Everywhere Book Club Questions | Celeste Ng Books in Order


The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Best for fans of thrillers

#1 national bestseller

The Lovely Bones is one of my favorite family drama books of all time. On its face, it’s a page-turning thriller about the rape and murder of a young girl and the hunt for her killer.

But, underneath that, it’s a story of the aftermath of a family tragedy and the growth that each member must find in coping with his or her grief in the years afterward. 

If you like both thrillers and family dramas, The Lovely Bones is the perfect choice for you, and it’s also on the Rory Gilmore book list if you like reading the books referenced on Gilmore Girls.


Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Best for fans of explosive family drama and a 1980s California aesthetic

New York Times bestseller

Malibu Rising has an utterly addictive plot. It’s the story of one forgettable night that forever changes a family after their mansion burns in flames amidst their annual Summer party. When a story starts with a house fire like this one, you know there’s going to be a lot of propulsive action in the past leading to that point.

It’s August 1983, and Nina Riva, a supermodel, and her siblings Jay, Hud, and Kit are the offspring of a legendary singer they barely know and a mother coping with raising her family alone.

Nina was just publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband, and her siblings are dealing with major drama of their own. By midnight, the party is out of control, and the family members are forced to face all of their troubles at once, as the mansion goes up in flames. It’s as lovable as all of Reid’s novels.


Mercury by Amy Jo Burns

Best for fans of Hello Beautiful and/or Rust Belt stories

Have you ever heard the advice not to blend family and work or love and work? The Joseph family broke all these rules in Mercury, and the tensions simmered like a pressure cooker about to pop throughout this dramatic and intricately woven tale.

In the 1990s, a teen named Marley and her single mother roll into the Rust Belt town of Mercury, Pennsylvania. There, she begins to date the oldest of the three Joseph brothers, Baylor, but when the relationship goes sour, she turns to his younger brother, Waylon. This act changes the family forever.

The Baylor family is spearheaded by Mick, a hardheaded, selfish roofer, who insists on his boys joining the flailing business, and Elise, who’s lost herself in her roles as wife and mother. The eldest Joseph brothers are constantly at odds, and the youngest, Shay, struggles with self-acceptance. Marley’s own role in the family is… complicated.

Did I mention there’s also a dead body?! Early on, a dead body is found near the roof of the town church, and there’s an ominous sense there’s much more to the story and the Josephs’ connection to it. This mystery works as a great thread for the overall narrative, which centers on how this family got to this point, why, and where they will go from here.


The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

Best for fans of the tv show Parenthood

  • Instant New York Times bestseller
  • Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction

In The Most Fun We Ever Had, Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s and, by 2016, they have four uniquely different daughters with their own sets of problems, each doubting she will ever have a love like that of her parents.

Much of the story surrounds a complex relationship between the two eldest daughters and a teenage boy named Jonah who enters their lives.

The characters are complex, sharp, and witty, and the theme of seasons of the year and of life offer something especially profound for the reader. 


Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson

Best for fans of stories about “rich people problems” and whipsmart narratives

  • New York Times bestseller
  • GMA Book Club pick

Pineapple Street is smart and observational as it follows three women in the affluent Stockton family of modern Brooklyn. Darley, the eldest daughter, has chosen motherhood over her job and inheritance, but in doing so, she’s sacrificed a lot. Sasha, a middle-class girl from New England, married into the family and feels like an outsider. Lastly, Georgiana, the youngest, has fallen in forbidden love, which has unexpected consequences.

This popular read feels somewhat escapist, yet also really clever, and it makes big statements about family, love, class, and so much more. It also has a really profound ending.


Signal Fires by Dani Sharipo

Best for fans of Ask Again, Yes and Ann Patchett’s books

National bestseller

Signal Fires is a luxuriously written family drama about two neighboring families, life, death, secrets, consequences, and the interrelatedness of us all.

It starts in 1985 when a tragic event forever changes the Wilf family of four, then it poetically moves back and forth in time and place, adding in the neighboring Shenkman family and their very special son, all in small vignettes that delve into the minds and lives of the various characters.

It’s very character-driven, and it leaves the reader marveling at the prose and the characters’ motivations, as well as what it all means in the bigger context of the storyline.


Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Best for fans of The Family Stone

Seven Days of Us perfectly teases out the concept of what it would be like to be quarantined with your family over the Christmas holiday — before most of us experienced it ourselves in real life. This 2016 setting focuses on Haag, the deadly Liberian disease that the Birch’s daughter treated as a doctor, thus forcing the holiday quarantine.

She, along with her parents, each has deep secrets that will be revealed, and her sister copes with a flailing engagement. A surprise visitor also shakes things up.

I’m a sucker for family drama books, and I love that it focused on everything that can be both happy and sad at the holidays. While it mostly reminded me of the movie The Family Stone, fans of Love Actually will love the British humor and heart as well. It’s a real standout.


Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand

Best for fans of historical fiction

#1 New York Times bestseller

Summer of ’69 was one tumultuous time. As the Levin family plans to return to their grandmother’s home in Nantucket, oldest sister Blair is pregnant with twins and stuck in Boston. Middle sister Kirby tackles civil rights on nearby Martha’s Vineyard, and brother Tiger is deployed to Vietnam. That leaves thirteen-year-old Jessie to come of age on her own as she observes the secrets of her grandmother and mother.

In the meantime, Ted Kennedy sinks a car in Chappaquiddick and a man flies to the moon. This book is the perfect mix of family drama and historical fiction, and it immerses the reader completely into the culture of the time and place as well.


This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Best for fans of LGBTQ storylines

  • New York Times bestseller
  • Named a best book of the year by People Magazine, Amazon, Bustle, PopSugar, Refinery 29, BookBrowse, and more
  • Longlisted for 2019 International DUBLIN Literary Award
  • A Reese Witherspoon book club pick

This is How it Always Is is one of the most unforgettable family drama books. Five-year-old Claude is the youngest boy of five brothers, and his family is keeping a secret. He loves wearing a dress and wants to be a girl.

While Claude’s family supports him, they are tackling complex questions as to how to parent a transgender child, and they just aren’t ready to share the secret. Until it explodes.

Despite the subject matter, it’s never too preachy or melodramatic and, at the end of the day, is a story about empathy and learning what it’s like to walk in another family’s shoes.


Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Best for fans of sentimentality and luscious prose

  • #1 New York Times bestseller
  • Reese’s Book Club pick

In Tom Lake, it’s Spring 2020, and Lara’s three daughters visit the family’s Northern Michigan orchard, where they ask her to retell the story of the famous actor with whom she once shared both the stage (in Our Town) and a love affair.

It’s both a family drama and a story of love and the forms it takes at various times in our lives, including familial love. And, it’s both immersive and captivating in methodically revealing part of a mother’s life that her children didn’t experience with her. It also showcases that which we leave in our youth for a more fulfilling adulthood.

By the way, actress Meryl Streep’s narration of the audiobook is, expectedly, sublime.

Related Posts: Tom Lake Summary and Character Guide | Book Review of Tom Lake | Tom Lake Book Club Questions


The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Best for fans of Black Lives Matter books

  • #1 New York Times bestseller
  • Book of the Month’s Book of the Year 2020
  • Named a best book of 2020 by: The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, People, TIME Magazine, Vanity Fair, Glamour 
  • 2021 Women’s Prize Finalist

The Vanishing Half is the immersive story of light-skinned Black twin sisters growing up in a light-skinned Black neighborhood in Louisiana. As kids, they saw their father killed at the hands of white men and, as teens, they ran away to New Orleans.

Then, twin sister Stella runs away from her sister to marry a white man, living a secretive new life as a white woman. Estranged twin sister Desiree marries a Black dark-skinned man and has a Black dark-skinned daughter.

The Vanishing Half tracks the journeys of these twins and their families through numerous decades, from the 1950s to the 1990s, and American settings, as they live with different identities.

There are so many themes sprinkled throughout this book (i.e., race, identity, exposure, education, environment, and acting) that the last page leaves you wanting more and thinking about the impact of this masterpiece.

For more, read my guide to The Vanishing Half.


A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

Best for fans of diverse family fiction

  • A Goodreads Choice Awards Finalist for Best Fiction and Best Debut
  • New York Times bestseller
  • A best book of the year by BookBrowse, Marie Claire, Real Simple, PopSugar, and more
  • Read with Jenna book club pick

A Woman Is No Man intertwines the lives of three generations of Palestinian-American women. Set in Brooklyn and Palestine, it explores the cultural and personal struggles faced by Isra, a young woman experiencing difficulties in an arranged marriage, and her daughter Deya.

The novel addresses difficult themes of cultural identity, the constraints of tradition, and the quest for independence through the lens of these resilient Arab women navigating between their native traditions and life in America.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is family drama in literature?

In literature, the genre of family drama refers to fictional books about families in which the major conflicts of the story are among the members of the family, usually over many years.

Conclusion

The best fiction family drama books is one of my best book lists to read. These books sweep you away into the sagas of uniquely unhappy people and leave you yearning to discover what becomes of their lives. To recap and help you decide where to start or what to read next, my top picks are:

SHOP THE TOP 3

  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: for a well-written sibling saga; best on audio as it’s read by Tom Hanks
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: for a diverse sibling saga
  • Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano: for a darker, Little Women-inspired story of sisters and mental health

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