The Importance of Found Families in Fiction
We’re all big fans of family here on the Harlequin Blog, but what about the families you make yourself? After all, family doesn’t just mean your literal relatives. Authors Allie Therin and Annabeth Albert share the importance of found families in their books.
Allie Therin, author of Starcrossed
As I write this, people all over the world have been isolating for weeks because of Covid-19. In these difficult times, many are reaching for their favorite comfort reads, including their favorite found families. Romance novels with found families offer a double sort of comfort, seeing the protagonists find love–along with the friendship and family they need. Books with found families can offer a place where the reader also belongs, where we can believe in people who will accept us the way we are. For people who’ve ever felt like an outsider, it can be especially moving to see relatable characters build found families, and to see the diversity of our own lives reflected in these supportive groups.
It’s no surprise to those who know me that found family plays a big role in my Magic in Manhattan series. Set in 1925 New York, protagonist Rory Brodigan (an assumed name) is hiding from his past in Hell’s Kitchen with the help of a kindly Irish immigrant, Mrs. Brodigan. Both of them are alone in the world and they pose as aunt and nephew, using “Mrs. B’s” antiques shop as a cover for Rory’s magic. In contrast to solitary Rory, the other protagonist, Arthur Kenzie, is a congressman’s son and the youngest of six. But 1925’s oppressive laws mean Arthur, who is gay, must hide his identity from the world to protect his family’s political careers. He’s alone in a crowd, performing the part of a world-traveling playboy for society before seeking refuge with his found family of friends who know the real him.
“Found family” is definitely a meaningful concept to me. We moved a lot when I was a kid while most of my extended family on both the American and Cuban sides stayed in Florida. We kept as connected as we could, especially for the pre-internet age, but I also had to forge bonds where I was–sometimes a tricky feat for an uncertain half-Latina teenager in a tiny Pacific Northwest town. Becoming an author has been an incredible gift, both in getting to create found families of my own and in having the privilege of sharing them with my wonderful readers.
Here’s wishing health and safety to all of our readers and their families, real and found.
Annabeth Albert, author of Burn Zone
As a reader, there are few things I like more than found families. These are the families we form by choice, not blood. The families born in friendship, in love, in crisis, and in triumph. These are the families with us at our lowest of lows and our highest of highs. The first phone call or message with big news, good or bad. The first invitation to a gathering. Our rocks and our human security blankets.
A lot of these families are born of circumstance—a new neighborhood brings with it lifelong friendships that evolve over time spent in close proximity. College often does this too. Later, a new work assignment or military deployment brings with it long hours and coworkers who become more family than blood relatives we seldom see. I love writing this type of found family and have done it with all my series, especially the work family in the Gaymers series and then the SEAL team families in Out of Uniform. In the Hotshots series, smoke jumpers who spend long, arduous, dangerous hours together form deep bonds.
We struggle alongside team members for military or work, and that shared struggle bonds us together. In On Point, two SEAL team members are trapped in the jungle together and must work together to survive, and we see the intense bond that the SEALs share, one where they would willingly risk their lives for their teammates. In Burn Zone, a smoke jumping team must race against time to make it out alive before the wildfire makes extraction impossible. Those sorts of epic experiences form life-long attachments, as strong as any blood relation.
Other found families are also born of struggle, but the more personal kind. In Squared Away, a SEAL must overcome the tragic loss of his sister and her husband and must form a new family for three orphans. This situation is common among found families, where a “village” comes together for the sake of some children and a new family emerges, a mix of relatives and close friends, people pulled together with the children at the center of the found family.
In High Heat, coming in July, a smoke jumper facing serious personal injuries has a similar struggle that ends up bringing him a tightly knit found family consisting of his smoke jumping teammates, his friends, his neighbors, and some relatives too. It’s this family of choice that ends up being the thing that he needs most to make it through this trying circumstance.
Sometimes found families fill in gaps left by unsatisfactory or toxic families of birth—they are a necessity for forming healthier, more balanced relationships as adults that nurture and uplift. I did this in Beta Test as well as some other titles. Other times they supplement families of blood, forming a large and supportive circle as families of choice mingle with other relations. High Heat was particularly satisfying to write in this regard as the found family added to and mixed with the strong relationships both heroes already had in their lives.
Do you have a favorite found family read? Share your recommendations in the comments!