Relationships between family members are some of the most complicated ones out there. They usually involve love but also can contain tension and secrets. Kate A. Boorman writes about this complexity in her new YA mystery novel What We Buried. In it, two siblings who don’t really get along have to join forces to find their missing parents. Here, Boorman shares her favorite YA novels that deal with the complexity of families.
Ah, family. The people with whom we spend our most formative years and, as such, the people with whom we have the deepest, most loving connections. Or… not. Rivalry, betrayal, crushing expectations, guilt, jealousy: Family members’ presence (or absence) deeply affects a character’s psyche and provides our narratives endless opportunity for razor-sharp tension and heart-wrenching moments. YA is rife with stories about characters negotiating complicated family dynamics, from the heartwarming and funny to the dark and unsettling. Here are six great novels about family relationships to check out:
This is a multi-faceted story about the weight of expectations and family secrets. The narrative flows between past and present, following Danny, a smart, closeted, ambitious kid with a secret crush. Just as he’s getting ready to depart for the next stage of his life, he uncovers his own parents’ secrets. Picture Us In the Light is a poignant look at family dynamics, the pressures on youth, and finding yourself.
As the title suggests, this is a love story at its core. Spencer is in love with his brother’s girlfriend, Hope. He struggles with the fact that his parents expect him to be like his brother. Hope adores her own sister, and writes her letters. The narrative follows Spencer and Hope and their evolving relationship over a period of six years as they navigate sibling rivalry, parental disappointment, and devastating family tragedy.
Funny and heartfelt, this book tenderly explores the tension inherent in the new immigrant experience. Nira’s desire to follow her passion clashes with that of her parents, who expect her to stay the course in their new, hard-earned life of stability. Nira’s wry observations about those complications are delightful, and as she negotiates new friends and her parents’ expectations, her relationship with her grandmother provides the compass she needs to find her own path.
While the narrative features Aaron’s relationships with his friends most heavily, family is at the heart of his crisis. He shares a one-bedroom apartment with his brother and a mother who works two jobs to make ends meet. He is negotiating emotional wounds dealt by an abusive father whose suicide has left a void in the family unit. His mother and brother are the last people Aaron can turn to as he contemplates a drastic measure to attain happiness. More Happy Than Not is a beautifully written exploration of identity and memory.
This novel takes a fascinating look at a deeply dysfunctional sibling relationship. Magnetic older sister Ruby wields immense influence over her younger sister Chloe, who is digging into a mystery better left alone. The sisters’ connection is intense, compelling, and toxic. The power imbalance here is palpable, yet the dreamlike mood and atmospheric writing upend any expectations of a predictable outcome.
While technically a middle grade novel, I had to include this dark fantasy that captured my heart from page one. Triss’ estrangement from her family is at the crux of the mystery, and her fraught relationship with her sister Pen, who knows what truly happened to Triss at a millpond called “The Grimmer,” is the key to Triss’ discombobulated state. Eerie and wildly imaginative, themes of longing and belonging underpin this peculiar tale set in 1920s England.
Kate A. Boorman is an award-winning author from the Canadian prairies. She was born in Nepal and grew up in the small town of Rimbey. She writes speculative fiction and has a mild obsession with abandoned places, memory, and the darkest parts of the forest. Kate holds a MA in Dramatic Critical theory and a resume full of a bizarre assortment of jobs, from florist to accordion accompanist to “person-who-held-the-drywall-sheet-in-place.” She has participated as a guest and presenter at a variety of festivals and conferences in Western Canada. Kate usually lives in Edmonton, Alberta, with her family. Right now she’s living in a faraway land, where there are many baguettes.