Ten YA Books About Characters Shaped By Their Families by Melinda Wallace

We all have an origin story.  Life begins with a family, large or small.  Sometimes that family nurtures us as we grow and helps us to understand the world around us.  Sometimes that family provides struggle and resistance against which we learn to push.  Family provides a basis for comparison, the bar against which we measure ourselves for our entire lives.  Family provides support when life is challenging, and sometimes family provides challenges that force us to move on without them.  Whether we like it or not, our family shapes us.  

For good or for bad, our identity is born of our family relationships.  Here are some fantastic YA books with characters who become themselves because of or in spite of the families they were born to.  


Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel


Rachel and Samuel both have a love of science and archeology thanks to their fathers, both of whom are leaders in their field.  Like their fathers, they hunger for new discovery and are determined to find both fossils and success.   However, their fathers also showed them the effects of ruthless ambition, and both Rachel and Samuel have to decide if they have the strength to fight against their fathers’ influences to do the right thing in a hard situation and to find and accept love for each other in a pit of animosity and bitterness.  


the crossover

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander


Josh is a basketball star, and his twin brother is too.  They complement each other perfectly on their middle school team, each bringing his own strengths and skills to the court.  However, when mild sibling rivalry sets off a series of events that create a division between the brothers at a time when their parents need them more than ever, Josh has to figure out how to honor both himself and his family in this beautiful novel in verse.  


ill give you the sun

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson


In Nelson’s touching novel, perspective shifts between two twins and two times.  We see Noah’s challenges and the special relationship he shares with his sister when they’re thirteen, and we see Jude’s challenges and the stark divide between her and her brother when they’re sixteen.  Readers work to untangle the years between the perspectives to discover what caused their break as the characters work to make peace with themselves and their roles in a complicated family.



The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon


This wonderful novel tells the story of two characters at odds with their families.  Daniel struggles to meet his parents’ cultural and academic expectations and maintain peace with his rebellious and cruel brother.  Natasha is about to be deported and lose the future she’s worked for because of a mistake her father made, and her family chooses to obey rather than fight.  As these two teens meet, fall in love, and work to pursue their own dreams, readers see the ways in which they are shaped by families they have to both love and resist.



The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn


In this sequel to Dash and Lily’s book of dares, readers are treated to a deeper look at the family of both characters.  In contrasting families, Dash struggles to balance his divorced mother and father who have been openly hostile for years while Lily fights to keep her close family together after a tragedy disrupts what was once her sanctuary.  


eleanor and park

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell


In this novel, Eleanor has a difficult family life.  Her stepfather is abusive, and she is the one to protect her siblings as much as she can from his aggression.  Park’s family is much more supportive, and the contrast between the two is never more stark than when Eleanor goes to meet Park’s parents for the first time.  One of the most special parts of this story is that in the end, readers see get to see how Eleanor is responsible for her family, but ultimately, she is responsible for herself.  


brown girl dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


This beautiful verse book by Jacqueline Woodson tells her story of growing up in two different parts of the country.  At the heart of the story, though, is Woodson’s family.  Her grandparents are her constant as the world shifts around her, and her siblings provide the measuring stick for how she compares to the expectations of others and herself.  Her family helps her to become who she is.



Saving Red by Sonya Sones

This novel, also in verse, tells about Girl who is struggling to find her own identity after tragedy shakes her family and removes her brother from her life.  Here, we see how a change in family situation can push a character to find her own strength when she can no longer lean on those who love her.  



Everything That Makes You by Moriah McStay


This novel shows Fiona in two different realities.  In one, she was in a horrible accident as a child that left scars over half of her face.  In the other, she wasn’t.  Since the perspective shifts back and forth between the possible realities, the reader can see not only how Fiona is shaped by her family and their support, but also how she in turn shapes her brother.  Her attitude towards herself pushes the rest of her family in slightly different ways, the effect of which will leave you thinking long after you close the book.  


Reality Boy

Reality Boy by A.S. King

In this captivating novel, King tells the story of Gerald who, as a small child, was part of a reality television show that has defined him into his teen years.  However, his acting out was never the problem in the family, and as the story goes on, readers see how his sister and his parents’ reactions to her shape not just Gerald, but his whole life.  


Melinda Wallace is a middle school teacher in Jefferson, Georgia.  She is a passionate reader and writer and has an insatiable thirst for knowledge of all kinds.  Follow her on Twitter @MelinW_OTheDa.