Book Review: Happy Families by Tanita S. Davis

Ysabel and Justin are fairly lucky twins.  Ysabel is showing tremendous promise as an artist and Justin has a bright future in one of the country’s best colleges.  Their family is close-knit and pretty happy.  But then their father’s long-held secret becomes public, and it feels as though their family is being torn apart.  Both conflicted, sad, and hurt about their father’s reveal, the twins struggle to come to terms with their new life.  A spring break spent with their dad is planned to help them come to terms with the changes, but are they willing to alter their view of their happy family?

Tanita S. Davis’s smart, empathetic novel about a family in the middle of crisis handles the heavy issues within its pages very well.  Both the tension of the story and the underlying love of the family at the center of this novel are palpable feelings throughout the story.  Although this isn’t a book that’s going to appeal to every reader, it tackles some hard topics in a way that is never overly didactic or pandering to its audience.

Although Davis relies on a fair amount of exposition to tell the story of Ysabel and Justin, she does so in a way that never feels too heavy-handed.  Relying on a combination of dialogue and narrative to explain many of the issues relating to transgendered people, Davis lays out what it all means for the reader.  It’s effective.

A pretty quick pace and some good moments with action make this novel a quick read.  Although Ysabel and Justin’s turnaround about their father comes fairly quickly, it doesn’t feel inauthentic.  Because the family in question is African American, this book is an important entry into the LGBTQ literature cannon.  Recommended.

Happy Families by Tanita S. Davis. Knopf Books for Young Readers: 2012. Library copy.

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