Frankel’s book revolves around an offbeat family that I immediately fell in love with—they’re a little quirky, but not exceptionally so. They’ve made different choices than their neighbors, because that’s what works for them. Their personalities are a little eccentric, and I loved them for it.
When we chatted, I asked Frankel if she made that style choice on purpose and she said, (and I paraphrase), Heck yeah! I’m a sucker for a good book about an endearingly quirky family. But for the novel to truly hit her sweet spot, it’s important that both factors be there: the “quirky” AND the “endearing.”
In this list I’ve gathered 15 of my favorite books that get it right (although I can totally see you begging to differ on a title or two). Give it a look, peruse at your leisure, add to your TBR, and load up mine with YOUR favorite titles in comments.
I can see why this 1940s classic makes so many people’s desert island book lists. 17-year-old Cassandra is a remarkable narrator, who captures her eccentric family’s daily life—in their ramshackle old English castle—in her diary. The three volumes which comprise this book are full of her funny and poignant stories. Replete with love, magic, writer’s block, and bear costumes. More info →
Madeleine L'Engle is best known for her A Wrinkle in Time quintet, but the Austin family is just as welcoming, consisting of four kids, a newly orphaned girl, two dogs, several cats, a steady stream of friends dropping in, and intelligent family dinner-table talk that veers into the ethics of meat eating, the solar system, and Einstein. Light and fun, with well-developed characters and lots of real-life family moments. More info →
This little book features TWO quirky families, each in their own way (although the Emersons might be MY favorite). Either way, you can’t beat a book that turns on a stolen kiss in the Italian countryside. Read this slim novel about the awakening of sheltered Englishwoman Lucy Honeychurch (who is definitely in the running for Most Adorable Name in Literature) at the hands of an Englishman with little regard for convention, all while her uptight aunt is doing her darnedest to keep Lucy "proper" in society's eyes. (It's worth saying: the movie version is FANTASTIC.) More info →
We meet a vast number of quirky and endearing characters in Harry Potter, but this book's place on our list was secured by the Weasleys alone—who have "red hair, freckles, and more children than they can afford." More info →
Your first clue that this isn't your typical family: Georges parents named him "Georges." The "s" is silent. When Georges's dad spots a notice for a Spy Club meeting in their new apartment building’s laundry room, Georges decides to show up—and becomes the first spy recruit of his new friend Safer, a 12-year-old, self- trained spy. This realistic novel delicately explores the nature of truth, the power of friendship, the complexities of family, and the importance of standing up for yourself. Favorite passage: "Dad is looking at the bookshelves, deep in thought, deciding which book should go where. Once, Mom came home from work and discovered that he had turned all the books around so that the bindings were against the wall and the pages faced out. He said it was calming not to have all those words floating around and "creating static." Mom made him turn them back. She said it was too hard to find a book when she couldn't read the titles. Then she poured herself a big glass of wine." More info →
Hannah Pittard calls this The Royal Tenenbaums meets Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?." In their performance art, Caleb and Camille Fang delight in their offbeat creativity, and rope their kids into their performances time after time. In his first novel, Kevin Wilson explores the long-term effects this has on the kids—and their parents. The reviews on this one are all over the place: readers love it or hate it. More info →
My favorite Jane Austen novel (at least during the times when my favorite isn't Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion) centers on an unusual household of two: Emma Woodhouse, old enough to marry but independent enough to not want to (and who can avoid the shame of spinsterhood because she's "handsome, clever, and rich") and her well-meaning but exceedingly nervous father. Distinctive friends, neighbors, and love interests spin their way into the Woodhouse orbit throughout the story's course—some quirky, some endearing, some downright obnoxious, but ALL entertaining. More info →
Like all the women in her family, Claire Waverly possesses a unique magic: she uses edible flowers to prepare foods that affect the eater in “curious ways.” Years ago, Claire’s sister fled town—and her Waverly gift—but she discovers her own sort of magic when she returns. What to say about this book? The romance is cheesy, the magic is impossible, but put them together and it sings. A few love scenes are a little racy (ahem). If you’re not down with supernatural food or a magical apple tree, skip this one—but you should know how many readers call this “a wonderful surprise.” (If you loved The Language of Flowers, bump it to the top of your list.) More info →
This endearingly quirky family consists of our 30-something male narrator (his age might not be specified, but this is totally how I picture him) and his beloved dachshund, and the brain tumor ("octopus") that ended her life. They hang out, they watch movies, they play board games, they have deep conversations comparing the two Ryans, Gosling and Reynolds. Definitely a strange book, but a sweet and strangely powerful one for anyone who's loved a dog. More info →
This story about a family who run's an old smuggler's inn reminded me of The Mysterious Benedict Society. It's the first night of usually quiet vacation at Greenglass House, but Milo, the innkeepers' adopted son, finds himself with a mystery to unravel. The guest bell rings. And again. And again. Until Milo's home is bursting with strange guests, each one with a story connected to the old house. More info →
This wonderful biographical novel is based on the true story of Constance Kopp, one of the first female sheriffs in America. The Kopp sisters—Constance, Norma and Fleurette—have been isolated from the world since a family secret sent them into hiding. This close family of three was already plenty eccentric 1914 New Jersey—and then Constance goes and gets herself a job with the Sheriff's department! An excellent novel (and first in a series!) from nonfiction pro Stewart. More info →
De los Santos novels have all the characteristics of good binge reads: good storytelling, likable characters, and beautiful writing. Cornelia is a hopeless romantic, obsessed with the epic love stories portrayed in classic films, but floundering in her own life. Everything changes the day a Cary Grant look-alike walks through the door of the coffee shop she manages. Of course she falls for him, and strikes up an unlikely friendship with his 11-year-old daughter. Cornelia's family provides support (the friendly and witty kind, thankfully) as she navigates big transitions and tough decisions. More info →
In this witty, sparkling, and wholly fiction tale, we meet the world’s most beloved, madcap, devastatingly sophisticated, and glamorous aunt, through the eyes of an orphaned ten-year-old boy sent to live with her. This novel was first published in the 1950s and it still feels completely fresh. More info →
In this debut we follow the adventures of Alice Whitley, a young and innocent 23-year-old who's given a plumb assignment by her NYC publisher: fly to California to help an unusual family of two, by serving as personal assistant to the reclusive bestselling author who's agreed to write her first book in decades. But Alice soon discovers her only role is to serve as child-wrangler to the author's exceptionally quirky 9-year-old, who's constantly getting into trouble while dressing as a 1930s movie star, complete with top hat. More info →
I fell completely in love with Rosie and Penn, gained insight into a situation I thought had nothing to do with me, and had complicated feelings about the resolution. A terrific book about family secrets and impossible decisions. That title? It comes from the idea that parents frequently have to make terrifyingly important decisions about their kids with not enough information even though the stakes are enormous. More info →
What titles do you love (or maybe hate)? What would YOU add to the list?