My love, there’s only you in my life. —Lionel Richie, Endless Love

Over and over, fiction tells us romantic love is our primary goal. It’s the highest height, the most powerful salve to loneliness. There’s something compelling about that story – a story that pits lovers against the universe, a story about love over everything else. It’s epic, fated, star-crossed romance, with a beautiful soundtrack.

But real life tells a different story. One in three Americans over 45 are lonely, regardless of whether these people are happily in a relationship or not. In real life we need broader relationships as old and as deep as romantic love.

It felt like a family reunion for the family I’d never really known, a homecoming at the place where I was always meant to be but hadn’t known how to find. —David Levithan, Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story

When I fell in love with my wife, Robbie, I inherited a dirt bike, a yellow and white vintage trailer, a dinghy, two pets, and four best friends.

Robbie’s friendship with these women has survived heartbreak, coming out, illicit substances, dance parties, softball teams, double beds. They have thousands of memories I’ll never share. They have twenty-year-old nicknames, thirty-year-old schemes, almost forty-year-old stories. They say “mate” the same way. They talk about dogs and building projects and boats. They give Robbie room to be frustrated or thrilled, tired or caring, and always herself.

I come with my own mismatched collection of essential humans—people I turn to with a new plot or anxieties at work, people I trust to read bad reviews and admire photos of my kids. These people type ALSO I LOVE YOU in all caps, send heart eyes emojis, and celebrate a book birthday by telling everyone they know. They remember my poor decisions; they tell me I’m strong. These are the people I open a third bottle of champagne with, even though these days we have to wake up at 6 a.m.

Together, these people form our family of choice.

We all look for a haven at the end of the day. Many people, especially queer folk, don’t have that home with their family of origin. Found families aren’t bound together by blood or awkward rules about being nice to your aunty. They don’t mean you leave your principles at the door. They do mean you’re committed even when it’s tough.  

I thought about my found family when I wrote my first novel, and threw a group of twenty-two-year-olds into a rundown beach house, and when I wrote my second novel and gave Lien a layered queer community in Sydney.

We read to know we are not alone. —William Nicholson, Shadowlands

There’s a thrill in opening a new book. Who are these characters? Who do they love? What breaks them? What puts them back together?

I love stories where the main characters have a chosen family already in place. I love the fondness and knowledge and teasing, the ferocious kindness. I love watching them fight for and sometimes with one another.

There are narrative benefits. Found family adds strength and breadth to the romance—the delight when a family of choice accepts and values a love interest. Found family gives the characters support and safety in their worst times—in heartbreak the character’s found family is there with food or fighting words and that understanding that years of knowing someone brings. Found family can build conflict—it’s terrible to see a character pulled between romance and a family they’ve chosen.

Found families flourish among all kinds of fictional people: a ragtag group of survivors, a circus troupe, a werewolf pack, hockey players, surfers sharing a beach house. These crucial relationships deepen a love story and stay with us long after the book is over.

Mr. Maclay: You people have no right to interfere with Tara’s affairs. We are her blood kin! Who the hell are you?
Buffy: We’re family. —
Joss Whedon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Family

How about some recs… These are books I’ve read and loved. But tell me your own!

In Michelle Osgood’s Canadian werewolf series THE BETTER TO KISS YOU WITH, romantic relationships are intertwined with vibrant found family relationships that reflect real life queer communities. Human Deanna turns to her BFF Nathan for a tension-releasing laugh or to hold her hand when the whole werewolf thing is too much. Alpha Kira has her brother Cole and right hand Jamie for fierce and unconditional support. In turn she must look out for them.

ROGUE WOLF’s band of space pirates are family from the first page. Elliot Cooper depicts the intimacy between five people who share living space, working space and fighting space. The characters know one another like they know their ship, they anticipate one another’s needs almost without thinking. It makes any secrets between them tougher to handle.

HEELS OVER HEAD by Elyse Springer is a diving romance and it doesn’t start with a found family. Instead it starts with very distinct and quite prickly personalities. But through training in close quarters the characters learn one another’s physicality like they know their own; they learn to have hopes and dreams for one another. They become family.

The upcoming OLYMPIA KNIFE by Alysia Constantine is an extraordinary book where a circus troupe is home and family to queer women and people with little safety elsewhere.

Avon Gale’s SCORING CHANCES series is interlinked stories of love and hockey. Many of the books focus on the hockey family surrounding and supporting these men and the close, sometimes prickly, sometimes invaluable relationships with teammates and coaches.  

In DARK HORSE by A L Brooks, Sadie’s made a home with her best friend and her grandmother. The three of them have an irreverent relationship which rings true to the Australian setting. The book deals with Sadie’s abandonment issues and the impact that has on her chosen family, even while she rebuilds a connection with her mother and falls in love.

Cheyenne Blue’s GIRL MEETS GIRL series of interlinked romances about Australian women living in the outback is enriched by the ways queer women build family over the world.

Pene Henson has gone from British boarding schools to New York City law firms. She now lives in Sydney, Australia, where she is an intellectual property lawyer and published poet who is deeply immersed in the city’s LGBTQIA community. She spends her spare time enjoying the outdoors and gazing at the ocean with her wife and two unexpectedly exceptional sons. Her first novel Into the Blue (Interlude Press, 2016) received a Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Romance. Her second novel, Storm Season, was published by Interlude Press in 2017.

Connect with Pene: or @penehenson on twitter.




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