Family drama, especially when it’s not happening to me, is always fascinating. That’s why I love stories about family secrets. The my-dad-has-a-second-family revelation? The surprise-I’m-your-kid? The secret-sibling, the grandpa’s-past-gets-shadier-and-shadier-with-every-story, or the mom-isn’t-the-housewife-she-seems-like? Secretly undercover or a double agent or a spy? It’s all rife with tension and drama. For me, I think it’s a reminder that everyone, even the people who seem perfect, have a complex life behind closed doors (or even just inside themselves). Just because the white picket fence is in their front yard doesn’t mean their whole lives are that pristine. Everyone is flawed and makes hard decisions and gives into impulses sometimes. Celebrities, upper-middle-class families, your English teacher: everyone.
Luckily, there is no shortage of media on the subject, and in pretty much every genre too. Horror, thrillers, comedies — it’s all fair game. Even more intriguing is the nonfiction on the subject: real stories from real people about secrets lurking right under their noses. I especially love podcasts when you get to hear it from the people involved what happened and how they found out. I can’t get enough!
If you’re like me and always want more, here are eight novels about family secrets to satiate your curiosity!
Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters
After Shady’s father dies, her life of practicing fiddle in the woods around her trailer and her band with her friends just isn’t the same. The almost-relationship she had with one of her bandmates, too, isn’t easy to navigate. Then, to make matters worse, her brother is accused of murder and arrested. In an effort to prove his innocence, Shady tries to find her dad’s fiddle, the one that let him speak to the dead. Family, grief, and secrets collide in this YA creepy fantasy novel.
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby
Frankie and her siblings find themselves left in an orphanage during the Great Depression. Their mother died, and their father promised to come back for them once he’s able to provide for them. But that day never arrives, and Frankie is left to do what she must to survive through World War II and its aftermath, even if it means doing things better kept secret. Told by the ghost of a girl who died in 1918, Frankie and the narrator’s stories are more similar than it would first seem.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
Tavia is a siren, but she has to keep it a secret. Sirens are discriminated against, and navigating high school in Portland as one of the few Black girls there is hard enough. Thankfully, she has her best friend, Effie, at her side. They are practically sisters, especially after Effie moves in with Tavia’s family. But when a murder shocks the world and one of the victims is revealed to be a Siren, tensions rise. Tavia slips up, though, and when her identity is uncovered during a police stop, her life is turned upside down.
These Ghosts are Family by Maisy Card
Why might a man fake his death and change his name? In These Ghosts are Family, you might just get an answer. Stanford used to be Abel until he stole his best friend’s identity. When a home health aide shows up to help him in his old age, his identities collide. She’s his firstborn daughter. While this revelation is the first family secret, it certainty isn’t the last as the novel traces back Abel’s lineage to the 1700s in Jamaica.
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
When Korede’s sister calls her in the middle of the night, she begrudgingly comes to Ayoola’s rescue again. Another boyfriend dead, another bloody mess to clean up. But it’s her sister; what else is she supposed to do? Turn her in? Of course not. When Ayoola starts dating the doctor Korede’s in love with, though, she starts to question her resolve. Sisters, secrets, and serial killers, oh my!
Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
Claudia and Monday are inseparable. They’ve navigated rumors, bullies, and the horrors of middle school together. That is, until Monday doesn’t show up to school after summer break. Weirder still is that no one seems to notice or even remember the last time they saw her. The school is no help, and even Monday’s family can’t seem to answer the questions Claudia most wants answers to: where has her best friend gone, and why does no one care?
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Buster and Annie’s parents are performance artists, which didn’t exactly make their childhoods easy. They grew up being pulled into their parent’s pieces whether they agreed to or not. Years later, when they return home, they find their parents in the midst of one last piece rife with decisions that spin horribly out of control. This offbeat comedy in the vein of Wes Anderson is a more lighthearted take at the impacts of family secrets.
The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao
Gwendolyn and Estella were close as sisters, growing up in their rich family together. Which made Estella poisoning their whole family, leaving Gwendolyn the only survivor, stuck in a coma, so shocking. As Gwendolyn fights to wake up, she’s lost in her memories and desperate to find out where exactly everything went wrong. Digging around in the past reveals more betrayal and secrets than she could have imagined were lurking in the shadows of their family’s empire.