Kate’s Book Review…”Real Happy Family: A Novel”

As I mentioned a while back, I’m going to start including a few book reviews here and there, mostly because I’m interested to see if any of you have read the same books and what your thoughts were.  As I am a Goodreads junkie, I’ll just be copying/pasting them from my account there.

For those of you giving me a squinty “Umm, Kate I’m friends with/follow you on Goodreads, and you don’t review diddly-squat” look, I actually have two accounts.  I primarily review on my personal/tied-with-Facebook account, since I’d been doing that long before we published, and Goodreads hasn’t come up with a way to let us merge our “personal” and “penname” accounts.  Although yes, Kate McNeil really is my name…long story.  Also yes, you are more than welcome to friend my personal Goodreads account.

So without further ado, my review of Real Happy Family: A Novel, by Caeli Wolfson Widger!

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

As I was reading this book, two things came to mind…the first was Tolstoy’s famous quote from Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The second was how much it reminded me very much of the movie Requiem for a Dream, in its entirety. Very interesting, because the author later references both the quote and the movie. I wonder which came first…the chicken or the egg?

Anyway! I truly enjoyed this book, even though it was like watching a slow-motion trainwreck throughout the entire thing (aside from the end). Bad things keep happening. Then things get worse. And worse. Nothing gets better. You can see the terrible things coming down the road as the characters make bad decision after bad decision. You want to look away, but you can’t.

Why can’t you? (After all, the paragraph above is hardly a ringing endorsement for any book!) Honestly, the writing is excellent, it pulled me along, even if sometimes I wanted to peek through my fingers and scream “Nooooooooo!” while reading. The characters are so richly described, I actually could picture them in my mind, something I rarely do while reading. Colleen, for example…while she was busy being a hot mess, I kept picturing her as Fairuza Balk’s hot mess mother from The Craft.

The only reason I didn’t give this book five stars was because of the ending…after the non-stop ratcheting-up of our nerves, I personally felt the book ended with a fizzle rather than a climax and then satisfying resolution. The death of a gross mess junkie is our game-changing climax? Oh man… Then too, in the epilogue, it seems as though everyone has flipped their lives for the better and is living out a picture-perfect happily-ever-after with no accountability for the terrible things they’d done. Everyone except for Carl, quite arguably the most moral yet abused character in the whole book. Poor Carl.

I absolutely would recommend this book, just be ready to yell at the characters, repeatedly. I know I sure did!


Have you read “Real Happy Family?”  Let me know in the comments!


Add Yours
  1. Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

    I don’t know if I could *take* this book – it sounds too much like my hot mess LIFE this year (except that there’s no junkie to overdose and I have no intentions of befriending a prison warden for murdering a few folks who clearly deserve it).

    Anyway, I’m back – and am gradually catching up with everyone I was once in contact with (we “chatted” over a top-10 crappy products post on my blog). If you’re up for another tear-jerker, the “Carmen Sandiego” and my Grumpy Monday phone post (Emotional Manipulation) explain my sudden disappearance – otherwise, know that I am simply grateful that things seemed to have stopped getting WORSE!

    I have a Goodreads profile as well – but I rarely have time to get over there anymore. So, for what it’s worth: MORE book reviews please. It’s the closest I’m likely to get to actually READING a book for another month or so. (Catch-up’s a bitch!)

    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”


    • Kate and Britt

      Hi Madelyn! Yeeeeeeah, this book gave me anxiety reading it at times, just because OKAY I HAVE ENOUGH IN MY OWN LIFE, DON’T NEED MORE, KTHXBAI, but the writing really was good enough to keep me engaged!

      And I do think my next book review will be one I actually DIDN’T review on my Goodreads, since it’ll probably go a bit more off-topic than GR readers are interested in. Except it’s another hot mess book…but a nostalgic biography! Woot!

      I’ll hop over to your blog as well!!!



      • Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC

        Yeah, but there’s a LOT of good writing out there (lota’ bad too, unfortunately) — but I’m not so into “misery loves company” right now. Trying to move forward.

        Not that I need to read about books I don’t have time right now to read, I still LOVE book reviews (and podcasts that interview authors). So I have to get back in the habit of trolling for them.

        Will read yours for damn sure! BTW-thanks for liking my Carmen Miranda explanation. See what I mean?



Comments are closed.