This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Reviewed by Kay Brooks
Bobbie, a single-married-mother, is struggling to control her two wayward children. Meanwhile her husband takes no responsibility, instead often working late into the evening, by which time the children are in bed and Bobbie is exhausted. Her brother-in-law, Andy, is also drowning under the pressure of raising two teenage daughters while his perfect wife, Pamela, is away. To make matters worse, he has to step in and teach a perfect parenting class whilst feeling like a first class hypocrite! Vanessa didn’t get parenting right the first time round. Her impossible daughter ran away at sixteen and hasn’t been seen for years but when a strange man turns up on the doorstep with her enchanting granddaughter, Sunshine, in his arms, she is about to get a second chance.
Janey Fraser intertwines the characters’ lives in a variety of different ways, resulting in the discovery that they share links other than the parenting class. Reading this novel was similar to watching a soap opera, dipping in and out of people’s lives and gaining an insight into how families different from the norm function. I loved the slightly clichéd Pamela, who used to be a glamorous model and now raises what appears on the surface to be a perfect family. It was when her flaws started to show that I was able to relate to her and saw that she was much more realistic than I originally thought. Fraser somehow manages to create plausible voices and strong views for characters of ages varying from six through to sixty-something: no easy feat!
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There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in the novel as expected but this book also deals with serious issues, such as paternity, cancer and rape, and at times it isn’t the light-hearted read that the front cover suggests. The more I found out about the lives of the characters, the more I found myself unable to put it down and continue with my own life! For me, not avoiding the parts of life that can be distressing made the novel a much more interesting read and it reminded me that appearances are only the surface and not to be too quick to judge. The woman who seems snooty and stuck-up could be the most considerate person you have yet to meet and a man who looks full of anger could just be looking for a way to repent. In Happy Families, the characters are not all what they initially seem to be.
There are moments which make for uncomfortable reading and at first I was unsure why. A good example would be when Bobbie is struggling to control her hyperactive son, Jack, in the supermarket. She soon realises that she has an audience of unimpressed shoppers who are all quick to judge her parenting skills. It seems that she can’t win however she chooses to discipline him. If she shouts, she draws attention to the situation and she can’t smack him for fear of being accused of child abuse. When she chooses the easier option of bribery, she is taunted by comments about bad behaviour being the fault of the parent! It dawned on me as I read on, that I had experienced similar predicaments with my own son and the snap-judgements passed by strangers hurt.
Anyone who is guilty of ever looking down their nose at parents struggling to control tantrum-throwing children in supermarkets or arguing siblings in parks should read Happy Families. I really enjoyed it.