Cushioned cozily in my bed, I trounced on “Families and Other Nonreturnable Gifts” like a trampoline. For LaZebnik bounces her characters off of each other, into the air, and down again, firmly to land with a resoundingly familial THONK! As the outlier in my family, I adored LaZebnik’s savvy protagonist, Keats Sedlak, the green sheep of a loving but strange academic family full of members that are so eccentric Keats feels like she is living with aliens.
Older sister, Hopkins, is a famous neurologist. Brother Milton is a confirmed agoraphobic, interested only in infesting his genius into computer games that he is inventing. At twenty, Milton has not left the house in 2 years. Her mother, at 55, is divorcing her brilliant poli-sci famous professor husband, is dating, and is in the process of selling the rambling family home, while Milton tries to sabotage his mom. He cannot process any change, and leaving the family home is not in his programming. Dad cannot function in the apartment he has moved to without his brilliant assistant, Jacob, who cares for him like a mother. And then there’s red headed, blue eyed Keats, who lives with boring Tom, whom she has been with since she was 15 (Keats is now 25, and Tom is 30). As Mom shakes up the family pot, Keats is left in the middle – as usual.
When her dad has a heart attack, Jacob comes into Keats peripheral vision, hovering, lasing in.
With an Ann Tyler like funny bone, LaZebnik thrusts us into the middle of an eccentric, brilliant, distant but loving family and turns the blender on high.
LaZebnik’s talent for truth and emotional nuance creates a family that any one of us can embrace, for all families are like the Sedlaks. Hopkins, the overachiever with no social skills, Keats the underachiever that oozes warmth, neurotic Milton, the son who never leaves home pivot around Dad and Mom. When Mom realizes that her marriage is frigid, her life has been on hold, and her son needs to leave home, Keats jumps right in and learns the real truth of her family, and her role in the midst of it. Mom gives the family permission to grow up, in fact encourages it, and the family chases after her, learning how to dance.
In an interview, Ms. LaZebnik states, “Why can our families make us feel more stupid than anyone else? It’s amazing. You can be a well respected professional in your field, perfectly confident when speaking in front of a roomful of your peers…and then go home for Christmas and suddenly feel like a stupid little kid who can’t say anything right.”
Lovely read, engaging characters, fast pace, and a fall-in-love-with family, problems and all!
Families and Other Nonreturnable Gifts is available for purchase at bookstores nationwide.
Overall: 4 – Loved it!
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.