What the Family Needed: A Novel [NOOK Book]


In this incandescent novel, a family’s superpowers bestow not instant salvation but the miracle of accepting who they are.

“Okay, tell me which you want,” Alek asks his cousin at the outset of What the Family Needed. “To be able to fly or to be invisible.” And soon Giordana, a teenager suffering the bitter fallout of her parents’ divorce, finds that she can, at will, ...
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What the Family Needed: A Novel

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In this incandescent novel, a family’s superpowers bestow not instant salvation but the miracle of accepting who they are.

“Okay, tell me which you want,” Alek asks his cousin at the outset of What the Family Needed. “To be able to fly or to be invisible.” And soon Giordana, a teenager suffering the bitter fallout of her parents’ divorce, finds that she can, at will, become as invisible as she feels. Later, Alek’s mother, newly adrift in the disturbing awareness that all is not well with her younger son, can suddenly swim with Olympic endurance. Over three decades, in fact, each member of this gorgeously imagined extended family discovers, at a moment of crisis, that he or she possesses a supernatural power.

But instead of crimes to fight and villains to vanquish, they confront inner demons, and their extraordinary abilities prove not to be magic weapons so much as expressions of their fears and longings as they struggle to come to terms with who they are and what fate deals them. As the years pass, their lives intersect and overlap in surprising and poignant ways, and they discover that the real magic lies not in their superpowers but in the very human and miraculous way they are able to accept, protect, and love one another.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Amsterdam’s second novel (after Things We Didn’t Know) tackles the family-in-crisis trope: divorce, financial struggles, a child adrift, and the loss of a spouse. Except each member of this family has a superpower. The book is written in vignettes that span 30 years and never land on the same person twice, and one of the delights is piecing together the truth about each character as his or her inner world and the family’s perception intersect. Some of the characters’ superpowers underscore the book’s conventionality—an insecure 15-year-old girl wills herself invisible—while others feel somewhat arbitrary. Why exactly does Natalie have the power to swim fantastically? (The answer provided is flimsy at best.) Yet there are moments when the writing’s simplicity becomes its own kind of superpower. In a section on grief, Peter loses his wife of 41 years (Natalie, the swimmer) and discovers he can make his desires real: funeral well-wishers appear and then vanish; Natalie’s pumpkin mash steams on a plate and only after eating does Peter decide the flavor is too much to bear. It’s a fresh take on grief, and when Peter realizes his loss, and that two lives lived in tandem are just that, the book soars. A late revelation, however, threatens to reduce each vignette, and the novel, into a stylistic exercise. Agent: Grainne Fox, Fletcher & Co. (Mar.)
Entertainment Weekly
Somehow the novel feels at once magical and very normal, a wishful fantasy about the strength it can take to love one's family members well.
Kirkus Reviews
What this fictional family needs, according to Amsterdam, are surreal and fantastic interventions that give each member the strength to go on. Although the story spans 30 years, the weirdness starts when 15-year-old Giordana escapes with her mother, Ruth, and brother, Ben, to her aunt and uncle's house to elude her father's abuse. Aunt Natalie and Uncle Peter have a house of their own with their children, Giordana's cousins Alek and Sasha. Alek, whose age is inferable by his Superman underpants, is thrilled to see his cousins and impulsively asks Giordana whether she'd rather fly or be invisible. Somewhat bewildered, she chooses the latter, in part to placate the insistent Alek, but she is even more astonished to discover that she actually does develop the ability to disappear. This allows her to eavesdrop on conversations about her father's mistreatment of her mother, conversations Ruth doesn't particularly want to share with her daughter. The chapters focus on a different character in the family and on an astonishing capacity each develops. Alek starts to become recalcitrant in school, and Natalie takes refuge in swimming, but she begins to have times that compete with college swimmers half her age. In her capacity as a nurse, Ruth begins to hear the thoughts of her patients. After Natalie dies of an aneurysm, Peter discovers some astonishing abilities to bend reality to his will. The novel ends with the adult Alek, who's always been the estranged one in the family, claiming that "Anything can happen, anywhere"--and the events of the novel have proved his observation true. While Amsterdam is not exactly working in the style of magical realism, he develops his own kind of reality that has more than a tinge of fantasy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101603802
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/21/2013
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 343,532
  • File size: 839 KB

Meet the Author

Steven Amsterdam is the author of Things We Didn’t See Coming, which was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and won The Age Book of the Year Award, among other honors. A native New Yorker and a nurse, he lives in Melbourne, Australia.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 3, 2013

    I received this book in a giveaway on another website, and it to

    I received this book in a giveaway on another website, and it took me some time to get to it, but I'm very happy that I finally did. This was an amazing book. The kind that makes you think. The book is told through a series of chapters focusing on a different members of a family. In each one, some extraordinary ability is given(discovered) that helps them through whatever crisis they're dealing with. This could have easily turned into a comic book type of story, but in Steven Amsterdam's hands the abilities are used subtly, they bring out the true center of each character.  It's hard to describe exactly how this all plays out without resorting to spoilers, so I won't give anything away, but the journey is truly one worth taking. I'm happy to have read this book and will gladly read whatever else Mr. Amsterdam writes. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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