Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Review

What The Family Needed
by Steven Amsterdam

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced copy of this book from Riverhead Books through LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

I was intrigued by the synopsis for this one when I first saw it on LibraryThing, but, for some reason, I wasn't too excited to dive into it when it arrived.  I was pleasantly surprised because I REALLY enjoyed this book.  It's not too long, around 260 pages depending on how the final copy came out.  But I found it a fast read because I was so into the characters and their relationships with each other. 

The Cover
The copies I've seen at the library have this same cover, so it must be the final one they chose.  I get it.  It's like one of those cross-stitch thingies people have in their houses.  I'm sure it's supposed to represent suburban/"normal" families; a nice contrast to the increasingly abnormal family in the book.  There's an awful lot of yellow, though.  Could we not have made the frame plain wood instead of more yellow?

Back of the Book
"Okay, tell me which you want," Alek asks his cousin at the outset of What The Family Needed.  "To be able to fly or to be invisible?"  And soon Giordana, a teenager suffering the bitter fallout of her parents' divorce, finds that she can, at will, become as invisible as she feels.  Later, Alek's mother, newly adrift in the disturbing awareness that all is not well with her younger son, can suddenly swim with Olympic endurance.  Steven Amsterdam's incandescent novel follows each member of this gorgeously imagined extended family over the next three decades as each member discovers, at a moment of crisis, that he or she possesses a supernatural power.  But their extraordinary abilities prove not to be magic weapons so much as expressions of their fears and longings.  As the years pass, their lives intersect and overlap in surprising and poignant ways, and they discover that the real magic lies not in their superpowers but in the very human and miraculous way they are able to accept, protect, and love one another.

Things I Liked
  • The synopsis is accurate.  A couple of the family members gain "typical" superpowers, like invisibility and the ability to fly.  But most of their powers are a little more subtle.  Sasha has trouble keeping his partner interested in their relationship, so he compensates by attempting to set-up Giordana and keep his friends romantically happy.  This manifests into his own power of creating relationships or reactivating dwindling ones.
  • This family really loves and accepts each other, although in different ways.  They often see each other make mistakes, but they try not to judge.  
  • Nobody got really dramatic or weird when they noticed their powers.  They all made little excuses to themselves when it started happening; they weren't getting enough sleep or it was due to some kind of shocking life event.  But none of them started freaking out and and calling everybody.  They let themselves discover what was happening to them and play with it a little before deciding what to do next.
  • Each chapter is titled with a character's name, and there is one for each.   I liked being able to read from each of their perspectives because I learned a little more about the other characters this way. 
  • The writing is so beautifully done.  I finished this book quickly because I just couldn't bear to put it down.  And I had a hard time narrowing down my favorite quotes.

Things I Didn't Like
  • The pacing was difficult to follow at first.  I guess I didn't pay attention to the back summary when it said the novel took place over three decades.  In the first chapter it seemed like Alek was a little boy and then he was a teenager in the next one.  I wasn't sure how much time was passing at some points.  It did get easier to tell the longer I read, though.

Favorite Quotes
Think about it.  We haven't asked for what we want yet.  Right now, we're in the wrong version of our lives.  Too much security, too little freedom.  That was Ivan's problem and he found a way out.  So can we.  All we have to do is pick a different story, one where we get what we want.  That's where you and I will see each other next. 

Words don't do it justice, but it's familiar.  Deja vu, I suppose.  It's the same place I was before I was born, I think.  How do you like that?  All these decades of worrying and it's the same place you started.  Why don't we spend more time being scared of birth?

What the world needs now, is lunch sweet lunch.

Every tree and every cloud says yes, be.  We are not born onto this planet to judge each other, least of all our brothers.  Got that?

Why anything continues when all it should really do is fall in a heap is a mystery.  In the end you may be the one who stays or you may be the one who goes, but this is where you are and you have no choice but to try.  

Read more reviews about this book on  LibraryThing.

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