10 Books with Characters Who Feel Like Family by the End

September 8 2021
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The reason I read novels is to enter a different world—to evaporate into the pages of a work only to be reanimated in its plot, upright and alongside the rich characters that comprise an author’s imaginative landscape. These characters become real to me. They’re my friends, family, and, sometimes, enemies. The better a novel, the deeper the bonds of connection that I form with its protagonist and their supporting players. It’s the reason I start a book, the reason I can’t stop, and the reason I return to it time and time again.

If you’re in the market for friendships galore, I have the perfect list of books that all feature strong friendships, familial ties, strong communities, or relationship bonds. By the time it’s over, you feel like you’re right there with them.

The People We Keep
by Allison Larkin

Meet April Sawick: a sixteen-year-old singer-songwriter shuffling around upstate New York from one open mic to the next. In the aftermath of a fight with her father, in which he destroys her guitar, April decides to get in the car and escape the hometown that never felt like home. Unconcerned with where she may land, April ultimately finds herself in Ithaca, drawn to a local coffee shop and the community that surrounds it. As she (with the readers) gets to know the locals, the teen can’t help but feel as though she’s becoming part of a new family—forming new bonds with others, and with herself. When impulses of self-sabotage begin to creep in, along with a fear of being revealed as homeless and jobless, April must make a choice: embrace her newfound family or leave before the illusion is shattered. Either way, Allison Larkin’s portrait of Ithaca’s loving locals (and her lyrical storytelling) will leave you equally as connected with these characters as April becomes.

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The People We Keep
Allison Larkin

“Raw, surprising and ultimately uplifting, Allison Larkin’s The People We Keep will break your heart a million different ways before putting it back together again.” —Julia Claiborne Johnson, author of Be Frank with Me and Better Luck Next Time

The People We Keep is a “big-hearted and deeply moving novel” (Bruce Holsinger, author of The Gifted School) from the bestselling author of Stay and Swimming for Sunlight about a young songwriter longing to find a home in the world.

Little River, New York, 1994: April Sawicki is living in a motorless motorhome that her father won in a poker game. Failing out of school, picking up shifts at Margo’s diner, she’s left fending for herself in a town where she’s never quite felt at home. When she “borrows” her neighbor’s car to perform at an open mic night, she realizes her life could be much bigger than where she came from. After a fight with her dad, April packs her stuff and leaves for good, setting off on a journey to find a life that’s all hers.

Driving without a chosen destination, she stops to rest in Ithaca. Her only plan is to survive, but as she looks for work, she finds a kindred sense of belonging at Cafe Decadence, the local coffee shop. Still, somehow, it doesn’t make sense to her that life could be this easy. The more she falls in love with her friends in Ithaca, the more she can’t shake the feeling that she’ll hurt them the way she’s been hurt.

As April moves through the world, meeting people who feel like home, she chronicles her life in the songs she writes and discovers that where she came from doesn’t dictate who she has to be.

This lyrical, unflinching tale is for anyone who has ever yearned for the fierce power of found family or to grasp the profound beauty of choosing to belong.

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Three Apples Fell from the Sky
by Narine Abgaryan

An unforgettable debut, translated from Russian, Narine Abgaryan’s THREE APPLES FELL FROM THE SKY is the tale of a tiny Armenian mountain village on what appears to be the decline. Suffering from recent disasters, the town has a dwindling population of which Anatolia, at the age of fifty-eight, is the youngest living inhabitant—for now. Utterly convinced that she’s dying, Anatolia is prepared to leave behind the physical world, that is until she’s interrupted by a surprise proposal from the town’s widowed blacksmith. As she miraculously recovers, the town begins to experience even more unusual, even supernatural occurrences, deftly described by Anatolia as she watches the town become reborn into a thriving, loving community. Filled with friendships and romantic relationships, THREE APPLES FEEL FROM THE SKY invites you to join this unforgettable Armenian village as it embraces its magical connections and rich tradition of folklore.

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Three Apples Fell from the Sky
Narine Abgaryan

An unforgettable story of friendship and feuds in a remote Armenian mountain village

In an isolated village high in the Armenian mountains, a close-knit community bickers, gossips and laughs. Their only connection to the outside world is an ancient telegraph wire and a perilous mountain road that even goats struggle to navigate.

As they go about their daily lives – harvesting crops, making baklava, tidying houses – the villagers sustain one another through good times and bad. But sometimes all it takes is a spark of romance to turn life on its head, and a plot to bring two of Maran's most stubbornly single residents together soon gives the village something new to gossip about...

Three Apples Fell from the Sky is an enchanting fable that brilliantly captures the idiosyncrasy of a small community. Sparkling with sumptuous imagery and warm humour, this is a vibrant tale of resilience, bravery and the miracle of everyday friendship.

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Did You Ever Have a Family
by Bill Clegg

There is never a moment we need community and connection more than in the aftermath of a tragedy. Literary-agent-turned-author Bill Clegg explores this concept in his bold debut, DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY, which is centered around a devastating fire that kills the daughter of protagonist June, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend. Forced to face life without any sort of family, June leaves town (and those painful memories) to travel across the country. The book introduces all manner of characters impacted by the fire, who learn to cope, and come to terms with their involvement in the tragedy. This story of hope and forgiveness invites readers to grow alongside characters that survive, confront, and reconcile their experiences in a life-altering episode.

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Did You Ever Have a Family
Bill Clegg

DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY asks how one goes on after the worst happens. This tender novel shows how we are all connected and how that very connection is the basis for redemption and hope. We won’t lie; you might need Kleenex for this one.

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The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise
by Julia Stuart

When it comes to falling in love with characters, sometimes the easiest ones to connect to are the quirky, comical type. Luckily, Julia Stuart’s second novel, THE TOWER, THE ZOO, AND THE TORTOISE, offers plenty of eccentrics to fall for. Readers are introduced to Balthazar Jones, an honest-to-goodness Beefeater and resident of the Tower of London, living with his wife, Hebe, after the tragic loss of their son years earlier. When Balthazar, unexpectedly, is charged with the Tower’s new menagerie, his marriage is stretched even thinner, especially as more and more characters enter the picture—each more “unique” than the last. Amid interactions with a reverend secretly penning erotica; the unwed, pregnant proprietress of the local pub; and the Ravenmaster (yes, there’s one of those), Balthazar seeks to renew his love with Hebe and avoid disaster at every turn. Supported by an outlandish cast of characters, Julia Stuart’s novel will leave you giddy and glad to be an onlooker of the Tower’s humble, hilarious community.

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The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise
Julia Stuart

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Sister of My Heart
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

There’s something special about the bonds of sisterhood as Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni explores them in her bestselling novel SISTER OF MY HEART. While Anju and Sudha are cousins, not sisters as the title suggests, their connection is undeniable and seemingly unbreakable. Anju is from a family of status in India. Sudha is not. However, when both girls lose their fathers on the same day, in the same brutal manner, the two adolescents, despite their differences, begin to bond. But adulthood reveals a dark family secret to Sudha, altering the cousins’ relationship and sending Anju to America in search of her own life and a new beginning. That is until another tragedy occurs, and the cousins are left in search of that once indelible connection. With Divakaruni’s prose and inspired plot, readers can relish becoming a member of the family—one that only grows stronger when tested.

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Sister of My Heart
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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The Charm Offensive
by Alison Cochrun

It’s easy to get invested in a story’s characters when they just so happen to fall in love with each other. Alison Cochrun’s debut, THE CHARM OFFENSIVE, is a heartwarming tale of Charlie Winshaw, a Silicon Valley icon looking to rehab his image by participating in a reality dating show, and Dev Deshpande, the show’s producer and die-hard romantic, who’s been through a few heartaches of his own. While Charlie has no intention of falling in love with any of the dozen female contestants he’s meant to interact with, he does begin to feel a different kind of connection with Dev, who kindly coaches him on how to be more open and personable. What ensues is a love story supported by a diverse cast of characters as the two protagonists negotiate their feelings. Heartwarming and hilarious, Cochrun’s novel is the perfect plot for readers to cozy up with.

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The Charm Offensive
Alison Cochrun

In this witty and heartwarming romantic comedy—reminiscent of Red, White & Royal Blue and One to Watch—an awkward tech wunderkind on a reality dating show goes off-script when sparks fly with his producer.

Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star.

Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off.

As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.

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The Fortnight in September
by R.C. Sherriff

Ready to fall into the most comforting of routines with your new favorite family? THE FORTNIGHT IN SEPTEMBER is R.C. Sherriff’s heartwarming novel about one family and their annual vacation tradition. The Stevens family have been vacationing on the English coast for years—no, really, like for twenty consecutive years. What began as a honeymoon trip for Mr. and Mrs. has become an annual pilgrimage with the whole Stevens family, including their three children, Mary, Dick, and little Ernie. Readers follow along as the different family members go about their typical holiday routines, feasting on life’s most simple pleasures, all while we slowly connect with each of them and their delightfully ordinary lives. If you’re in need of a calming novel and find you have a taste for the simple things in life, THE FORTNIGHT IN SEPTEMBER is waiting for you—and so is the Stevens family.

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The Fortnight in September
R.C. Sherriff

This charming, timeless classic about a family of five setting out on their annual seaside vacation is “the most uplifting, life-affirming novel I can think of...the beautiful dignity to be found in everyday living has rarely been captured more delicately” (Kazuo Ishiguro).

Meet the Stevens family, as they prepare to embark on their yearly holiday to the coast of England. Mr. and Mrs. Stevens first made the trip to Bognor Regis on their honeymoon, and the tradition has continued ever since. They stay in the same guest house and follow the same carefully honed schedule—now accompanied by their three children, twenty-year-old Mary, seventeen-year-old Dick, and little brother Ernie.

Arriving in Bognor they head to Seaview, the guesthouse where they stay every year. It’s a bit shabbier than it once was—the landlord has died and his wife is struggling as the number of guests dwindles every year. But the family finds bliss in booking a slightly bigger cabana, with a balcony, and in their rediscovery of the familiar places they visit every year.

Mr. Stevens goes on his annual walk across the downs, reflecting on his life, his worries and disappointments, and returns refreshed. Mrs. Stevens treasures an hour spent sitting alone with her medicinal glass of port. Mary has her first small taste of romance. And Dick pulls himself out of the malaise he’s sunk into since graduation, resolving to work towards a new career. The Stevenses savor every moment of their holiday, aware that things may not be the same next year.

Delightfully nostalgic and soothing, The Fortnight in September is an extraordinary novel about ordinary people enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

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Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

The sequel to award-winning ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE, Benjamin Alire Sáenz is back with the next installment and the same unforgettable characters. Now entering their final year of high school, Ari and Dante are still very much in love but very unsure about what a successful relationship looks like in the modern world. For Ari’s part, he’s committed to becoming his own person, the kind that speaks up for himself and is willing to build a rapport with his previously closed-off father. Amid all the exploration, Ari embraces a new circle of friends—each with their own unique, captivating story—while also accepting the overwhelming feelings he has for his Dante (something he avoided for so long in his first years of high school). Sáenz captures every aspect of their expansive relationship and further fosters our connection to their seemingly eternal bond formed in his first book. Bold, propulsive, and abundantly authentic, ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DIVE INTO THE WATERS OF THE WORLD will have you seeing your own friends and family on each page.

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Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World
Benjamin Alire Sáenz

The highly anticipated sequel to the critically acclaimed, multiple award-winning novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is an achingly romantic, tender tale sure to captivate fans of Adam Silvera and Mary H.K. Choi.

In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, two boys in a border town fell in love. Now, they must discover what it means to stay in love and build a relationship in a world that seems to challenge their very existence.

Ari has spent all of high school burying who he really is, staying silent and invisible. He expected his senior year to be the same. But something in him cracked open when he fell in love with Dante, and he can’t go back. Suddenly he finds himself reaching out to new friends, standing up to bullies of all kinds, and making his voice heard. And, always, there is Dante, dreamy, witty Dante, who can get on Ari’s nerves and fill him with desire all at once.

The boys are determined to forge a path for themselves in a world that doesn’t understand them. But when Ari is faced with a shocking loss, he’ll have to fight like never before to create a life that is truthfully, joyfully his own.

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Sufficient Grace
by Darnell Arnoult

SUFFICIENT GRACE follows Gracie Hollaman as she becomes a unifying figure for two neighboring Southern towns. How she finds herself in that position might just surprise you. On a seemingly normal spring day, Gracie begins to hear voices that tell her she must abandon her family. When she does, her husband, Ed, assumes it’s his fault, but he doesn’t realize that Gracie is quickly succumbing to schizophrenia and has relinquished control of those persistent voices in her head. As she enters the next town over, Rockrun, a majority African-American town, Gracie is drawn to the home of Mama Toot and Mattie, a mother-daughter home wrapped in a blanket of heavy grief. What starts as a frantic, troubling story quickly becomes one of love and acceptance across two different towns and two different sets of characters. Each group is infused with endless compassion as they help Gracie in her struggles and offer a family’s care that any reader would willing be a party to. Come for the ever-evolving plot and spectrum of human emotions, but be prepared to stay for the relationships you make with the many lovable characters.

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Sufficient Grace
Darnell Arnoult

Set against the backdrop of two neighboring Southern towns, Sufficient Grace is the powerful, affecting story of two families over the course of a year, from one Easter season to the next. One quiet spring day, Gracie Hollaman hears voices in her head that tell her to get in her car and leave her entire life behind -- her home, her husband, her daughter, her very identity. Gracie's subsequent journey releases her genius for painting and effects profound changes in the lives of everyone around her.

A spellbinding work, Sufficient Grace explores the power of personal transformation and redemption, and the many ordinary and extraordinary ways they come to pass through faith, love, motherhood, art, even food. This poignant, poetic study of the human condition affirms the enduring importance of relationships and the strength we derive from them, even though we sometimes have to leave behind an old identity in order to discover our soul.

Beautifully paced, filled with unforgettable characters, Sufficient Grace reveals the vital place that spirit and belonging have in every inner life -- and in the everyday world.

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10 Books with Characters Who Feel Like Family by the End

By Chris Gaudio | September 8, 2021

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True Enough
by Stephen McCauley

Looking to dive deep into the lives of flawed characters and make them your own? Look no further than Stephen McCauley’s sensational fourth novel, TRUE ENOUGH, which follows two unforgettable characters as they navigate their complicated lives until they ultimately find each other—and themselves. There’s Jane Cody—the TV producer currently in psychiatry with her old-soul son—who’s wildly unhappy with her boring second husband and yearning for the passion and excitement she once had with her ex-husband Dale. And then there’s Desmond Sullivan, who is tired of his longstanding, monogamous relationship and looking to finally make progress writing a biography of singer Pauline Anderton. When he moves from New York to Boston for a new teaching job, he meets Jane and joins in with her newly formed plan to film a documentary on mediocre singers like Anderton. Intricate, complicated, and filled with delicate, deep characters, TRUE ENOUGH gives you front row seats to an odd couple that you’ll wish were at every family gathering.

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True Enough
Stephen McCauley

From the author of The Object of My Affection comes a warm and witty family drama about love and lust, trust and betrayal, commitment and denial.

Jane Cody keeps lists. After all, how else would she keep track of her life—her job producing a Boston TV show; her amiable but frankly dull second husband; and her precocious six-year-old son who “doesn't do small talk” but loves to bake. And as if that weren't enough she has an acid-tongued mother-in-law living in her barn, an arthritic malamute lodger to walk, and a dangerously seductive ex-husband on the scene.

In New York, Desmond Sullivan is fretting that his five-year relationship with smart, sweet Russell is too monogamous and settled. Perhaps a spell as writer-in-residence at Deerforth College will cure that, and also allow him to finish his biography of one of the 'sixties greatest forgotten mediocrities, torch singer Pauline Anderton? When Jane and Desmond meet in Boston, they embark on a TV documentary about the elusive Anderton, which is to take them on a journey of self-discovery in which they learn as much about their own secrets and lies than they ever wanted to know.

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10 Books with Characters Who Feel Like Family by the End

By Chris Gaudio | September 8, 2021

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Photo credit: iStock / nikkimeel

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