Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Family” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


4.4  ·  Rating Details ·  1,725 Ratings  ·  113 Reviews
In this wise, beguiling, beautiful novel set in the era of the Civil War, an award-winning playwright and author paints a haunting portrait of a woman named Always, born a slave, and four generations of her African-American family.
Hardcover, 231 pages
Published December 1st 1990 by Doubleday (first published 1990)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Sep 21, 2015 Maxwell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own-it, 2015
"History. Lived, not written, is such a thing not to understand always, but to marvel over. Time is so forever that life has many instances when you can say 'Once upon a time' thousands of times in one life."

From the first line of this book, one that I read and read and read again, I was impressed. Actually, before the book even begins there is a beautiful epigraph--one that's too long to post here, presenting beautiful images, so vivid and almost visceral--and I knew I was in for a treat.

Jun 14, 2011 Babydoll rated it really liked it
Published in 1991, Family is the first novel written by the exceptional short story writer, J. California Cooper. This historical novel begins during the antebellum period when the narrator Clara, who is a slave woman, suffers a tragedy and dies. Her spirit is left on earth to look upon her children, as she follows them throughout their life while they experience cruelty, mistreatment, love, and prosperity. The spiritual being of Clara follows a span of four generations of her family lineage, sp ...more
Jenn McCollum
The novel was a very emotional read for me, as I am a very emotional reader. I had a difficult time focusing on critical elements of content and style because I was easily swept away in the affective purchase of the story. It was not a satisfying read for me; it tugged on my soul and made me feel miserable.

The narrative style was paramount for me because even after I finished the novel, I lingered on what happened to the narrator and why she struggled to "let go" and pass on. A narrator like her
Mar 26, 2016 Nea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: African American fiction fans
What is family when you're denied the basic rights of living as a human being? When you're denied everything you want, and all that you don't want is forced upon you? When love and bonding only risk greater heartache? When your blood mixes with the blood of your tormentors?

This book is one woman's account of her family as they are born into slavery, bound together, torn apart, lost and found, captured and freed, bought and sold, and (eventually) liberated from this life.

This story is both heart
Nov 27, 2011 Meghan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of my family, and that of every African American family that had to endure such trying times. As I pass though the pages of this brilliantly written book, I thought to myself, how did she know this was me. Time after time we as African American living now forget what they people who struggle before us had to press on in order for us to be here. J California Cooper bring us t the front line, and she doesn't just take there , she walks with you, because what you are about to witn ...more
Betty Jean
Sep 01, 2010 Betty Jean rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I would say the book answered my questions.I always believed Black people were originally BLACK... Black people are so mixed, that's why we come in so many shades of colors... I also believe that some white people with thick curly hair had someone black in their ancestors. I'm not trying to affend anyone, but when you read it, you'llprobably understand why I wrote this. I've been thinking about this so long and reading this book made me put some pieces 2gther... Other than that this book is very ...more
James M Deem
Feb 23, 2015 James M Deem rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I used this book with college freshmen for many years. No matter how many times I taught it, I was always amazed at the author's ability to move an audience to tears.

Family is narrated by an enslaved woman named Clora in the southern United States sometime before the Civil War and concerns the woman, her mother and ancestors as well as her children and grandchildren. This is a down-to-earth straightforward account of slavery and family (in the larger sense of the word--we are all members of the
Sep 17, 2007 Noelia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the most powerful books I have read in a long time. It's really easy to read (you can probably finish it one day) but it's the content that got me. Especially unique about this novel is the way in which it is narrated - from the perspective of an African-American mother who is looking down from a sort of limbo on her children who she has left as slaves. She watches them grow up and describes the torture they have to go through as they do. Overall a heartbreaking story about the African-Am ...more
Anna Halula-james
I had some friends who read the book that had trouble with the dialect, but this book is AMAZING. I think it should be required reading as nothing speaks to slavery like this book. The surprises and twists at the end of the book will not soon be forgotten; I remember them today as clearly as I did when I read the book which was quite a few years ago. I would recommend this book to everyone; it certainly will make you think of race relations in an entirely new way.
Apr 23, 2012 Sheera rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has had a very profound effect on me. I have introduced it to many people. It is emotional and gritty and tells a story of struggle and perseverance against all odds (and sometimes failing in the most tragic manners). EXCELLENT story!

Also, I've read it umpteen times and I get emotional just thinking about this book!
Aug 11, 2016 Shawn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my second J. California Cooper experience, and first novel by her. Like the short stories before it, this didn't disappoint. Clearly an extremely talented writer -- one I'm sorry wasn't on my radar sooner, but I'm happy to be experiencing now!
Meeka Johnakin
Feb 17, 2012 Meeka Johnakin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
EPIC BOOK!!! In the league with the BOOK/MOVIE Roots & The Color Purple!!!! Just when you think you heard everything, BAM! Excellent twists & turns.
Jun 05, 2015 Larry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's hard to imagine a book about slavery in America and not come away repulsed by what you are shown, but this book gets away with it. Presented almost like a loving relative telling a rather lengthy fairy tale, the reader can absorb the horrors without the full depth of emotional trauma. Appreciation without devastation. While the goal is one of optimism, I question some of the author's positions on issues. For instance, especially toward the end, she seems to be stating how good it is for a b ...more
Nardsbaby Reader
Always More

Clora, the granddaughter of a slave and a slaveholder, can no long accept her life as a slave. And, as her mother did, she chooses to escape slavery by committing suicide. Unfortunately, her plan to poison her children failed. They survived and Clora's spirit narrates their story.

Always, Clora's oldest daughter, was darker than her siblings. Sun, her brother, and Peach, her sister, were able to pass for white to escape to a better life. Always endured the misery of slavery.

Despite b
Dec 20, 2011 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book many years ago. I actually did my final AP English presentation on Family. It is such a rich story. J. California Cooper is at her best a great story teller and this is an example of that. The language is lush and rich and immediately draws you in. Cooper tells the story of slavery through the eyes of a mother watching from above. I think that using this as the point of view was really clever. I think that this book is a great read and a quick read that I would especially recomm ...more
Feb 02, 2008 Crystal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-it
I had to read this book for an African American Lit class and loved it. The story is told from the voice of the mother who was a slave. One night, when everyone else was asleep, she took her kids out to the field behind the house and proceeded to poison them and herself. However, in an ill twist of fate, she is the only one who died so she spent the rest of their lives watching over them, telling each of their stories as the grew and experienced life without her.

This book is a tragic story in ma
Feb 12, 2012 Twinky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was recommended by a college professor who wasn't my instructor, but we shared a love for reading. Family was such a great book to read that opened all of your emotions, it made me smile and want to cry for the characters. In the end I was sad when the book ended and would love to have had a follow up book to Family to continue to track the lives of the characters.
Dec 31, 2008 Msbossy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Story of a slave woman and her “family”, Always, Peaches and Plum. Narrated by Clora, a spirit, mother of Always. Historical, somewhat, decent story.

What I learned:
Choose your children's names wisely.
Jan 08, 2010 Wanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book made me angry for all that people have suffered under the hands of folks with more power. But it was well written, with some wonderfully fulfilling plot twists! I finished it in a day.
Aug 10, 2015 Hannah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Wow, very thought provoking. I highly recommend this book.

The writing, the plot was all amazing, and created so much different emotions.
Darnella Moore
Mar 22, 2013 Darnella Moore rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely loved it! Cooper really brings you in to the African-American experience of slavery and survival during those horrific times.
A beautiful fictional memoir about the slaves of past times and the brutal details are just too sad. In this kind of reality however, we learn to be thankful and inspired both in equal measures.
Jan 12, 2009 Ayo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This teacher is my favroite author! There's no lesson untouched in her work! Get up on her, because she's up there with Morrison, Angelou, Hurston and other Phenomenal writers. Classic, She is!!!
Distant Sounds
Jan 20, 2017 Distant Sounds rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This was a very tough read at times, hopeful at others, sad, bleak, beautiful, touching. I had never read a novel before solely set during times of slavery, and it truly opened my eyes to what went on during that time. I was shocked to see some of what happened back then. J California Cooper didn't hold back on giving breath to those dark times, but also showed us the resilience some had to survive, and the beauty within them, when all around was trying to suppress and devalue their existence.
Dec 28, 2009 El rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story begins with Clora who was born directly into slavery. Her mother commits suicide leaving Clora to fend for herself, who is forced to birth and raise her own children under the same circumstances. She opts to take the same route as her mother, though tries to take her children with her. [Un:]Fortunately the children live, though Clora dies. The story is narrated through Clora and she tells the lives of her children and her children's children through her eyes, her wishes, her desires, h ...more
Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)
Family was an ingenious book. The format was unlike any I had read before. Family follows the story of a slave woman, Clora, her daughter, Always, and some members of a few generations of her family lineage. Clora is the narrator but she does die very early in the story. Most of the story focuses on Always, her struggles, and her successes.

Clora wanted to escape her life of slavery by killing herself. Unfortunately, her plan to kill her children didn't quite work, so Clora followed their lives f
Jul 28, 2008 Erica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone really
A great quick read. A story of triumph and tragedy told from the viewpoint of a ghost. A woman tries to save her children from sharing the same fate as hers, the dehumanizing and cruel life of a slave, and tries to poison her children. Unfortunately, she dies but is stuck in limbo and watches as her children try their best to serve the hardships of slavery and the years following the Civil War.

The book is touching and inspiring and what I really took from this story is that we are all family. We
Jun 15, 2016 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novella
This is a beautiful crafted novella written from the perspective of a negro slave woman and a daughter she loved with most of the narration coming after her death from the netherland she occupies and watches over her children from...her love of her children binding her to the earth to watch over them and share their pains and small victories.
It speaks to the mixing of blood Master to slave by force and Mistress to slave creating a vast progeny of multi-racial children, some passing for white and
Guy Choate
Nov 30, 2013 Guy Choate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 05, 2008 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-fiction, 2008
This book was a nice surprise. It is not very long and which was good because when I started reading it I thought it was the most depressing book I'd ever read. The story is told by a slave woman who commits suicide out of hopeless desperation. She then oversees the lives of her children as they grow up near the end of slavery. Cooper's characters provide great insight into a horrible time. The last 3rd of the book really picks up with lots of great plot twists as well as the emancipation of all ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Literary People: March 2014: Family 2 2 May 30, 2014 11:01AM  
  • This Bitter Earth (Sugar Lacey, #2)
  • Ugly Ways
  • Tumbling
  • Child of God
  • If This World Were Mine
  • I Wish I Had a Red Dress (Idlewild #2)
  • What You Owe Me
  • Daughter
  • The Blackbird Papers
  • Through the Storm
  • Bloodline: Five Stories
J. California Cooper first found acclaim as a playwright. The author of seventeen plays, she was named Black Playwright of the Year in 1978. It was through her work in the theater that she caught the attention of acclaimed poet and novelist Alice Walker. Encouraged by Walker to turn her popular storytelling skills to fiction, Cooper wrote her first collection of short stories, A Piece of Mine, in ...more
More about J. California Cooper...

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »