My second book for the 2012 48 Hour Book Challenge was Happy Families by Tanita Davis. It seemed fitting to read a book by one of my Kidlitosphere pals for this community-building event. Although Tanita and I haven't technically met (what with her living in Scotland for the past 5 years all), I certainly number her among friends.
Anyway, Happy Families is a young adult novel about talented teenage twins, Ysabel and Justin. Their happy family is blown apart when their father reveals a life-altering secret. It's a bit hard to discuss the book without revealing the secret, but if the publisher chose to keep it off the book jacket, it doesn't feel like my place to give it away in a review. Suffice it to say that Happy Families is a book that made me think, made me sympathetic to Ysabel and Justin, and made me wonder how I would react to their family's situation.
The story is told in alternating first person chapters by Justin and Ysabel. As is often the case for me with multi-narrator books, I occasionally had trouble keeping track of which character was speaking. I wish that publishers would use different fonts, or something. This would, however, make an excellent two-narrator audiobook. Despite this difficulty, I thought that Justin and Ysabel, and their parents, were strong characters. No one is all good or all bad in Happy Families - people are as they really are, complex, caring, and flawed. I thought that the twins were realistically difficult (sulky, etc.) in coping with their family drama, without being at all unlikeable (a fine line).
Tanita Davis has a teen-friendly writing style - she seems fully able to channel her inner adolescent. Like this:
"It's not possible to die of embarrassment. But as I hastily scoop up the bouquets and scuttle back to my seat, to the amusement of everyone around me, I'm almost positive you can at least have a coronary, or a stroke or something." (Page 8, Ysabel)
"We know why, of course. It's because we're going to Dad's house in Buchannan, and Mom's wrapping us both in an extra layer of God.
Which we might not need -- no offense to God -- if she'd just let us stay home." (Page 25, Ysabel)
"I read on a Web site that Ys and I are just two of thousands of kids around the world dealing with this right now, but funny thing--that just doesn't make me feel any better. No matter how many people's stories I read online, it isn't the same. It's my family crashing; it's my dad. It's me." (Page 37, Justin)
One other thing that I liked about Happy Families is that Justin and Ysabel's family is African American, and it's not a big deal. This fact is only mentioned directly (that I noticed) once in the book, rather late in the story, because it's not the point of the story. There need to be more books in which kids and teens just happen to be African American, or Middle Eastern, or Asian, or whatever else.
Happy Families is without question an "issue book". It educates the reader, while detailing a family going through a particular crisis. There's resolution at the end, without any fake tying up of all of the issues. But it doesn't feel like an issue book, because the characters (including the adults) are so strong, and because the author maintains a light, non-judgmental touch. Happy Families is a book that deserves to be read because the topic is important, but it's a book that will be enjoyed by teens because the characters feel real. Highly recommended.
[Oh, and a final fun note for my Kidlitosphere friends - there's a character in Happy Families named Tarie Sabado, just like Tarie from the blog Into the Wardrobe. I'm thinking not a coincidence. This doesn't change the story at all, but gave me a little insider-y smile. ]
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 8, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).