10 Awesome Middle Grade/YA Families

I had a bad week, and I ended up pulling the Casson family books (by Hilary McKay) off the shelf, just for some comfort reading. And I realized: THIS (with the exception of Bill, who’s a jerk) is a great family. And it got me wondering: with all the dead moms, and bad dads, and missing parents in middle grade and YA literature… how many books are out there with some really great families? (Great enough that you remember they’re wonderful.)

This is what I came up with.

Saffy’s Angel, by Hilary McKay: I couldn’t live in the Banana House, but I want, very much, to live next to the Banana house and be best friends with the Cassons.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, by Dana Alison Levy: I loved the every day feel of this, and I wanted Dad and Papa to be my parents. They were really amazing dads.

The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall: I feel like this is one of my go-to books for these lists, but it really is that good. And yeah, there is a dead parent (Mr. Penderwick gets remarried the end of the second one, though.), but I love the way the Penderwicks work as a unit.

Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George: Another one where the family just rocks. Sure, Mom and Dad are missing for most of the book, but the kids care enough to look for them and fight for them, and the work really well as a unit. Even though I loved Celie on her own, I really enjoyed her in context of her family.

Penny Dreadful, by Laurel Snyder: I’m not sure this one is a good family as much as a good community book. I loved the place Penny ended up and the people she met. The town became her family and I loved that.

Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage: same goes for Mo and the town of Tupelo Landing. She doesn’t have a “family” but she finds one in the town and Ms. Lana and the Colonel. I want to move there and just be friends with everyone.

One for the Murphys, by Linda Mullaly Hunt: Another non-traditional family. There is one in the book, but the main character doesn’t belong to it. And what I loved is that the family embraced her and made her one of their own. Wonderful.

Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan: The best part of this book is not the dead parents in the beginning, but the fact that Willow created another family for herself out of broken fragments. And it was a good thing.

The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater: Sure the focus of the book is the boys and the search for the ley line and Glendower. But let’s not forget the psychic house and the way these women — some related, some not — are a complete, close-knit family. They are there for each other. And much like the Cassons, I wouldn’t want to live there, but I would want to visit often.

Dangerous, by Shannon Hale: Again, family is not the center of this story, but let’s take a minute to recognize that Maisie has awesome parents. They don’t hover, they don’t control, they let her be what she wants and needs to be. It’s wonderfully refreshing.

So, what did I miss? (And this is not an especially diverse list. Help me out?)

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie

by Jordan Sonnenblick
ages: 11+
First sentence: “There’s a beautiful girl to my left, another to my right.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

This is a cancer book. Just to get that out of the way.

Steven is in eighth grade and on his way to being a wicked-good jazz drummer (being one of two eighth graders in the All-City Jazz Band). He has had a crush on Renee since third grade, and she still doesn’t know he exists. And his best friend, Annette, has been acting a little weird lately.

Steven also has a younger brother. Jeffrey is five, and annoying in the way five year olds can be. And while Steven doesn’t mind his younger brother, he often feels like he’s competing with Jeffrey for his parent’s affection. And who can win out against a very cute five-year-old?

Steven starts the year complaining about everything, but in October, things change. That’s when Jeffrey’s diagnosed with leukemia, and Steven’s — well, the entire family’s, really — whole world is turned upside down. It’s heartbreaking and tough to deal with, as we witness this crumbling. And yet, it’s not a downer of a book. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s endearing. Steven’s a good kid, and while he struggles and is resentful, he means well. By the end you’ve grown to love both him, and Jeffrey (whom you couldn’t help but love), and understand and empathize with them. It’s an excellent example of showing: while we get Steven’s perspective, we’re never pummeled over the head with anything.

Which makes it the best kind of cancer book, I think.