14 books about endearingly quirky families

Earlier this year, the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club chatted with Laurie Frankel, author of This Is How It Always Is, (still one of the best books I’ve read this year).

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 14 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.

15 books featuring endearingly quirky families
A Room with a View

A Room with a View

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 →
Greenglass House

Greenglass House

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 →
Liar & Spy

Liar & Spy

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 →


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 →
Love Walked In

Love Walked In

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 →
Garden Spells

Garden Spells

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 →
I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle

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 →
Girl Waits with Gun

Girl Waits with Gun

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 →
Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade

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 →
Lily and the Octopus

Lily and the Octopus

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 →
Be Frank With Me

Be Frank With Me

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 →
The Family Fang

The Family Fang

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 →
Meet the Austins

Meet the Austins

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 Is How It Always Is

This Is How It Always Is

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? 

14 books about endearingly quirky families


Leave A Comment
  1. I was hoping that you would include a L’Engle book with the Austin family! A Ring of Endless light is my favorite with the Austins. You also can’t beat the March family in Little Women!

  2. Julie R says:

    My favorite books about quirky families are, “Where’d you go Bernadette” by Maria Semple” and “The Spellman Files” series by Lisa Lutz.

  3. Janice says:

    For some reason when I read this headline, the first book that I thought of was Tell Me Three Things, and then I thought of Where’d You Go, Bernadette?.

  4. Ann Perrigo says:

    You’ve hit most of my favorites. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman is another. I picked up Garden Spells earlier this year, not expecting much. It was a delightful surprise! A really bizarre family is the vampires who are trying to “pass” as normal! Do you remember it? Will try to track down the title…

    • Mary Ann Garcia says:

      I think all of Sarah Addison Allen’s books would qualify for endearing and quirky families. It’s one of the reasons I love her all her books.

    • Ann Perrigo says:

      The Radleys, by Matt Haig. I loved this story about a normal mom and dad (well, normal except for being vampires) living in suburban England, who have not told their teenage children the truth about who they are…

  5. Stacey says:

    Oh I am so glad you put the Austins down. Love Meet the Austins and have you also read The 24 Days Before Christmas about them? It was darling. I have never read I Capture the Castle but love The 101 Dalmatians that Dodie Smith wrote as well. Thanks for a fun list!

  6. Katherine says:

    I would include the Flyte family from Brideshead Revisited. They are pretty darn quirky, though perhaps some would say that they are only endearing as individuals and not as a family unit.

  7. Jill C says:

    Kinda hoping this list would include “Cheaper By the Dozen” and its sequel “Bells on Their Toes.” Also “My Family and Other Animals” shouldn’t be missed. The books are much better than the videos inspired by them and gold if in the mood for comedy. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction…

  8. Lorelei says:

    My kids LOVED the Casson Family series by Hilary McKay who’s characters are named after paint colors. We read this series years ago and they still talk about it today and they’re teenagers now! The first book in the series is Saffy’s Angel. Someone else mentioned the Father Tim series by Jan Karon and those characters are so quirky!

  9. Jill W. says:

    Oh and I have to add Between Georgia and A Grown Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson. Really anything by Joshilyn Jackson.

  10. Lerrise says:

    I like the list! For quirkiness at it’s lovable and inspiring best, I would add At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. Not only are the main characters quirky, but so is everyone in town.

  11. Laura says:

    My all-time favorite family (besides the Bennets) are the Durrells from My Family and Other Animals. They are hilarious in their various roles and the humor is pitch-perfect. It’s actually a memoir, but written so well that it reads like fiction. It’s so funny that I have wondered if all of the stories actually happened or were embellished.

  12. Now that I think about it, all of my favorite HP scenes involve the Weasley’s and the Burrow. They are the ideal, warmhearted, eccentric family you can’t help but love. And Meet the Austins–oh, flashback to childhood. Good call.

  13. Nellie says:

    What a terrific list! I LOVE quirky families. And I *loved* This Is How It Always Is.
    My suggestions are mostly children’s books for this one…
    Anything by Eleanor Estes, especially The Moffats and all that follow in that series.
    The Saturdays (and all the Melendy Quartet books) by Elizabeth Enright
    The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall
    Half Magic (and the series) by Edward Eager
    **So if you like reading kid lit and books about families you wish you could be in, these are GREAT.
    And it seems like Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Berg have written a lot of quirky family books.

  14. Marissa says:

    Can I add Cheaper by the Dozen and Bells on their Toes? They are my very favorite (and real) literary family! Also, thank you for the recommendation of Garden Spells, I loved it -so fun!

  15. Heather says:

    I love the family in One Plus One by JoJo Moyes and for some reason that book always reminds me a bit of the movie Little Miss Sunshine. Of course, I think Pride and Prejudice would fit on this list too 😉 The family in Elin Hildebrand’s Winter series is definitely a bit quirky too.

    I love this list – This is How it Always Is was SOOO amazing particularly because of the family and the marriage in it. I loved that.

  16. Cheralaine Cole-Johnson says:

    I have to say that anything by Melina Marchetta. she gets you to fall in love with families of all kids, whether you are born into them or adopt them as your own.

  17. Joni says:

    What about the Flavia de Luce series of books by Alan Bradley? Those de Luces seem pretty quirky to me, but I love them for it!

  18. Amanda says:

    I loved growing up in a quirky family! This is Where I Leave You by Tropper reminded me of how fun being unnormal can be.

  19. Ulrike Coulliette says:

    My kids and I loved listening to all the Melendy family books by Elizabeth Enright; The Saturdays and The Four-Story Mistake are my favorites. I love the different personalities of the kids, their independence, sense of adventure, and how they can turn ordinary things into something beautiful and extraordinary. I did not know these books when I was a kid, but I know I would have loved them! I think I actually enjoyed them more than my kids did!

    • Yes! The Melendys are awesome! I was lucky to have a babysitter when I was around 6 years old who gave me her copies of 3 of the 4 books. I was thrilled to find the other in the school library in 7th grade and then in a bookstore when I was in high school. The 3 used books are finally worn out after my repeated readings and several readings of them to my older child, so I just bought new copies for my younger child, who is starting to enjoy hearing chapter books, and I’m looking forward to reading them all again!

  20. Betsy says:

    What a fun list! I’ve added several to my shopping bag. Not a family in the most traditional sense, but I love the family that evolves in Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

  21. Kate says:

    What a fun list! I also thought of the hapless Grey family in Greengage Summer which I just read recently.

  22. Heidi says:

    “Man At the Helm” by Nina Stibbe. Quirky doesn’t cover this family. Though the book is good (not great) the ending is the most satisfying I can recall reading in years.

    • Hannah Beth Reid says:

      Thank you for the recommendation. A satisfying ending can cover a multitude of plot line and writing “sins.”

  23. Dee says:

    My very favourite book: Beginner’s luck (and the rest of the quartet) by Laura Pedersen. Hallie, second eldest of eight kids, leaves home and is taken in by the eccentric Olivia, her son Bernard and his partner/husband Gil. Bernard made me want to learn to cook too!

  24. A ROOM WITH A VIEW, I have loved this book since my teens. George and his “?” perspective truly shaped my own eccentric habits.
    Thanks for including this treasure!

  25. Do memoirs count? I love Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club. Granted, her family is sometimes as terrifying as it is endearing, but still. Also Haven Kimmel’s stuff (A Girl Named Zippy, She Got Up Off the Couch). And The Tender Bar.

  26. F says:

    I’ve read almost half these books; the ones I haven’t read seem very interesting too. Particularly, Be Frank with me – somehow reminds me of my quirky 8 yr old son.

  27. Peg Bradley says:

    I think Anne Tyler is one of the best contemporary authors with a focus on quirky families. I love all her books but Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and the Accidental Tourist are two of my favorites!

  28. Marianne P says:

    Great list and lots to add to my TBR list. Two all time favourites are The Bean Tree by Barbara Kingsolver and Summer of My Amazing Luck by Miriam Toews.

  29. Lindsay Herndon says:

    I also have always loved the unconventional family portrayed in Dave Egger’s memoir, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.” The author’s parents die within months if each other from different types of cancer and as a college age student he takes over guardian ship of his young brother Toph. Some warnings of language and people either love or hate this book (I love love love it)!

  30. Mary says:

    I felt the same way about the sisters and uncle in Jacksons’ We Have Always Lived in the Castle. And I agree with the vote for The Storied Life of AJ Fikry.

  31. Julie says:

    I love the de Luce family in the Flavia de Luce series. Not always the most loving for poor, brilliant Flavia, but definitely on the quirky side. 🙂 Also love the Ryan family in How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less! Such a great memoir!

  32. Hannah Beth Reid says:

    I just put many of these on hold or downloaded them from the library today! Thank you!
    “My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell is the most recent book I’ve read with a quirky family.

  33. Ann Perrigo says:

    Has there ever been a better first line than “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink?” I Capture the Castle.

  34. Julie says:

    I’ve never thought about it much but I must love endearingly quirky families as well because I loved several of these titles and look forward to reading some of those I’d never heard of! Thank you for sharing this list!

  35. Nicole says:

    Quirky families definitely make a book for me. I’ve had I Capture the Castle on my TBR simply because of that reason. They just give a book so much character! Jane Austen is flawless when it comes to creating those types of dynamics!

  36. Lauren says:

    Oh my gosh. Is there any way you could have someone compile a list of all these books suggested in the comments??? I’d love to be able to just scan a list and see what others recommend in this category!

  37. Gail Golden says:

    I love Cheaper By the Dozen and Belles On Their Toes (sequel) by Frank & Ernestine Gilbreth; Mama Makes Up Her Mind by Bailey White (hilarious and super quirky); Terms of Endearment and The Evening Star by Larry McMurty; All Over But the Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man by Rick Bragg.
    Thanks for this list.

  38. Adrienne says:

    In the world of YA Lit, Sharon Creech’s Absolutely Normal Chaos has got to get a mention for whacky families. In upper-el and middle school I inhaled everything Creech wrote. I still return to her stuff for a fast, fun read – like visiting old friends!

  39. Tabitha says:

    It’s impossible to think of quirky families without thinking of the Durrell family from Gerald Durrell’s memoirs! The first one is “My Family and Other Animals,” and they’re all set on the Greek island of Corfu in the 1930’s. Absolutely delightful, gorgeous, hilarious, and highly recommended. His books have become my new obsession.
    BBC just released a Masterpiece Theatre TV series based on the books, and it’s beautiful, but not as heartwarming or funny as the books.

      • Tabitha says:

        It’s fantastic to meet another Durrell lover!!! 🙂 I liked the new TV series, but I think I was caught up comparing it to the old movie with Imelda Staunton as Mother. I saw the movie before I actually read the books, so by that point my mental image of the family was heavily influenced by the tone of that movie (which is fairly light hearted).
        I definitely plan on visiting Corfu as soon as possible, haha!

    • Laura says:

      These are some of my favorite books! I agree about the series- I like it but wonder why they added the financial stresses to the tv program. The book makes it pretty clear that they were carefree, which makes it easier for the mother to take things in stride. I was sad when the trilogy ended- I still laugh out loud when I think about certain scenes!

      • Tabitha says:

        I wondered about that, too! Maybe the screenwriters thought it added to Mother’s story? I’m also glad real-life Mother wasn’t starved for romance/sex as the TV show so desperately tried to convey. She’s my favorite character in the books and I especially love in the third book when we learn a little more about her back story (growing up in India!) and how much fun she had with her husband. It explained so much about her amazing ability to deal with the chaos around her. 🙂
        Have you read any of Durrell’s other books? I haven’t yet but they look interesting…

  40. Karen Allen says:

    Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth.
    And the second book: Belles on Their Toes.
    (And the original movie is great!)

  41. Susan says:

    I have read and loved soooo many of these. It never occured to me befoer how these are connected. Maybe this is one of my lists to cultivate. Thanks for this gift!

  42. Erin says:

    Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see anyone mention “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.” What they may lack some in the “endearing” category, this family totally makes up for in “quirky.”

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