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Five dysfunctional families, according to Amy Engel

Amy Engel, author of the disturbing and gripping The Roanoke Girls (and one of our books of the month!), gives us the low-down on her top five most dysfunctional mothers in literature.


I’ve always loved books about screwed-up families. And as anyone who has read my books knows, it’s a theme I explore often in my writing. In honor of Mother’s Day, here are my top five favorite books featuring dysfunctional families (in no particular order):


  1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. This is one of my all-time favorite books. The jealousy and longing and obsessiveness leak into every sentence. A beautiful, mesmerising look at a tangled family history.
  2. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. This book beautifully explores the ways in which we find our place in the world and how relationships with our parents, both healthy and unhealthy, shape who we become.
  3. Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews. Dead father, selfish mother, crazy grandmother, abused kids locked in an attic, incest, murder, revenge. Need I say more?
  4. Carrie by Stephen King. Poor Carrie. Her mother is mentally ill, abusive, and terrifying, and Carrie is alone with her in their creepy house with no way out. Until Carrie finally figures out how to deal with her mother once and for all.
  5. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. To be fair, I’m not sure Sedaris’s family is any more dysfunctional than average, but they are definitely funnier. Sedaris is my go-to when I need a reminder of the joys of family, even when they drive you crazy.


Enamoured by Amy’s selection? Read an extract from The Roanoke Girls.