Notes on my Family by Emily Critchley

Notes on my Family – at a glance

School reading lists’s five word review: Quirky view of family life.
Young Adult book title: Notes on my Family.
YA author: Emily Critchley.
Genre: Young Adult fiction; family conflict.
Published by: Everything With Words.
Recommended for young adults aged: 14+.
ISBN: 9781911427056
First published: Paperback September 2017.
This children’s book is ideal for: KS4 readers, books studies on conflict and relationships and as a contemporary fiction novel for Y9-11 book clubs.

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Notes on my Family is a portrait of modern family life, presented in the first person, present tense by Lou, a 13-year-old girl with an eye for the quirky, absurd and unusual.

A light touch conversational tone and a gradual drip of gossipy reality reveal events at a rapid pace to the reader. We become privy to Lou’s thoughts and point of view and this teenage voice has a sharp tongue. Memorable and often gasp-inducing verbal observations are sprinkled into the narrative: ‘Dad sleeping with a sixth-form student is not helping my quest for invisibility’.

This is not so much a plotted story but an extended tableau where the reader is inserted into the dynamic as a trusted voyeur. We are Lou’s invisible confident and we’ve been invited over for the duration. Layers of harsh realisation are unpeeled for the reader and what makes this book tick is finding out how the characters interrelate and being forced to experience the inevitable yet at times satisfyingly cringing results of their actions. This book isn’t so much a guilty pleasure but dares the reader to delight in peeping on the family’s guilty secrets.

It’s the characters that drive this novel. There’s deluded and passive dad, mum who lost her tether some time ago, older brother Mikey who perfects cake decorating skills like Nigel Slater mastering meringue peaks, the narrator Lou, who slowly starts to accept the world isn’t always as she sees it; and older sister Sarah who, when at school, wants nothing much to do with any of them.

The simple but brutally honest voice makes the family’s troubles seem devastatingly real. Lou is opinionated and fixates on what irks her in a candid and blunt style. Bombshell moments in the lives of other family members are presented almost as asides in a writing style that presents a reliable but left-field commentary in this engaging YA novel. There’s dad’s affair with a girl from school – who apparently is hairy – and mum’s shoplifting breakdown, which are only equal to or perhaps even not as important to the Lou as her favourite sandwich filling or whether the fairy cakes have sprinkles on.

This startling debut novel is bound to appeal to older teen readers who want something slightly different to read in one or two sittings.

Our verdict

Notes on my Family is perfect for Year 9, 10 and 11 book groups, reluctant readers in KS4 who want a book with bite; and it would serve as an accessible GCSE class reader counterpoint to A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney (if teachers have the curriculum time to fit it in). Many thanks to Everything With Words for the review copy.

If you like this book you might also like Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow by Siobhan Curham, Tender by Eve Ainsworth, Me Mam, Me Dad. Me. by Malcolm Duffy and Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes? by Holly Bourne.

Why not have a look at our suggested reading lists for children aged 3-16?

Books for EYFS & ReceptionBooks for Year 1Books for Year 2Books for Year 3Books for Year 4Books for Year 5Books for Year 6Books for Year 7Books for Year 8Books for Year 9Books for Year 10Books for Year 11

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About Jan Tolkien

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Jan Tolkien is an educational consultant and literacy expert based in North Yorkshire with extensive experience in a wide variety of settings. A teacher with over 30 years as a classroom practitioner, she is also a reviewer of books for children, a copywriter, resource writer and a proofreader.