Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes
Annabelle can't let anyone find out what her house is like. They'll realize that her mom is crazy. They'll make fun of her. Or feel sorry for her. Or try to help.
But when the newspaper piles come crashing down on her sister's head one morning, it kicks off an epic fight between her parents that ends up with her dad taking off -- and her fix-it-all grandmother stepping in.
As Annabelle realizes how bad things have gotten for her little sister, while trying to navigate her first crush, not to mention stay sane herself, she's forced to come to terms with the fact that maybe she can't keep all her secrets to herself. Maybe she can't just throw her mom's things out... maybe she has to let some people in.
It’s understandable. Annabelle’s home life is kind of a mess. Her family members aren’t mean to each other or anything, they’re just distant and they try to ignore the fact that over the past few years their home has become a storage space for a lot of unnecessary stuff. Beanie babies line the railing leading upstairs. Leslie, the youngest member of the family (10 years old), has a bedroom filled with toys from kids’ meals, dolls, games, and stuffed animals. Chad, Annabelle’s older brother, has taken to being away from home as much as possible—which makes sense since his room is home to stacks of camping gear and athletic equipment. And then there’s the locked room… no one knows what’s in it, and whenever anyone tries to get into it, Annabelle’s mom freaks out.
The tension in the house builds as Annabelle learns that Leslie has a collection of her own—a collection of clippings and printed articles about hoarders who have died surrounded by their stuff (and sometimes under their stuff). The articles are grim reading, and the girls accidentally leave them out where their dad finds them, and he finally wakes from his haze and notices what a mess things have become. When Leslie summons her grandmother to come and help, everything gets even more interesting for the family.
I can’t overstate how much I loved this book. FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES has everything I want from a middle grades book. The characters are relatable—in fact, they’re all too real. Even though the dysfunction in Annabelle’s family is specific to hoarding, kids who have any embarrassing family secret will be able to relate to how Annabelle handles things. Her relationships with friends and family members are pitch perfect, and although things tie up somewhat nicely at the end, that’s okay. I’m not sure I could have handled anything else.
I encourage all teachers and librarians to have this book available to their students (and to read it). You probably won’t know who needs it most, but if they get their hands on it, it will be a huge help.
Kudos to Mary E. Lambert on a fantastic debut novel. She sucked me in to her world, and she made me cry while leaving me with hope. I’ll definitely be reading anything else she writes, and FAMILY GAME NIGHT will be very much on my mind for quite a while.
My thanks to YA Books Central and the publisher for an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.