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In the era of Gone Girl and its progeny, it can be easy to focus on books about seriously messed up family dynamics. But what about novels that reveal the nuances of real life--you know, the tiny slights and secrets that don’t result in murder? 

Enter Ann Packer’s The Children’s Crusade.

The story starts in 1954, when kindly pediatrician Bill Blair buys a plot of land in what will one day become Silicon Valley. There, he settles with his wife Penny and begins to start a family. Idyllic? Sorta. See, Penny didn’t count on the ways motherhood would drive her totally bonkers--and by the time she’s on child number four, she’s moved into her pottery studio in the shed, forcing her family into both quiet denial and spiraling self-destruction.

Packer follows the children--high-strung Robert, overachieving Rebecca, idealistic Ryan and black sheep James--through the years, deftly switching back in forth in time and narrative perspective. Think: The Corrections but with less angst and zero male bravado. (Sorry, Franzen.)

The present-day narrative comes to a fore as the adult siblings grapple with selling their childhood home, a decision which feels complex, harrowing and heart-achingly relatable.

Oh, and spoiler alert: nobody gets murdered.  

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