You should go to the movies with your family when there’s a holiday that’s about your family. That’s what most of them are, right? One that talks about mothers and fathers, it’s hard not to think of people who have a complicated relationship with their parents, or who have no relationship at all with them. I’m one of them. The fact is, I still talk to my mom and dad, but being the daughter of someone who has anxiety, manic depressive episodes, and bipolar disorder has always been hard for me. I’ve also had a hard time being the daughter of someone who has these things. She’s also a narcissist to the letter, which makes family interactions a little stressful for me to deal with. He gets paid well by the way.
For those of us who don’t have perfect relationships or healthy boundaries in place for our own well-being, I’m with you. And I can’t say enough about how books can help people understand these relationships, or even just be able to sympathize with characters both real and fictional. The list of ten books below isn’t complete or exhaustive, but it’s a list that I think touches on a lot of different things in people’s lives.
Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward and Craig Faustus Buck (Nonfiction)
You can think of this as a self-help guide for dealing with toxic parents. You should read this book if you like the subreddit r/raisedbynarcissists. I think it’s a good way to go along with the stories that are shared there. It’s very good at helping you recognize manipulative ways of behaving and how to try to break the toxic parents cycle.
Shelter by Jung Yun (Fiction)
Both a member of the Riot and a member of my local book group told me that they thought this was good. Kyung Cho’s family is in debt, but his parents live in relative comfort a few miles away. There is one problem, though. His parents can’t stay in their home, so they have to live with Kyung. With a lot of tension and family secrets, Kyung has to figure out how to care for the people who never cared for him.
Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming (Nonfiction)
Alan Cumming hasn’t talked to his father for more than a decade in a memoir that is very good on audiobook. To find out what happened to his maternal grandfather and to appear on the genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are?, Alan meets up with his father again, a man who was often violent when Alan was growing up. This helps Alan figure out what happened to his maternal grandfather and how to find him again.
Mother Mother by Koren Zailckas (Fiction)
Josephine Hurst is the mother of Josephine Hurst’s children. She does everything she can to control her home and her children. It only gets worse when her oldest child manages to leave the house. She’s a manipulative narcissist to the core. In the movie, Josephine’s moods and attitude have a big impact on both her husband and two other kids.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (Nonfiction)
It’s going to be made into a movie with Brie Larson, and it’s about a woman who has to deal with her family when they move to New York and want to live near her. Her father is a brilliant man who turns into a monster when he drinks. Her mother is a flittery person who seemed to want nothing more than to be alone and not be a part of a big family. When I’m with my brother, we often form a united front. This memoir is very important to me because I have a pair of dysfunctional parents.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Fiction)
This is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s first book. It tells the story of two siblings who have a father with two very different personalities. In public, he is a good person and helps out in the community. In private, his religious devotion comes close to fanaticism. As a military coup spreads across Nigeria, the two young adults are sent to their aunt’s house, where they grow and blossom away from their father.
Will I Ever be Good Enough: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothersby Karyl McBridge (Nonfiction)
Though this book mostly talks about the bad relationship between mothers and daughters, there are a lot of things that apply to sons and fathers as well. I find it interesting when people talk about how narcissistic parents can emotionally abuse their kids, because the abuse can be so subtle. If you want to learn more about narcissistic behavior and how victims often internalize it, this book is great.
Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (Fiction)
In a young adult book set in late 1970s New York City, a young woman is afraid and lonely as the Son of Sam walks the streets, looking for women. She has an abusive brother and a mom who doesn’t take care of her kids, and an absent father who has a “new family.”
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson (Nonfiction)
In her memoir, Jeanette Winterson talks about how she was raised in a strict, evangelistic family with a misanthropic mother. During this book, Winterson has to learn how to deal with religion and feelings of abandonment from her birth mother at the same time. You should read and write to get your mind off of things.
Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding by Jessie Sholl (Nonfiction)
After her mother is diagnosed with cancer, writer Jessie Sholl comes back home to help her mother get better. While at home, she comes to terms with the fact that her mother is a hoarder and how that disorder shaped her childhood. In her mother’s hoard, Shall finds things that make her feel bad and bring back memories that have been forgotten.