Thicker Than Water: Family Stories | The Reader’s Shelf

Family dynamics drive these six novels, exploring how relations act upon one another, from the way a mother binds a daughter—or sets her free—to the complexities of marriage to how siblings become mutual anchors.

Minae Mizumura’s Inheritance from Mother (Other. May 2017. ISBN 9781590517826. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781590517833) is a thoughtful and probing family study, delivered via fluid translation by Juliet Winters Carpenter. It speaks to parent-child relationships, to a crumbling marriage, to sisterhood, and, most of all, to middle-age self-reflection. Mitsuki Katsura, a burdened, dutiful daughter and part-time college professor, surveys her life—one she realizes has turned from contented to unhappy. Much of that feeling stems from her mother, a demanding and self-absorbed woman who has cast a long shadow. Then there’s her husband, newly entangled in his third affair. By examining how Mitsuki lives through and beyond her circumstances, Mizumura moves the reader through several sadly universal traumas.

In her rich and redolent debut, No One Is Coming To Save Us (Ecco: HarperCollins. Apr. 2017. ISBN 9780062472984. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062473004), Stephanie Powell Watts recasts F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as an African American tale. Set in the South, it takes place during the years furniture factories closed down across North Carolina and white families moved farther out from dying towns. Into this world comes JJ Ferguson, who returns to his boyhood home of Pinewood flush with money and intent on gaining what he has always wanted: a home and Ava. But Ava is already married, desperate for a child. Her mother is desperate, too, and finds some ease through her phone calls to a young man in prison. Dreams and hopes long held and long deferred power the novel.

The fates of three generations of the Kurcs, a Jewish family separated during World War II, fill the pages of Georgia Hunter’s debut, We Were the Lucky Ones (­Viking. Feb. 2017. ISBN 9780399563089. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399563102). Chapters alternate among parents, siblings, and spouses, inter­cut with historical notes that detail the horrors of the war’s progression and spotlight the events that shape each character’s fate. Addy, one of the sons, receives a letter while in Paris from his mother. Between the lines are the thrumming signs of the coming disaster, and she advises him not to travel across Europe and home to Poland for ­Passover. That initial warning sends the Kurcs scattering into the whirlwind of terror. It is a story of deep connection, love of place, and survival.

Katherine Heiny beguiled readers in 2015 with a collection of short stories, Single, Carefree, Mellow. She returns with her first novel, Standard Deviation (Knopf. ISBN 9780385353816. May 2017. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385353823), a warmhearted and generous tale of marriage. Graham Cavanaugh is on his second, having divorced Elspeth and wed Audra over a decade ago. He and Audra have a young son with Asperger’s, Matthew. While Graham sometimes thinks he is living a life parallel to the rest of his family, given Audra’s overwhelming personality, it becomes clear that he is deeply cemented to its center, with a compelling take on the world around him. Heiny has a fine gift for creating character and scene, touched with a twist of droll hilarity.

Devil in Spring (Avon. Feb. 2017. ISBN 9780062371874. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062371904) is the third book in Lisa Kleypas’s “­Ravenels” series. The two previous books and that this installment links back to another of the author’s series allow for many family members to mix and mingle. Pandora Ravenel is a smart, quirky board game designer who wants to earn her own way and live on her own terms. All might be lost when she unwittingly becomes ensnared in a compromising position with Lord St. Vincent, one of the most eligible men in London. He does the honorable thing and offers marriage, but to agree means handing over her business and control of her life. Family plays a huge role in the outcome, highlighting their love and support of one another.

Rabbit Cake (Tin House. Mar. 2017. ISBN 9781941040560. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781941040577), Annie Hartnett’s affecting and wonderfully realized debut, deals with a family almost broken by loss. Elvis is ten when her mother, with a history of sleep-swimming, drowns in an Alabama river. The death reverberates through those who remain. Older daughter Lizzie’s sleep-eating binges become increasingly dangerous and destructive, until their grief-ridden father is forced to commit her, dividing them all once more. Throughout the turmoil, the curious Elvis tries to make sense of what has happened—to her mother, to her sister, and to herself. Arranged through a monthly chart of mourning, this gripping narrative zooms along as Elvis finds her bearings.

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at

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