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Thursday, August 4, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Radleys

The Radleys: A NovelLast month I read Matthew Haig's The Radleys.  I read it both because I have enjoyed Haig in the past, and because I agreed to write an annotation for it for the annual ARRT bibliography, the theme of which this year is YA books for adults and adult books for YAs.  Here is what I submitted:
Peter and Helen Radley live with their 17 year old son Rowan and their 15 year old daughter Clara in suburban London.  They appear to be a normal family.  Peter is the local doctor, Helen is a stay-at-home mom in a book club, Clara and Peter are a bit unpopular at school, but have the normal teenage angst and crushes.  However, there are a few unexplainable oddities about the Radleys. Animals hate them; so much so that they have never heard a bird sing.  Rowan gets terrible rashes from the sun and Clara, who is becoming a vegan, is sick to her stomach.  Oh, but there is an explanation.  You see, the Radleys are actually abstaining vampires trying to live a normal life.  Peter and Helen have not even told their kids their secret, that is, until Clara defends herself too successfully from the unwanted advances of a drunk male classmate.  With its short chapters, alternating viewpoints from each family member, and heart racing action in the final third of the book, the Radleys is a compelling look into the danger of keeping secrets and the bonds of family, sure to appeal to any teen or adult who has ever felt like an outsider.

Appeal: The appeal here is that this is an excellent family drama novel which happens to feature vampires.  It is a great choice for readers who want to sample the vampire craze (although it is waning now) without reading a paranormal romance.  In the spirit of this blog's title it is...vampires for all!

With the alternating point of view and short chapters headed with quotes from the fictional "Abstainer's Handbook," it is also a quick and compelling read.  As a reader I was drawn into the dilemmas and  conflicts each character was experiencing. I got to peek inside each of their heads, see where they were coming from, and empathize with everyone, even when they were at odds with one and other.  I got to know each character, warts and all.

The short chapters and switching pov also moved the book along at a brisk pace.  It was great to read at the pool and it was just dramatic enough to be intriguing without tipping into melodrama territory. 

The coming of age theme for the teens is also a big draw here.  These kids are such outcasts and they are trying to fit in, but they have no idea the true reason for their "oddness."  It is heart-breaking at first, but then, as the book goes on and Rowan and Clara "find themselves," I was so happy for them.  The ending really made me want to stand up and cheer. 

Many people who try to stay away from vampire books as a rule, but enjoy tales of family secrets, family bonds, and suburban dystopia should give this book a try.  Don't be scared off by the vampires.  This is a solid addition to those popular subgenres, by a talented writer who weaves a great story.  You will miss a great read if you are biased by the vampire angle.  The vampire stuff is merely a way to illustrate the family's outsider status.

This is a book I will give out to a lot of readers. In fact I am going to put it on my Browser's Corner list right now.

Three Words That Describe This Book: family secrets, alternating points of view, compelling pace

Where This Book Took Me (Summer Reading Feature):  Suburban, 21st Century England

Readalikes:  Haig's suburban family drama reminds me most of Tom Perrotta.  Specifically I would suggest Little Children here, but Perrotta is also set to add a supernatural twist with his pending 8/31 release of The Leftovers.

Elizabeth Berg also writes solid family dramas which do not tip over to melodramatic (as Jodi Picoult can) and would appeal to readers here.  Try Dream When You're Feeling Blue which I read here and did for a book discussion here.

Jonathan Tropper writes family drama's that appeal to both men and women.  I read How to Talk to a Widow.

For a story about family, secrets, and relationships with a supernatural twist, try Forever by Pete Hamill.  Read what I had to say about it in detail here.

Finally, if you have a reader who wants the family secrets with more supernatural and more drama, try The Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  Again, click here to see my full review.

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