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As a reader, few things are more intriguing or emotionally satisfying than uncovering a family secret. First, they make our own family secrets not seem so strange—after all, everyone has them. And the more astounding they are, the easier it is to get hooked in the story. I’ve collected 15 of the best books about family secrets—fiction and nonfiction, classics and recent debuts. Whether you’re looking for eye-opening revelations, emotional catharsis, or sprawling family histories, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for here.
If you’re looking specifically for mysteries with dark family secrets, be sure to read this round-up as well.
Fiction Books About Family Secrets
These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card
Stanford Solomon has been carrying a burdensome secret for decades, and it starts with his name. His real one is Abel Paisley, and he stole his current identity after faking his own death years ago. But when he enters end-of-life care, he encounters a nurse named Irene Paisley—his firstborn daughter. Through this chance meeting, he must confront a family who thought he was dead for so long.
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy: A Novel in Clues by Nova Jacobst
After struggling bookseller Hazel’s grandfather dies, she receives a letter containing his final request. She is to deliver his final mathematical equation to her grandfather’s former colleague, the contents of which are sought after by a dangerous organization. But first, she must find the equation—with only the clues left behind by her grandfather to guide her.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
The first man Korede’s sister Ayoola killed was an accident. Or at least, so Ayoola claims. But the more her sister calls on her to help dispose of yet another body, the more Korede wonders if there’s more to these deaths than bad luck. When Ayoola starts dating a doctor at Korede’s work—who Korede is in love with— the only chance at saving him might be confronting her sister.
There’s a Word for That by Sloane Tanen
Marty Kessler is a retired film producer whose opioid dependence mirrors his first wife’s—acclaimed author Bunny Smalls—alcoholism. When they unexpectedly end up in the same rehabilitation center, they and their children are forced to open up about their own personal burdens and dysfunctional relationships. And as these estranged family members grow closer, they’re able to make terms with the past so they can have peace in the present.
Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud
In the wake of her husband’s death, Betty Ramdan’s only source of comfort is her colleague Mr. Chetan. Soon, she invites him to move in with her and her son, Solo. As Solo grows older, he relies on this found family of three—until he discovers a secret that leaves him distraught.
Solo leaves Trinidad for New York immediately to escape his overwhelming feelings. But when Solo receives a phone call from Mr. Chetan, he’s forced to confront his pain and determine what makes someone family.
Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger
When 17-year-old Jesse Matson embarks on a deer hunting trip with his dad, he never imagined only one of them would make it home alive. Everyone, even the doctors, believe the death to be a suicide. But the ghost of his father still haunts Jesse, and he’s restless with grief and the need to set things right. In this contemporary Hamlet retelling, Jesse must unravel the family secrets behind his father’s death before they consume him.
Monogamy by Sue Miller
Bookseller Graham and photographer Annie were seemingly the perfect couple and Graham a devoted husband. On the cusp of their 30th wedding anniversary, Graham dies suddenly and leaves Annie lost without him. But when Annie discovers that Graham was unfaithful to her for years, she struggles to mourn a man that she perhaps never fully knew.
Nonfiction Books About Family Secrets
The Lost Family: How DNA Testing is Upending Who We Are by Libby Copeland
DNA testing companies like 23andMe are uncovering the skeletons in so many families’ closets, it’s becoming a phenomenon. Many of its users get tested for innocuous reasons and end up uncovering secrets they were in no way prepared to face. Copeland follows the story of one woman whose DNA results raised unexpected questions while exploring the issue as a whole.
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
When Nicole Chung was born, her Korean parents placed her up for adoption. Raised by a white family who didn’t experience the same prejudices as her, she became increasingly curious about her biological parents. As Nicole searches for the parents who let her go, she discovers that some of the things her adoptive family told her about them might not have been true.
The Good Daughter by Jasmin Darznik
While helping her mother move after her father’s death, Jasmin Darznik discovers a perplexing photograph of her mother. In it, she is wearing a wedding veil—but the man standing next to her is not Jasmin’s father. At first, her mother refuses to discuss the photo or how it relates to her past. But then, her mother sends a series of ten cassette tapes that reveal her troubled and abusive first marriage, as well as a sister Jasmin never knew she had.
Paper Love by Sarah Wildman
After her grandfather died, Sarah Wildman found a file among his things labeled “Correspondence: Patients A–G.” But inside, she found love letters—and not to her grandmother but to a woman named Valerie. As Sarah searches through her grandfather’s past, she pieces together a life—and love—lost in pre–World War II Vienna.
Annie’s Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg
Steve Luxenberg always thought his mother Beth was an only child. But at an otherwise routine doctor’s appointment, his mother mentioned that she had a sister. This revelation—accidental or otherwise—astonished Steve. As he unravels his mother’s past, he embarks on a journey that takes him through the United States and Europe while uncovering ghosts of the past.
Paula: A Memoir by Isabel Allende
Shortly after her honeymoon, Paula Allende falls into a coma due to her worsening liver disorder. Her mother Isabel begins writing Paula letters with the hope that she’ll be able to read what she missed if she recovers. But as she writes, Isabel compiles the story of her family and ancestors—their greatest stories and their deepest secrets included.
Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
In 2016, Dani submitted her DNA to a genetic testing organization on a whim. But she uncovered a secret that left her floored: her father was not her biological parent. Inheritance explores Dani’s childhood—in a home that she never felt she belonged to—and the aftermath of uncovering a secret that shocks her and yet puts together the missing pieces from her youth.
I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This by Nadja Spiegelman
As a child, Nadja was so mesmerized by her mother—New Yorker director Françoise Mouley—that she was almost more of a giant than a person. But when Nadja grew up, her relationship with her mother grew tense for reasons she did not understand. Years later, Nadja’s mother finally revealed the secrets of her turbulent youth. Determined to meet the grandmother who had caused her mother so much grief, Nadja moves to Paris in search of the truth behind the painful memories.
For more book recommendations with plenty of tantalizing secrets, check out these 15 mystery recommendations that are perfect for your next book club.
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