Book Review: Happy Families by Tanita S. Davis

Title: Happy Families

Author: Tanita S. Davis

Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, LGBT, PoC

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: May 8 2012
Hardcover: 240 pages

Teenage twins Ysabel and Justin Nicholas are lucky. Ysabel’s jewelry designs have already caught the eyes of the art world and Justin’s intelligence and drive are sure to gain him entrance into the most prestigious of colleges. They even like their parents. But their father has a secret—one that threatens to destroy the twins’ happy family and life as they know it.

Over the course of spring break, Ysabel and Justin will be forced to come to terms with their dad’s new life, but can they overcome their fears to piece together their happy family again?

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Review copy from publishers via Net Galley

Why did I read this book: I’ve had this book on my radar for a while. Not only because I loved Tanita S. Davis’ Mare’s War but also because this is a LGBT book with African American protagonists. Diversity in YA for the win.


Teenage twins Ysabel and Justin are struggling with the revelation that their father has recently come out as a Male to Female transgender person. Their family has been strongly affected by it, their father has moved away and their personal lives are in shambles as they don’t really understand what it all means. Now it’s spring break and the two are expected to spend the week with their father so they can talk, using this short time together to try and figure things out. The three go to therapy together, and this father arranges a rafting trip with other transgendered parents and their kids. The narrative alternate between the two and we see the week from each of their perspectives.

Happy Families is a short, focused, highly important book. In terms of plot, it follows the Nicholas family in this moment of transitioning. The book hints at each twin’s personal, separate lives and how this moment impacts on how they behave. Justin for example, has broken up with his girlfriend, because he doesn’t believe she will be ok with his father’s transition. It is obvious that neither twin is happy about the situation mostly because they don’t know how this will impact their lives. There is a lot of questioning which they address over the course of this week and this questioning is the real focus of the novel: what does being a transgendered person mean? Their father wishes to be called Christine: does this mean he is a woman? Does this mean he is gay? Will he be getting surgery? Will their parents get divorced? Will he be dressed up as a woman all the time? How can they go to church like that? How can they go to school when everybody knows about this?

Although the story can be a little didactic sometimes and somewhat restricted to the issue it addresses, this didacticism is more enlightening than informative – I hope this makes sense. I mean that the story is never dry or purely instructive because it perfectly encapsulates this wondrous moment and its mixture of shock, betrayal, hope, shame, guilt, love. I particularly loved the fact that theirs is also a religious family and this is part of their questioning – especially with regards to divorce as their parents don’t believe they should get divorced.

This is quite a serious yet hopeful book and heart-wrenching without being tragic. Despite the fact that at times I felt the twins’ voices were indistinguishable, I truly enjoyed reading it and feel this is an important, accomplished book for teens. Happy Families is not a book that offers easy answers but is one that acknowledges the hard questions and treat them with the careful consideration, compassion and honesty they deserve.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

The Phoenix Fire Festival at The Crucible, last May


The surge of chattering, pointing, gawking people pours into the massive auditorium, and I feel a shiver crawl up my arms. Rather than stand here, watching the watchers, I’m going to do some torchwork.

There’s a table set up at the back of my booth, covered with a square of galvanized metal and lit with a desk lamp. At the edge of the table there’s a small glass kiln, a miniature propane blowtorch, a handful of tweezers, metal rods, a graphite block, and a couple of terra-cotta flowerpots filled with sand and rods of glass in all shades. I sit down, my foot automatically moving to tap the switch for the small fan under the table. Checking to make sure my glasses are still on my head, I grab my box of matches and light my torch.

An older couple approaches my booth but instead of speaking I pick up the thin metal mandrel and turn it in the flames to warm it. The glass always sticks better if the mandrel is warm. My hands hover over the glass color choices, and I select a clear, bright blue. As I reach up to tug down my pink-tinted sunglasses, they catch on my hair, and the pins Grandmama put in the French roll she thought would look so elegant poke into my scalp. Muttering under my breath, I gently untangle the glasses and put them on, then start heating the glass. In no time at all, I’m putting down a small bead of molten glass, turning my mandrel until I’ve made a disk. I make another disk, a half inch away, and then, turning the mandrel all the time, keep laying disks of glass until the heat slumps them together to make a hollow bead. One down, a few hundred to go. I set the mandrel and the bead into the annealing kiln to slow bake and choose another rod of color. I want something with a streak of metal in it this time.

Read the rest of the Excerpt HERE.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Reading Next: Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis

Buy the Book:

Ebook available for kindle US, google, nook and sony

5 Responses to “Book Review: Happy Families by Tanita S. Davis”

  1. Linda W May 15, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    Like you I loved Mare’s War, so I promptly put this book on my wish list. I’m glad you reviewed this, because it was a reminder to me that the book has debuted.

  2. Anonymous May 15, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    I too am a huge fan of Mare’s War. I’m looking forward to this one!

  3. e wein May 15, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    oops – that was me. Tanita’s fan and yours!

  4. Christa @ Hooked on Books May 16, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    Hadn’t heard of this one yet but really happy to add another well written LGBT YA novel to my to-read list. I will have to try and squeeze it into my YA Pride feature in June/July


  1. Happy Families Tanita S. Davis Book Review - June 3, 2012

    […] The Book Smugglers – “a short, focused, highly important book” […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

:D :-) :( :o 8O :? 8) :lol: :x :P :oops: :cry: :evil: :twisted: :roll: :wink: :!: :?: :idea: :arrow: :| :mrgreen: