Whether you’d specifically class it as a genre in its own right or not, I absolutely love a good family drama; a story that gets into the nitty-gritty of life behind closed doors, revealing the tensions of the household, and the complex web of secrets, lies and power play between the characters. Here are a few recommendations that really stood out to me, and as always, I encourage you to share your own in return.
Shelter by Jung Yun
When our protagonist’s parents are victim to a violent crime, he feels obliged to care for them, in contrast to the normally cold and tense dynamic between them. The circumstances re-open old wounds for the characters, with the book ultimately asking us to consider the extent to which we have a duty to respect and support our family, even if they haven’t earned it. The story is incredibly layered, touching on themes as varied as gender roles, racism, the class divide, Korean culture, religion and abuse, without any of them ever feeling tacked on.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
When the body of the Lee family’s favourite child is found floating in the lake, so begins a moving look at the ways a family try and fail to understand each other, and the crippling effect of secrets, longing and resentment. We see the ways the various characters react to Lydia’s death, and being centred around a Chinese-American family in 1970s Ohio, the book also very effectively touches on racial tensions.
The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss
This is a quiet, contemplative character study about rebuilding in the wake of disaster. The book opens when 15-year-old Miriam’s heart inexplicably stops beating. Though she is successfully revived using CPR, doctors can’t explain the scare, and her family must readjust to the reality that it could theoretically happen again at any moment. Told from the perspective of Miriam’s father, the story chronicles the frustration and constant fear that her family feels; the sense of being trapped in limbo; the need to carry on with all of life’s mundanities despite feeling like their whole world has changed; and the parents’ unwillingness to let their daughter out of their sight in contrast with her headstrong determination to live life her own way.
Stay with Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò
The focus of this novel is the exploration of whether love and hope are enough to overcome grief. We follow a Nigerian couple who have been unable to conceive a child, which sees them put under increasing pressure from their relatives to welcome a second wife into their home in order to ensure the continuation of the male bloodline. The story itself has many unexpected twists, the characters are flawed and brilliantly well realised, and the book highlights the lies people tell each other and themselves to try and make each other happy, as well as the shame of not living up to societal norms and crippling gender expectations.
Black Sheep by Susan Hill
Bleak and harrowing, Black Sheep is about the oppression and inescapable grasp that ensnared the lower classes in rural working communities, where reputation and keeping up appearances were everything, no matter how much people may have longed for better. Our brother and sister protagonists each yearn for escape from their mundane and exhausting lives in a small mining town, and in a tone of melancholy, Hill documents their doomed attempts to break free, with devastating consequences for the whole family.
What are some of your favourite family dramas? Let’s chat about them!