Families come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s always been something really exciting and special to me about the idea of found families, both in life and in books. Found families, or chosen families, are simply people that are not related by marriage or blood but consider themselves to be family through shared experiences, understanding, or support for each other. Sometimes this can show up in small ways, like someone calling their dad’s best friend “uncle,” or including a neighbor that’s considered family at events and holiday gatherings. Sometimes found family can be much more structured than that, with friends as parental figures that play a mentoring type role. In some cultures, it’s also much wider spread, like how it’s common for young people to call elders Auntie or Uncle in many parts of the world. Most of the time it’s somewhere in the middle, made up of supportive and long-lasting relationships between a group of very close friends.
One of the things I find most exciting about chosen families is just how influential they can be, especially for communities that are more likely to be separated, mistreated, or misunderstood by their more traditional families. While everybody can have those in their lives they consider family, many marginalized people, particularly LGBTQIA+ people, disabled people, and immigrants, can rely on their chosen families as their main or even only form of family connection. LGBTQIA+ youth and young adults are significantly more likely to be rejected by their biological family than their peers, so the friends and mentors that accept them become even more important. Similarly, disabled people of all ages have high rates of abuse or neglect from their direct family, and chosen family relationships can create bonds with people who will understand their needs and support them fully. Immigrants can also heavily rely on found family, as moving countries or even continents often means leaving your family and support system behind. For people that are less likely to have close relationships with their blood or legal relatives, a chosen family can help provide support and acceptance at any stage of life.
My interest in the idea of chosen families carries over into books with found family narratives of all types. And there are so many different types! One of the most common is the outcast main character finding peers that accept them. This crosses genres, from YA fantasy like Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, to contemporary humorous fiction like A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, which both feature lonely characters that are pulled into a family they weren’t expecting but grow to love.
Or there are orphan storylines, which usually consist of children at an orphanage, group home, or boarding school that become a tight-knit family. A great example of this is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, where magical children live under the protection and guidance of Miss Peregrine, and must work together to save their world and way of life. A similar pattern shows up in Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan Mcguire, where children are sent to a boarding school after they discover fantasy worlds and meet children that have gone through the same experiences. My favorite spin on this trope is The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, told from the perspective of a caseworker assigned to investigate a magical orphanage but ends up finding a family to call home in the process.
There’s also the band of misfits trope, whether off on an adventure, completing a heist, or solving a mystery (this comes up a lot in TV, too! Think Scooby-Doo or Ocean’s Eleven). This might be best shown off with books like Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, where a band of teen criminals and runaways attempt a heist while bickering, offering advice, and growing closer just like a more traditional family unit. Another great example is The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, where a team of quirky explorers discover the family they were always missing in the midst of traveling through space and saving the world.
One of my favorite things about these books is that they so often feature characters most likely to need found families in real life. Just like how in life many of the people that build chosen families are queer, disabled, immigrants, or otherwise marginalized and seeking out supportive loved ones, many of the characters in these books are as well. Seeing these stories on the page not only shows representation of a real need, but they show how successful family connections outside of blood relatives can change a person’s life.
Ready to read a found family story with great representation? Check out this list!