A ‘normal suburban’ family or so it would appear….until one day Dad admits an affair with a eighteen year old student at his school, over a Chicken Kiev dinner. Mum then has a meltdown, shoplifting and setting fire to family photos in a saucepan in the living room at 3 in the morning, then ending up in a psychiatric unit!
There is a dark humour to this book, which at times made me laugh aloud, however it is also very poignant. It shows how individuals react to massive changes and stresses and very cleverly how a family comes to terms with loosing their mother, mental health and family break up. What I also found very interesting was just how pivotal to a family one person can be. In this case the mother, she was the glue that held everything together and when she wasn’t there, the family fell into disarray.
Louise (Lou) fourteen years of age, is our narrator. She is the socially awkward protagonists who observes and documents her family life, school and siblings in a light but very clever way throughout the ongoing crisis’. She has minimal friends, is bullied at school and has two older siblings – Sarah seventeen, who is a social butterfly and Mikey who struggles with his emotions & sexuality by making cakes! Louise also likes trains, and whenever she needs to get away, she goes to watch them.
A new girl, Faith joins Lou’s class and they become acquainted and quickly become friends. Both are different; however Faith is worldly and introduces Lou to some different life experiences – weed, truanting and R.E.M! Lou struggles at first but then realises that life remains complicated but is a little easier to deal with when you have a friend.
This is a lighthearted, funny, well written book, which explores how one catastrophic event, effects a family unit. It shows how individually they deal with the rippling effects of chaos and change and highlights again how important family members are to each other when life challenges to break them.
Louise is a funny, strange but a likeable character – with her quirky personality and ‘issues’ she becomes a protagonist many people can resonate with and champion. I thought using her as the narrator was inventive and in doing so added a comical and entertaining aspect to the consequences that transpire.
I would recommend this to anyone who needs a light-hearted easy read.
Notes on my Family is published by Everything With Words and is available here.
Emily Critchley was born in Essex in 1986. She has had short stories and poems published in magazines and anthologies. She studied creative writing at London Metropolitan University gaining a first. Notes on My Family, Emily’s first novel, was long-listed for the 2018 Branford Boase award, shortlisted for the Bristol Teen Book Award, nominated for the Carnegie medal and featured as The Sunday Times children’s book of the week. Emily currently lives in London and is completing an MA in creative writing at Birkbeck.
Reviewed by Amanda Brightman
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