I’ve mentioned time and time again on this blog how the Weasleys are my all-time favorite fictional family. I want to be one of them. I want to grow up in the organized chaos of the Burrow and eat Molly’s meals and have six older brothers. In a contradictory manner, I’ve also always said I’d marry a Weasley boy, so if my alter ego in the Wizarding World isn’t cool enough to be in this family by birth, I guess she’ll hunt down Charlie Weasley and make an honest man of him.
Books surrounding families, particularly if they have multi-generational stories, are some of my favorites to read. I’ve also mentioned how I love fictional families with a lot of children (hence the Weasleys), so what essentially attracts me in a book is familial relationships and a deep insight into the bonds within a large clan.
I wanted to highlight some of my other favorite fictional families (limited to books only) and also make some points about family in general!
1. The Blythes (Anne of Green Gables series, by L.M. Montgomery)
Books 5 through 8 depict Anne Shirley’s life after she marries Gilbert Blythe, and while there is some criticism about Anne losing her personality once she is a mother, I just love the cozy family life that she and Gilbert create. They have seven children together, six of whom live past infancy. I just came across a Tumblr user who created a dream cast for Anne’s children (except for Shirley) and the actors she imagines as each kid are just perfect (Alexis Bledel as Nan?!).
I was always jealous of the independence Anne’s children had in Glen St. Mary, and so intrigued by their summers spent in Avonlea with their “aunt” Marilla. The bond that Rilla has with Walter was so interesting to me, having no big brothers, and Montgomery’s overall approach to exploring the different kinds of sibling bonds felt very realistic.
Now looking back at these stories, the Blythes were one of my earliest lit exposures to a big family (apart from the Weasleys, of course) and another reason why I was drawn to writing next-generation Harry Potter stories as a preteen. I usually end up rereading some or all of the Anne books at least once a year, because they’re such comfort reads for me, and I’d love to read the later books with this new, more adult perspective about the Blythes’ family life.
2. The McKinleys (Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor)
This is a major exception to my love of big families. Alice loses her mother when she’s very young, and grows up with her father Ben and older brother Lester before her dad marries her middle school English teacher, Sylvia. I think my love of their family situation was because, logistically, it was so different from my own, yet it was still so functional, peaceful, and loving.
The zaniness found in family life with adolescents and young adults was told through Lester’s antics, Alice’s own mishaps, and Ben’s gentle voice of reason. I loved seeing Alice grow up and observe Ben and Sylvia’s quiet life together, and I just envied that calm house when mine was loud with siblings’ noise. Alice and Lester are up there as one of my favorite sister-brother relationships, and even with their sizable age gap, there was no doubting how much they cared for each other.
You really fall in love with characters when there are as many books in a series as there were here. When I read the final Alice book the week it came out, in my freshman year of college, the ending (spoiler: someone dies) made me sob. I’m talking gushing, slightly shaky sobs. Thankfully, I was alone at the time, but this character’s death triggered some real emotions for me, and I think that can only happen when you feel a true connection to a character.
3. The Amendolas (Small Mercies, by Eddie Joyce)
Small Mercies was one of my favorite books I read last year.The Amendolas live on Staten Island, and their story jumps back and forth between past and present. The parents, Gail and Michael, have raised three sons: Peter, who is kind of like the Percy Weasley of the family and creates a different life for his adult self out of a sort of embarrassment about his background, Franky, who is the struggling middle son that is an outcast and very emotionally complex, and Bobby, who became a firefighter and passed away in the 9/11 attacks. The present storyline revolves around Bobby’s widow Tina beginning to seriously date someone and the Amendolas’ adjustments to that.
This family is an Irish-Italian blend, as mine is, and Eddie Joyce is also a Staten Island native, so his depiction of that life actually paralleled mine on Long Island quite a few times (one of the towns mentioned on the radio news Gail listens to at the beginning is actually right next to my hometown, and I go there frequently). That feeling of growing up so close to something great (Manhattan) is explored, and there are very distinct passages where I scarily related to Peter’s thought process.
Plus, I feel that this was the most realistic portrayal of family I had read in a long time. Obviously, it depicts a family with grown children, but I was still able to relate to this more complex dynamic through seeing my parents’ interactions with their own families. I love this story’s multiple narratives and prose, and the characters are just gorgeous.
4. The Marches (Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott)
Another family dynamic I love seeing in books is that of sister relationships. The most classic literary example is obviously the March sisters. Is this just me, or does any other family with girls compare each sister to the March equivalent they are? I only have two younger sisters, but, going by birth order, I’d be Meg (totally more of a Jo, though).
My parents both have two brothers, and the family dynamic that is dominated by boys is so different than when your family is mostly girls. I can’t speak for all families, but a family with sisters is genuinely very cozy and, yes, emotional, because you have a bunch of growing girls in one house. Despite the old-fashioned context, Little Women captures all of that in a warm, fluffy package.
5. The Kashpaws (Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich)
I read Love Medicine this semester for class, and I found it to be such a deep and all-encompassing story about family. The narratives branch out to include more than just the Kashpaw family’s perspectives, but the majority of stories center around them (and there are multi-generational stories!).
Marie Kashpaw is a prime example of being a powerful matriarch. Her husband Nector does not exactly recognize the quiet control she has over their family and household, but Marie is responsible for all of Nector’s own professional success. When Nector almost leaves her and hides the note where he explains his plans, Marie actually sees the note, but chooses to hide it in another spot. This way, she has even further control over him, letting him wonder whether she ever saw it.
So, yes, this is not necessarily the happiest or healthiest family in literature, but I soaked this story up because it is exactly what I like – a big family with several generations’ worth of stories to tell.
What about you? Who are some of your favorite families in literature?