Family bonds in pop-culture and fiction are some of the best parts of reading, TV, and movie watching (I’m thinking Supernatural, mostly) but found family, also known as family of choice, is more endearing, exciting, and fun to read, reminding readers/watchers that sometimes the best families aren’t the ones that are born but made.
What’s Found Family?
Found family is a group of individuals who’ve forged a bond together that makes them more family than friends, usually through some danger or shared experience (sometimes multiple experiences) and in the absence of familial bonds. Often orphans, sometimes outcasts, these characters come together through necessity but also by chance.
They would do anything for their new family and often do. The trope itself lends to protective moments because when one of them is threatened, they’re all threatened.
The dynamics of the group aren’t set in stone but there’s usually a parental figure at the top (sometimes two) who guides the rest and there’s always a “baby” type character, usually the youngest or weakest of the group who they’ll rally around. My favorite version of this is when a grumpy character finds himself with a group of colleagues or acquaintances who become family through no choice of theirs, especially if this character is a criminal or dangerous.
Why Do We Care?
This is easy. Everyone wants to belong. Everyone (whether or not they have strong familial relationships of their own), wants camaraderie, love, and protection. Think to your first lesson in psychology, to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: belonging is one, along with security. Family of choice offers both.
It’s also endearing because it assures us that even if we were to lose or become outcast or disinherited from our blood family, maybe we could create one of our own–in fact, many queer people already do. These found family characters are survivors and together the group (who often has already dealt with the worst of what life can throw at them) not only get by in their day to day, but they thrive.
What Are Some of the Best Examples of Found Family in Books?
This is by no means an exhaustive list and versions of the found family trope can be found across genres but here are some notable examples and each of these books makes for a good starting place in this top tier trope.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
The Dregs are the definition of found family. A heist crew of outcasts that have been spit out by the city’s criminal underbelly and survived only to find each other and work to better their situation? Kaz is the grumpy leader of the crew. If you didn’t know any better, you might call him uncaring. Devious, ruthless, for sure. But despite himself, he’s gathered a group of misfits who are closer than colleagues and who would do pretty much anything for one another, even if they might not admit it.
Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin
Lou and Reid might be forced into marriage, but the family they surround themselves with is by choice. Over the course of the series, we see them get get closer with Coco, Beau, and Ansel and create a group stronger than the blood witches who hunt them.
Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Squad 312 might be the misfits of the Aurora Academy, but the trials and tribulations they experience on the run from the Global Investigation Agency and the Terran Defense Force bind them together in a way that none of them could foresee.
The House In The Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Arthur is the caretaker of Marsyas Orphanage but he’s more of a father to the children there, who in turn love him like a dad. Linus, a anxious caseworker sent to investigate the island orphanage, finds himself accepted the family, finding a place of warmth and love like he’s never experienced, forsaking his beloved rules and the job he believed in to carve out a place with this endearing group.
The Reckless Kind by Carly Heath
If you’re looking for queer found family, look no further. The group at the heart of the novel come together in hopes of finding a way to live the way they want, without societal expectations.
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappacinni, and Catherine Moreau form the Athena Club, a group of “monstrous” women on the outside of society who find their way to one another and find a way to control their own destinies without a say from the men who would seek to hide them away.
On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
Another fantastic example of queer found family, beautifully rendered in this graphic novel. Mia joins a space reconstruction crew and is in search of the lost love of her life. Together, the crew grows closer as they search for Mia’s lost love.
Heart of Iron by Ash Poston
The crew of the Dossier is a great example of found family. Through injury, threats of death, and disastrous missions, the crew sticks together and sacrifices for each other. It’s enough to make you bite your nails in anticipation of what comes next and hold your breath in fear for this ragtag crew.
What I Carry by Jennifer Longo
Muir has grown up in foster care and is used to not carrying more than she needs–physically and emotionally. But when she meets Francine, Kira, and Sean, that all changes. The bonds here are heartwarming and a great example of the sweetness that the found family trope can offer.
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
Told from the point-of-view of a very hilarious, and at times acerbic, thirteen-year-old named Elliot as he grows up in a magical world and forms bonds that are tighter than the ones he left behind in the non-magical world. Serene and Luke are the best companions turned family and I loved how their bond grew over the years. If you like to gigglesnort along with your happy sigh as you read, look no further than this example of the trope.
This feature is part of a series called Trope Tuesday here on the Books section of The Young Folks. In this series, we choose a trope that we love and explore its history, what is special about it, and provide recommendations!