If you are a fan of the tv shows This Is Us, Parenthood and/or Friday Night Lights, this post is for you. These are some of my favorite tv shows too, and books of the same wavelength are my absolute favorite type. I couldn’t be more excited to share with you the best fiction family drama books I have read.
I love navigating the decades of life and seeing what becomes of the interrelations of a complex family: husband and wife, sibling, parents, and children, over their lifetimes. It generally brings with it great character development that can make you feel for a character even when experiencing difficult times, as well as palpable emotions that tug at your heart or make it sing.
Below are only the best fictional family drama books that I recommend based on the fact this is my absolute favorite genre and I am very particular about what books make this list.
The award-winning bestseller The Dutch House by the great Ann Patchett is my favorite book of the past several years — period. It’s an epic sibling saga read on audio by TOM HANKS, and the ending left me with goosebumps.
Best Fiction Family Drama Books
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Best for fans of decades-long stories involving neighbors
- New York Times Bestseller
- The Tonight Show Summer Reads Pick
- One of the best books of the year in People, Vogue, Parade, NPR, and Elle
Ask Again, Yes was one of my favorite books of 2019. Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are rookie cops in the New York Police Department who are 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 lift it up.
Here’s a sampling of my favorite quotes, so poetically written:
All in one week the cold ended and the heat began and they talked as they did every year about how that’s not the way the seasons used to work.Mary Beth Keane
His father let the car roll to a stop in the middle of Central Avenue. Everything around them was the perfect stillness of a black-and-white photograph, a ghostly hush that settled over the parked cars, the abandoned playground, the gazebo on Central that hosted jazz quartets on summer Fridays and now held nothing but silence. The wipers beat on.Mary Beth Keane
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
Best for fans of diverse family mysteries
- NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
- ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022—Glamour, Bustle, Marie Claire, Essence, Parade, Business Insider, Town & Country, Vulture, PopSugar, W magazine, BookPage
Black Cake is a Today Show book club pick and one of my favorite books of 2022! While the trope is a familiar one, the execution was uniquely brilliant, and I think most readers will absolutely love it.
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 trope spans from California to London to the Caribbean, weaving throughout it the story is 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 and a long-lost child.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Best for fans of character-driven novels
- #1 New York Times Bestseller
- NBCC Award Finalist
- New York Times Best Book of the Year
- USA Today Best Book
- TIME Magazine Top 10 Selection
- Oprah’s Favorite Book of 2016
- New York Magazine Best Book of The Year
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.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Best for fans of audiobooks and sibling stories
- New York Times Bestseller
- New York Times Book Review Notable Book
- IME Magazine’s 100 Must-Read Books of 2019
- Named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, the Washington Post, O: The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Vogue, Refinery29, and Buzzfeed
Ann Patchett is the only author to make this list twice, and it is well-deserved. She writes with the subtlety of a world-class musician or athlete who makes the craft look easy. The Dutch House was my favorite audiobook, one of the best books to read in the Fall, and my favorite book of 2019. It truly is one of the best fiction family drama books. It was also one of Jenna Bush Hager’s book club selections and it’s one of the best-selling books on my blog. PHEW!
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 actually had chills in the last few minutes of the audio. I hope everyone decides to read (or LISTEN!) to this book.
For more information, read my full review of The Dutch House, with quotes, pairings and book club questions, and food.
Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland
Best for fans of historical fiction
Amazon Editors’ Pick
Florence Adler Swims Forever was a beloved five-star read for me, for fans of historical fiction and family dramas.
In Atlantic City, 1934, one Jewish American family deals with a tragic family death by concealing another tragic family death. But, this isn’t a thriller — it’s an emotional family drama about coping with grief and relating with each other in a pre-World War II America.
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. This is one full house!
As the family schemes to keep a tragic secret over the course of the Summer, long-buried family tensions arise.
Florence Adler Swims Forever is loosely based on the author’s family history, and it’s a fantastic debut that was heartfelt and completely engrossing. It’s simply a great story told well, weaving in world history and the American Dream, as they collide with one family’s dynamics.
I very highly recommend it as one of my Best Books of 2020.
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 Weekly, Real Simple, Marie 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 questions destiny versus free will and reality versus illusion as one of the best books on dying, firmly grasping at family bonds. It’s the type of book that really makes you think (see my book club questions for The Immortalists for more).
The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
Best for fans of sibling stories
- Instant New York Times bestseller
- Named a Best Book of the Month by Goodreads, Lithub, Refinery29, InStyle, HelloGiggles, Real Simple, Parade, PureWow, and Bustle
The Last Romantics was one of my favorite books of 2019 and 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.” It was also one of Jenna Bush Hager’s book club selections.
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. Many of these events relate in some way to the siblings’ brother Joe’s life.
The Last Romantics was one book that I didn’t want to end.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Best for fans of storylines about diversity and motherhood
#1 New York Times bestseller
Little Fires Everywhere is a great book for moms, a Reese Witherspoon book club selection and a Hulu limited series, starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. In fact, Reese Witherspoon has said:
“To say I love this book is an understatement. It’s a deep psychological mystery about the power of motherhood, the intensity of teenage love, and the danger of perfection. It moved me to tears.”Reese Witherspoon
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.
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Best for fans of explosive family drama and California lifestyle
New York Times bestseller
Malibu Rising brought more family drama than I ever anticipated, with well-drawn characters and an addictive plot. It’s the story of one forgettable night that forever changes one family, after their mansion burns in flames amidst their annual Summer party.
When a story starts with a house fire, you know there’s going to be a lot of propulsive action leading to that point. In August 1983, Nina Riva, a talented surfer, and supermodel 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.
By morning, the mansion has gone up in flames. I dare you not to get completely immersed in this one!
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
The Most Fun We Ever Had is one of the best books to read in the Fall. 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, all doubting they will ever have a love like their parents’ love.
David and Marilyn often say, sometimes seriously and sometimes jokingly, that marriage and raising kids is “the most fun they ever had.”
Much of the story surrounds a complex relationship, with a twist at the end, between the two eldest daughters, and a teenage boy named Jonah who enters their lives. (No spoilers, as I think this book would be best when the story unfolds itself for the reader.)
The characters were complex, sharp and witty, and the seasons of the year and of life make for a beautiful theme in this book.
Signal Fires by Dani Sharipo
Best for fans of Ask Again, Yes and Ann Patchett’s books
Signal Fires is a luxuriously written family drama about two neighboring families, life and 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 poetically moves back and forth in time and place, adding in the neighboring Shenkman family and their very special son, all in small vignettes into the minds and lives of the various characters.
It’s very character-driven, and it leaves you marveling at the prose and understanding what’s at the core of the characters’ motivations, as well as what it all means in the bigger context of the storyline.
Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand
Best for fans of historical fiction
#1 New York Times bestseller
The Summer of 1969 was one tumultuous time, and Elin Hilderbrand weaves it all together. As the Levin family returns to their grandmother’s home in Nantucket, everything has changed. 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.
This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Best for fans of LGBTQ storylines
- New York Times Bestseller
- People Magazine’s Top 10 Books of 2017
- Amazon’s Best Books of 2017: Top 20
- Amazon’s Best Literature and Fiction of 2017
- Bustle’s 17 Books Every Woman Should Read From 2017
- PopSugar’s Our Favorite Books of the Year (So Far)
- Refinery29’s Best Books of the Year So Far
- BookBrowse’s The 20 Best Books of 2017
- Pacific Northwest Book Awards Finalist
- The Globe and Mail‘s Top 100 Books of 2017
- Longlisted for 2019 International DUBLIN Literary Award
This is How it Always Is was a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick (and my top pick on Reese’s list). It’s a book that is ultimately about empathy and learning what it’s like to walk in another family’s shoes.
Five-year-old Claude is the youngest boy of five brothers, and his family is keeping a secret. He loves wearing a dress, dreams of being a princess, 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.
This, truly, is how it always is:
You have to make these huge decision on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands. Who trusts you to know what’s good and right and then to be able to make that happen. You never have enough information. You don’t get to see the future. And if you screw up – if with your incomplete contradictory information you make the wrong call – nothing less than your child’s entire future and happiness is at stake. It’s impossible. It’s heartbreaking. It’s maddening. But there’s no alternative.Laurie Frankel
Every word of this book felt like a masterpiece and a “must-read” to me. Despite the subject matter, it’s never too preachy or melodramatic and, at the end of the day, is a story about family.
For more, read my full review of This Is How It Always Is.
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
It’s 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.
Words cannot adequately capture my love for this book, and I can’t recommend it more highly, especially for fans of Celeste Ng, Ann Patchett and Elena Ferrante.
Those are the best fiction family drama books I personally recommend. I hope you can absorb yourself into at least one of these families’ lives and find yourself yearning to learn what becomes of their lives.