Books + Comics

Family Sagas

Books about clans both inherited and invented.

vivian-versus-the-apocalypseVivian Versus the Apocalypse
Katie Coyle
2013, Hot Key Books

Have you ever read a book that made you want to be a braver person, one that is beautiful and scary and funny and heartbreaking and genuinely weird all at once? Vivian Versus the Apocalypse is that kind of book. Orphaned after her religious parents disappear during the Rapture, Vivian Apple finds herself trying to make sense of her new reality, which thankfully is shared by her best friend, Harpreet “Harp” Janda. Their world is dangerous, strange, and violent, with those who were left behind clinging to extreme religion or other types of organized thinking in order to survive. Along the way Viv is able to reinvent both herself and the notion of what family means, and the friendship between her and Harp hits Rayanne-and-Angela levels of greatness: There’s real love, real understanding, and, even in the darkest days, a lot of humor between them. There’s also a little romance involved, but it’s never treacly. Coyle’s storytelling is so good, and I promise that as soon as you pick up the book you won’t be able to stop reading it—you’ll do that weird thing where you balance it on your knee as you eat your bagel and drink your coffee because you can’t stand to leave Vivian’s universe for even one second. —Pixie

FANGIRL_CoverDec2012 Fangirl
Rainbow Rowell
2013, St. Martin’s Press

Cath loves to write fan fiction, specifically the slash fiction that she co-writes with her twin sister, Wren. But now that the two are at college, Wren wants to go out and make new friends, even while Cath continues to seek comfort in fictional worlds. Rainbow Rowell is a tricky writer—it’s only after you put Fangirl down and find that you can’t stop thinking about its characters and situations that you understand how nuanced and complex the world of this book is. This is a good read for everybody, but it should be mandatory if you are feeling at all anxious about or overwhelmed by your first year of college. —Anna F.

9780670024858_custom-c58d1b4d23670c8c87e9b24046ae2f4b2c69a177-s6-c30The Signature of All Things
Elizabeth Gilbert
2013, Viking Adult

Most people know about Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love and have picked a side: either love or hate so much that the mere thought of it makes them want to hurl. No matter which side you come down on, I think you’ll love this new book, Gilbert’s smart and sexy second novel. It’s about family and botany and love, and it’s not a spoiler to say that there are some truly great masturbation scenes, too. The story stars Alma Whittaker, a brilliant and homely spinster and a self-taught moss expert, and if there were any justice in the world, girls everywhere would dress up as her for Halloween. There were so many scenes in this book that will stay with me forever, the way my very favorite novels do. —Emma S.

9780142402511_custom-66e143a11d17d4c35815b4986c68fb2d63f4547b-s6-c30 Looking for Alaska
John Green
2005, Dutton Juvenile

This book tells the story of a teenage boy who, while waiting for his life to begin, falls in love with a beautiful, free-spirited girl. No, wait, come back! I know that sounds like the most contrived, clichéd description of every coming-of-age story about bland dudes everywhere, but John Green knows what he’s doing. Miles “Pudge” Halter, the boy in question, heads off to a boarding school in Alabama, where he joins a group of gifted misfits. They teach him how to live—if by “living” you mean smoking a lot of cigarettes and pulling pranks on rich kids. One of his new friends is the girl in question, Alaska, who has some less-than-admirable qualities, which is where Green’s book diverges from all those cliché coming-of-age books starring moody boys and Manic Pixie Dream Girls who exist only to help the male protagonists find themselves. Keep this book close, and lend it out only to people you really, really trust. —Anna F.

MausMaus
Art Spiegelman
1991, Pantheon Books

Maus, a graphic novel about the Holocaust, is often assigned as required reading in school, but it doesn’t feel like a history lesson. Even though the characters are all drawn as animals, it’s such a human story, based on the life of Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, during World War II. We’ve all heard so much about the Holocaust that it can be hard for it to feel vivid and real anymore, but this book shows you so many little details and tiny human moments that it returns you to a place where you can actually imagine what the people living through it might have been feeling. Spiegelman describes things I never even considered that must have added to the misery of being imprisoned, like when Vladek tries to find a way to talk to his wife, Anja, in Auschwitz, and when Jewish families are subject to surprise encounters with the Nazi secret police. The story is mostly heartbreaking, but you have to read this if you want a real, human perspective on the war and the Holocaust. —Britney

9780399162091_p0_v3_s260x420We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Karen Joy Fowler
2013, Marian Wood/Putnam

This is the first Karen Joy Fowler novel I’ve read, but it definitely won’t be the last! I picked it up because I’d heard there were some fun twists and turns in it, but what really drew me in was the narrator’s voice: Rosemary is infinitely witty and relatable—she seems like kind of girl you’d turn to for advice just to hear her view on things. We begin her story in the middle, as she starts explaining to us that two siblings in her close-knit family have long since disappeared, and she, now a grownup, and her family are still trying to pick up the pieces. The less you know about what unfolds from there, the better, but this story had me laughing, sobbing, and cringing for hours on end. —Emily

almost-homeAlmost Home
Jessica Blank
2007, Hyperion

The interconnected stories in this book, told from the perspective of teenagers living on the streets of L.A., reveal how the kids came together to create a new home—one that is a lot less lonely than the ones they came from, even if it lacks a roof and regular meals. Tracy is the leader and mother figure, but she’s also addicted to drugs and doing some sketchy sex work to survive; 12-year-old Eeyore, the youngest character and the real heart of the story, seems like she’s headed in the same direction. Though it’s a work of fiction, Almost Home is the most realistic and raw portrayal of teenage homelessness I’ve read. Six years later, I still think of it often, especially when I’m pondering what family really means. —Stephanie

03092844, A Dublin Memoir
Peter Sheridan
2000, Pan Books

I discovered the playwright Peter Sheridan’s autobiographical novel about his teenage years in 1960s Dublin during my Irish literature phase, and it remains a firm favorite. It’s a remarkably candid treatment of teenage life, especially in the way that music and the particular sort of obsession with it is something most teenagers know by heart. His relationship with his father, with its overtones of abuse, make for difficult reading at times, but Sheridan handles the subject sensitively, and he makes sure that we see his father as a person rather than just a cruel monster. This is a great coming-of-age novel, and it adds a touch of ’60s disaffection and counterculture to the usual mix. —Ragini

paradox-press-stuck-rubber-baby-soft-cover-1Stuck Rubber Baby
Howard Cruse
1995, Paradox Press

This semi-autobiographical graphic novel chronicles the 1960s civil rights movement in the American South and the author’s experience with racism and homophobia. Heavy, right? The main character, Toland Polk, transforms from a politically indifferent white guy trying to deny his homosexuality to a devoted gay activist celebrating his first out relationship. He’s able to make this change thanks to the black community of his hometown, since they’re the first people in his life to accept his homosexuality. The extremely detailed drawings in the book give life and intimacy to historic events, and Cruse also effortlessly tells a larger story about the idea of family, unconditional love, how the family you’re born into can affect you, how the one you choose can heal you, and what it feels like to finally belong to something bigger than yourself. In the end, Stuck Rubber Baby really drives home the point that everyone is worthy of love, despite—and sometimes because of—our differences. —Emma D.

41L5krHYEzLBeige
Cecil Castellucci
2007, Candlewick

Cecil Castellucci is a storytelling goddess in my eyes—I mean, just check out the story she wrote for Rookie. This is my favorite of her books, and also one of my favorite books ever. It’s about a 16-year-old girl named Katy who is forced to trade Montreal for L.A. when her mom heads off on an archeological dig for the summer. This might sound like a dream vacation for some, but for Katy it means living with the father she hasn’t seen since she was little, who turns out to be an aging punk rocker called the Rat. Katy isn’t into punk (or music at all)—to her it only represents her parents’ messy history. Newly thrust into the L.A. punk scene, she definitely feels beige, which happens to be the nickname given to her by Lake, a punk girl who’s been bribed into being Katy’s friend. Watching the relationships between Lake and Katy and (especially) between Katy and her dad is a pure delight, but the best thing about this book is that it isn’t about a fish out of water learning to be like the other fish—Katy really becomes her own authentic person. —Stephanie

sisterhoodThe Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
Ann Brashares
2001, Delacorte Press

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book series exists at a really specific moment in my memory. Thinking about Tibby, Lena, Bridget, and Carmen, the “sisterhood” in the title, now takes me directly back to the year before I started high school, when I wanted desperately to leave my stifling hometown and have friendships as unspoken and intimate as the ones those girls shared. The five books in the series are all about creating a family by surrounding yourself with the people you choose to have close to you. Despite having kind of cheesy titles written in a Curlz MT–style font, the novels tap in to really challenging and mature material and taught me a lot when I read them as a teenager. Carmen’s questioning of her cultural identity and her struggle to accept her father’s new family, Lena’s sexual awakening (followed by a drawn-out and painful heartbreak), Tibby’s relationships with people struggling with mental-health issues, and Bridget’s alienation from her withdrawn father are all intense story lines for a YA series—these books go into deep shit. The titular jeans are the physical embodiment of the titular friendship, but eventually the girls discover together that their relationship can’t be defined by a pair of pants. Seriously, how can you ignore such a great message? —Brodie

EverythingIsIlluminatedEverything Is Illuminated
Jonathan Safran Foer
2002, Houghton Mifflin

This is a work of genius about a journey to uncover the past, but it’s also about how the history of our families makes us who we are today. In the book, a character who shares author Jonathan Safran Foer’s name is compelled by a single old photograph to travel to Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. He’s accompanied by a young Ukranian named Alex, Alex’s blind grandfather, and his grandfather’s “seeing eye bitch,” Sammy Davis Jr., Jr. The pages feel heavy with infinite sadness—the sadness of memory, the sadness of Jonathan’s ancestors, and the sadness of Jonathan himself. It’s a multilayered story about Jewishness and what it means, and how the past touches and changes our lives. —Ragini

the-god-of-small-thingsThe God of Small Things
Arundhati Roy
1997, Harper Collins

Set in India, this novel is about a family that endures the consequences of breaking that country’s love laws, rules about couples and families that everyone’s expected to follow. The story is often seen through the eyes of Estha and Rahel, twins who are seven years old at the beginning of the book, as they try to make their lives make sense in the wreckage left behind after it’s discovered that their mother, a divorced woman named Ammu, has been secretly seeing a man from a much lower caste than her own. While expertly weaving that family’s story, Roy also manages to make important commentary on Indian history, socioeconomics, and the postcolonial attitudes, while also conveying how the seemingly small interactions and misplaced love between people often have big, tragic consequences. —Nova

The-Family-Fang-CoverThe Family Fang
Kevin Wilson
2011, Ecco

I picked this up on a whim at Powell’s Books while visiting friends in Portland last month—an employee recommended it, and as a former bookseller the one thing I know to be true in life is that your bookseller is rarely wrong. The great thing about this story is that you can’t tell if the performance-artist parents at the center of the story are completely crazed and their kids should be taken away by the state, or if this weird family should be a model for stuck-up parents everywhere to aspire to. You follow the kids to adulthood, so you get to see the ways their childhood has shaped and damaged them, but The Family Fang doesn’t dwell on negativity as much as it reveals the strangeness of being related to people in the first place. If living with your family makes you feel like an alien, this is the book for you. —Danielle

GraphicDesign_Yee_Henry_MiddlesexXMiddlesex
Jeffrey Eugenides
2002, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Middlesex tackles heady subjects like incest and intersexuality with sensitivity, but it’s also a seamless blend of fact and fiction that traces the lives of multiple generations of Greek immigrants. The book story will suck you in with its details about secret cults, illegal liquor trading, war, race riots, and what teenage life was like in the 1970s. It’s kind of about a family chasing the American dream, but not in a stuffy or boring way. Main character Callie/Cal’s evolution and the changes in the dynamics of the Stephanides family are windows through which we get to watch the evolution of America. —Ragini

2134009All We Ever Wanted Was Everything
Janelle Brown
2008, Spiegal & Grau

This story is told from the point of view of three women: Janice, a Silicon Valley wife whose husband has just left her for her tennis partner, and her two daughters, Margaret, whose feminist magazine Snatch is failing as badly as her relationship with her actor boyfriend, and 14-year-old Lizzie, who has recently been labeled the school slut. I initially thought it would be hard to relate to their upper-middle-class problems, but they are such real, flawed characters that I couldn’t help empathizing with them as they faced their issues and worked together to make a new life. This was a fast and entertaining read that I immediately passed along to my mom. —Stephanie ♦

41 Comments

  • chantal November 7th, 2013 11:05 PM

    [whispers: The Thorn Birds should be on here]

  • soviet_kitsch November 7th, 2013 11:18 PM

    I LOVE BEIGE. it is legitimately one of my favourite books ever, and i am the pickiest reader of all time. such an awesome book. i can’t recommend it highly enough

  • Roz G. November 7th, 2013 11:48 PM

    I dunno… I think Alaska is sort of a Mary Sue… She exists in the book only for Miles to admire/be obsessed with/ fall madly in love with her. She’s like the girl every guy would want: she’s pretty, she likes reading but would much rather have a life, she’s quirky, she’s sexy and fun and blah blah. And since we never get to see anything from her point of view I don’t think there’s a great argument to be made about her not being a pretty sketch of a person for Miles to admire.

    • thosehecticstars November 8th, 2013 12:38 AM

      i agree, and she never really looses her mystery so the reader never gets to see her as a real person. she’s objectified and idealized by miles the entire time.

  • Stella November 7th, 2013 11:54 PM

    MAUS!

  • Hecubot November 8th, 2013 12:06 AM

    Editing Note:

    On the Fangirl review it says: “But that the two are at college…”

    Should probably read: “But now that the two are at college…”

    And, also now I’m intrigued by this book.

    • Danielle November 8th, 2013 12:21 AM

      Thank you! We’ll fix it right now.

  • jenaimarley November 8th, 2013 12:09 AM

    The God of Small Things!!!

    • jenaimarley November 8th, 2013 3:40 AM

      But Rahel and Estha are twin sister and brother, not twin boys…

  • irismonster November 8th, 2013 12:13 AM

    I really love a lot of these books–We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves especially–but I really super disagree about Looking For Alaska. I like John Green’s other books and I think he’s usually really good about female characters and just characters in general, but for me that book was just one prolonged sigh. Alaska is so unrealistic IMHO, and I’ve been compared to her several times–I don’t think she really has “less than admirable qualities,” or at least all of these are romanticized excessively. Frankly, she’s perfect. And she is objectified so much! Green talks about her curves and looks in equal or lesser increment than his discussion of her intelligence and personality, whilst she preaches about women’s rights. Yes, she has guilt and suffers, but I think it (unintentionally) just does the whole romanticizing mental illness thing. And that’s just Alaska, honestly I thought all of the characters are either unrealistic or annoying.

    • Maisie November 10th, 2013 9:45 AM

      I agree with you about alaska’s character. I think it would also be really interesting to read something by John Green with a female protagonist rather than simply a love interest/mystery who is there only to be an objectified character whose purpose is to create drama/interest in the guy’s life.

  • LyndseyK November 8th, 2013 12:27 AM

    Great list (MIDDLESEX!) In addition I would suggest “This Is Where I Leave You” by Johnathan Tropper. It’s about a man who just found out his wife was cheating with his best friend, who soon after is called back home to sit shiva after his father’s death. It’s hilarious and poignant, and presents family in the most realistic way I’ve ever seen.

  • Pearl November 8th, 2013 12:48 AM

    The God Of Small Things! I’d met Arundhati Roy in person when she was a guest of honour at our college Lit fest. Unsurprisingly, she’s extremely eloquent.
    http://www.pforpearl.blogspot.com

  • honorarygilmoregal November 8th, 2013 1:01 AM

    I love Fangirl! It’s so different from Rainbow Rowell’s other book, Eleanor and Park, but in a good way. The characters are pretty great, especially Regan and Levi, though I didn’t like Cath’s twin Wren that much at first. Even if you aren’t involved in fandom or don’t read fanfiction, you should definitely read this book. :)

  • maxrey November 8th, 2013 1:10 AM

    I have to agree with the other comments about Looking for Alaska. I really like that book, but it’s my least favorite of his. The characters aren’t nearly as realized as in some of his other novels, and Alaska is pretty Manic Pixie to me.

    That being said, I hold the book dear to my heart because it’s set just down the road from me! My town is mentioned, though to get to his best friend’s hometown you head NORTH on I-65, not South like the book says. That totally bugs me.

  • Bethany November 8th, 2013 4:10 AM

    Eep yay Ragini :))

    The writing in middlesex is ridiculously good. However, I would say that if you are a trans* bb looking to figure out identity stuff, um maybe pass on this book?

    I read it when I was 15 and figuring things out and it genuinely just confused me more. Jeffrey Eugenides muddles up gender identity with sexuality and also relies on lots of silly made up gender nonsense-like ‘omg reading Greek classics makes you a boy cos its violent and stuff!’

    Of course that is just my opinion. But I do know that quite a few other ppl from the trans* and intersex community are not really into it either.

    Nonetheless it is a beautiful book and I think it’s a perfect choice for this month’s theme <3

    xox

    • Ragini November 9th, 2013 4:36 AM

      Yes, I totally agree. I am very cis but I was brought up to be male identified and I had a fuckton of gender identity issues going on at the time I read Middlesex. I actually got my DNA profiled after months of horrible anxiety to prove to myself that I “really was a girl” (it did not occur to me at the age of 17 that there is no one way to be a girl) so yeah, it fucked with my head bigtime despite the fact that I’m a cisperson. You make some extremely valid points, thank you <3

  • Sorcha M November 8th, 2013 8:48 AM

    looking for alaska is probably the john green book i like the least and im starting to find annoying patterns within his work
    but i think the best book hes written is paper towns
    they’ve become like a guilty pleasure for me now though

  • MabelEnchanted November 8th, 2013 9:44 AM

    I recently read ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith and I would definitely recommend it to Rookie readers! It’s about a seventeen year old girl called Cassandra who lives in a castle with her pretty crazy family and it’s written through her journal. It’s just so relatable and funny and it’s especially good for bloggers/diary writers because of the way it’s written. Definitely a good winter read!

    http://mabelsmind.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Lillypod November 8th, 2013 10:29 AM

    SOUE?!

  • Hayley November 8th, 2013 11:12 AM

    STUCK! RUBBER! BABY! God. One of my fave fave favorite GNs.

  • sissiLOL November 8th, 2013 12:03 PM

    The sisterhood of the traveling pants!!! My favorite book EVER!!!!!!!!! <3<3<3
    riotgirlpower.blogspot.com

    • honorarygilmoregal November 8th, 2013 12:52 PM

      I think I’m a good mixture of Lena and Tibby, personality-wise. :)

  • meanderleigh November 8th, 2013 1:47 PM

    [FYI, No spoilers ahead!]
    I can definitely see where people are coming from with thinking that Looking for Alaska negatively reinforces the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) trope, but, personally, I read it differently. Since the narrative is in first person, we see everything in the story from Pudge’s perspective, so in the ‘before’ part, his character is romanticizing Alaska in a very MPDG fashion. In the ‘after’ part of the novel, we see how damaging it is to Pudge to have idealized his view of Alaska, and how that makes it much more difficult for him to deal with the events of the novel.
    John Green has answered a couple of asks on the subject stating that he never intended to reinforce the MPDG trope in his novels:
    http://fishingboatproceeds.tumblr.com/post/27260044640/do-you-think-the-use-of-manic-pixie-dream-girl-types
    http://fishingboatproceeds.tumblr.com/post/57820644828/hey-john-i-was-just-wondering-what-your-explanation

    • irismonster November 10th, 2013 12:38 PM

      I think that’s a really valid argument and I hadn’t seen those bits of Green’s commentary, but I still don’t really agree. I don’t think the aftermath in LFA un-romanticized the MPDG thing, or at least not enough for Green’s intentions to become obvious. I really like some of his other books, and I think it’s obvious he’s developed as a writer since LFA, but still, not a fan :/ I really want to read Paper Towns, now, though…

  • littlediamonds November 8th, 2013 3:37 PM

    AHHH, The Sisterhood! I read them a few years ago and they are SO GOOD! Don’t get fooled by the films. I cried so hard while reading those. Fangirl is on my wishlist, Rainbow is so cool! And as much as I love John, i don’t really like Alaska. I tought it was really bad, but maybe it was just because i was expecting too much.

  • dreamygirl November 8th, 2013 7:09 PM

    I love the Family Fang! xxx

  • rrose selavy November 8th, 2013 7:20 PM

    Geek Love by Katherine Dunn should be added to this list. The book really made me question the difference between “being yourself in public” and “public exploitation.”

  • Cat Tassini November 8th, 2013 7:45 PM

    Katie Coyle (author of Vivian Versus the Apocalypse) is my cousin’s wife! I literally just went to their wedding (and my dad did the ceremony). Anyhoo I am very glad that she is getting the attention she deserves for her work (especially from Rookie >^.^<) because she is such an awesome lady!

  • AnaRuiz November 8th, 2013 9:23 PM

    These are by far my favorite part about Rookie.

    http://anaruizwriting.blogspot.com

  • Tara A. November 9th, 2013 1:16 AM

    I haven’t read any of these books but they’ve all been added to my to-read list. I think another really great ‘family saga’ book is “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” It’s one of my all-time favourite books.

    http://www.unlockingpandorasbox.blogspot.com

  • grumpykitten November 9th, 2013 2:49 AM

    I loved The God of Small Things so much, because the twins seemed so real as characters. Middlesex is amazing too.

    I would also add to this list All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland. Perhaps my favorite of his novels (once described aptly as “Canadian magical realism”), it is a crazy ride involving astronauts, drug smuggling, kidnapping, a letter stolen from Princess Diana’s casket, and incredibly bad luck. It is hilarious and absurd and beautiful.

  • NF4awesome November 9th, 2013 6:29 PM

    Has anyone else noticed that in fiction novels about family there is a distinct lack of single fathers? If you only looked at the media you wouldn’t think they exist.

  • Joyce November 10th, 2013 5:02 AM

    a lot of these books i’ve read already. Maus and The God of Small Things will forever be favorites. and i’m so happy to see them here.

  • cin November 10th, 2013 5:22 AM

    Wow all great picks. Love the diversity!

  • Maisie November 10th, 2013 9:48 AM

    People should read Running with Scissors. It’s a memoir/novel about this boy Augustus. It’s set in the seventies but they made a movie of it with Evan Rachel Wood

  • NotReallyChristian November 10th, 2013 11:03 AM

    I read Eat, Pray, Love a few years ago and couldn’t work out what it was that bothered me about it until I moved on to my next book, Lloyd Jones’s semi-fictional account of travelling in Albania called Biografi. In that book, Jones meets an Albanian woman who has recently divorced her husband … except because they’re so poor neither can afford to move out of their house, and they have to stay there hating each other and continually faced by the collapse of their marriage. After that I realised that it was Gilbert’s lack of perspective that really upset me – she needs to check her privilege a little IMHO.

  • 3LL3NH November 13th, 2013 12:27 PM

    I’m a little bit over John Green, but at one point I did like Looking for Alaska. I’ve held onto the parts I liked- the idea of smoking for the sake of dying, all the last words, the small section about religion, the Colonel and his girlfriend together because neither was good in relationships, the it’s-okay-to-be-awkward blowjob scene, and the “I wanted to sleep with her” paragraph.

    One of my favourite family books is “The Spellbook of Listen Taylor” by Jaclyn Moriarty. Fresh and whimsical and good at questioning morality and love.

  • greystar November 16th, 2013 10:43 PM

    Wow, I just recently started reading Fangirl so I don’t know how the rest will turn out, but it takes place at the same university I go to and the girl is from the same city, even the same part of the city. She even had the same concerns about taco trunks like me. This is so weird, I feel like this is about me. I almost had a twin sister too. Wow I’m freaked out about this.