Recommended Books on Surviving Families

As much as we love our families, sometimes we don't see eye to eye. Sometimes our values differ so extremely that it is difficult to maintain a normal conventional relationship with them. We feel torn, misunderstood and hurt. Sometimes there is no turning back. Take solace in knowing that we are not alone and millions of families experience this every day. Below are some great books and memoirs that tell the real life stories of authors who have lived and survived complicated family lives, recounting their own experiences and the experiences of others.

Educated (Non-fiction, memoir) by Tara Westover
best books on surviving families








A fascinating true story about a young girl who grows up in an isolated community in the mountains of Southeastern Idaho. The youngest of seven siblings, at age 30 she has never left home, has been homeschooled and works for her mother and father, who don't believe in western medicine. Her father, who suffers from bipolar depression, sells scrap metal from his junkyard and builds barns and hay sheds for farmers in nearby towns. Her mother is a herbalist and works as an assistant to an unlicensed midwife. Tara helps both her father in the junk yard scrapping metal and her mother preparing herbs and helping with live births. Her father's rage from depression often manifests as violence with the siblings all suffering from inflicted wounds and burns from the junkyard. They are not allowed to see a normal doctor and any illness must be treated using herbs from their mother's 'herbal' pharmacy. Once Tara suffered from tonsillitis and her father made her stand with her mouth open in the sun for a whole month.

In her early 30s, she does something prolific. She follows her older brother's example and secretly learns how to read. Tara eventually passes her ACT and is accepted to Brigham Young University. Her relationship with her father worsens and she leaves home in pursuit of further education. She has no idea about the Holocaust or Napoleon or other remarkable historical events. However her hunger to learn and her capacity to self-educate is recognised by her professors and she manages to secure a fellowship at Cambridge University first and then at Harvard University where she completes a PHD in history. After what she has achieved and her enlightening journey, it is difficult to transition back to life in Idaho and the family she loves who are so different in their values and way of life. A beautiful tale of inner conflict balancing loyalty towards the family she deeply loves and the pain and loss that comes from the inevitable weakening of ties with the people so dear to your heart. A summer must-read.

A Place for Us: A Novel (Fictionby Fatima Farheen Mirza








A story about belonging, identity, culture and what it means to be American and Muslim, bridging the old with the new. 

An estranged son, the youngest of three strives to balance being true to himself whilst remaining loyal to the family and culture he comes from. The older two siblings marry for love and not tradition. All reunited at a family wedding, the parents come to terms with their children, reconciling strong family bonds that made them a close-knit family in the early years to weakened ties and betrayal as they find themselves caught between two different cultures after immigrating to the US from India. 

A colourful story from an upcoming literary genius, the book will touch your heart.


My Name is Lucy Barton (Novel) by Elizabeth Strout

My Name Is Lucy Barton: From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge by [Elizabeth Strout] 

After many years of separation, a mother makes an unexpected appearance at her daughter Lucy's hospital bedside. This unforeseen reunion triggers a confronting journey for Lucy, unravelling memories of her deeply impoverished childhood that had long been buried within her. As the facade of her seemingly glamorous life in New York starts to crumble, she is forced to face the reality of her failing marriage and her uncertain path as an aspiring writer.

From the confines of Lucy's hospital bed, we are drawn into the intricate web of emotional complexities within family life. The relentless influence of the past and the painful memories that tie a family together become increasingly evident as the story unfolds.


Surviving the Toxic Family (Non-fiction) by Marina Williams


Surviving the Toxic Family offers an invaluable resource to those seeking recovery from the profound impacts of growing up in a toxic or dysfunctional family. Through compelling case studies, this book illustrates the path towards healing and guides readers on their journey to complete recovery.

The book outlines a three-step process:

  1. Understanding the Root Causes: Gain insights into the behaviors and dynamics of your family, unraveling the reasons behind their hurtful treatment towards you.

  2. Establishing New Boundaries: Empower yourself to break free from mistreatment by reshaping the rules and dynamics within your family.

  3. Reclaiming Your Authentic Life: Learn how to take back control and live a more genuine, fulfilling life aligned with your true self.

The book serves as an indispensable tool not only for those dealing with dysfunctional family environments but also for individuals who care about someone struggling with their family relationships. Therapists seeking to aid clients from toxic family backgrounds will also find practical, hands-on strategies within the book.

With its wealth of practical advice, this book equips readers to survive and thrive, even in the most challenging and harmful family circumstances.

It Didn't Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle (Non-fiction) by Mark Wolynn

It Didn't Start With You: How inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle by [Mark  Wolynn]

Mark Wolynn has a very specific approach to treating trauma – particularly the trauma that has survived and transferred across generations. He offers a different perspective of looking at trauma that’s not necessarily the result of a painful life event or a chemical imbalance but instead passed through generations.

It Didn’t Start with You evidences with depth and clarity that whilst the person who initially experienced trauma might have died or their story forgotten, the associated memories, and feelings, might still be adopted by future generations – embedded in our genetic makeup and cognitive abilities - playing a far greater role than previously thought.

Mark Wolynn prescribes the Core Language Approach – linking words and language to emotions, behaviours and physical symptoms to understand where the trauma actually resides and releasing it. It’s a novel approach, that’s proven to be extremely effective, particularly when other treatments and therapies have failed. 

The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity (Non-fiction) by Nadine Burke Harris

A young boy stopped growing after a sexual assault. This was the starting point of Dr. Harris’s lifelong work on child trauma management linking the effects of toxic stress and chronic illness. Childhood adversity (neglect, abuse, parental shame, divorce) can quite literally change our biological makeup for life.

In this book she offers scientific tools on how we may heal from the trauma that’s already happened that’s paralysing us. 


Related recommended reading lists:



Breaking Up

Breaking Up With A Friend


Consolation in times of sorrow

Feeling lonely

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


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A big hello and thank you for reading! Passionate about literature, psychology, and life I launched Book Therapy as an alternative form of therapy using the power of literature. I train mental health professionals, librarians, teachers as well as readers on using bibliotherapy in their own work through our online Bibliotherapy, Literature and Mental Health course. We also curate reading lists/personalised book prescriptions for clients based on their individual needs. This is our signature personalised reading service.

You can also check out Book Therapy’s other free reading lists and A- Z of book prescriptions (covering both fiction and non-fiction). These suggest books based on your existing life situation (e.g. anxiety, job change, relationship heartache) as well as interests (e.g memoir, historical fiction, non-fiction, crime etc). There’s also a Children’s A — Z of Book Prescriptions. Feel free to check out the blog for more literary gems. There’s also a post on my personal story of how I entered the world of bibliotherapy and book curation.

In this role, I have had the opportunity to publish two books, Bibliotherapy: The Healing Power of Reading and The Happiness Mindset, and write various literary essays and pieces for newspapers and magazines. I have undertaken bibliotherapy workshops for The United Nations, various libraries in New York and corporate organisations in the UK and US. My book recommendations have featured in the Guardian, Marie Claire, NBC News, Asian Voice, New York Observer, Sydney Telegraph and various other publications. If you are a parent you might enjoy a podcast I’ve recorded with speech and language therapist Sunita Shah on Raising A Reader & Storyteller. And if you’d like to connect, email me at or

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