Family Reunion (by Caroline B Cooney)

I had no idea who Caroline B Cooney was. I gather her usual genre is teenage horror or mystery stories, so would be unlikely to pick up one of her novels as those are not my preferred genres. I have no idea how this particular book happened to be on our 'children's' bookshelves. Indeed, it might have remained there unread had a friend not pulled it out, borrowed it, and then told me it was a very good book.

'Family Relationships' is a thoughtful, sometimes poignant book about family relationships, set in the USA. It's narrated by almost-15-year-old Shelley, the middle child of divorced parents. Shelley and her 11-year-old brother Angus are on vacation in their family's summer house. Their father is mostly working and they are gradually becoming used to their stepmother Annette.

Shelley finds it difficult to forgive her mother for having moved out. She also feels that she can never live up to her more glamorous older sister Joanna who is in Paris with their mother and her mother's husband for the duration of the book. Still, in general Shelley and Joanna get along well. However, she is frequently frustrated by her impulsive, generous and inventive younger brother Angus. As the book opens, he has invented a money-making scam which rather embarrasses both Shelley and Annette...

They all go to stay with their cousins for a big family reunion, worried in advance about their 'perfect' cousins looking down on them, only to discover that there are cracks in their cousins' family too...

Seeing the story through Shelley's eyes works well; she struggles to discover who she is, and how to relate to people, and slowly realises that she's not just someone's sister or daughter, but a valuable person in her own right. This could be clich├ęd and trite, but the writing is very good, with plenty of subplots and a realism that shines through.

Recommended to teens who like a good family read, or older children from the age of about eight or nine. It probably would not be of much interest to younger readers, as it does cover early boy-girl relationships (albeit in a very low-key way) and would probably be particularly useful to people who are in blended or broken families.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 8th July 2012

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