Book Review: The Survivor’s Guide To Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson


Last week, I featured this book and said I would review it in a few weeks, because my reading has been slow lately, not sure why, so I assumed it would take me a while to get through the story. But nope, not with this book, I finished The Survivor’s Guide To Family Happiness last weekend, so I can share my thoughts today.

The story has chapters dedicated to three main characters, Nina Popkin, Lindy McIntyre and Phoebe Mullen. Nina and Lindy are sisters and Phoebe is their birth mother.

The book begins one evening in 1979. Tilton O’Malley is heading off to college leaving behind his pregnant girlfriend, Phoebe. Along with another friend A.J. Barnes, the trio sneak out and their lives are transformed by the happening of that night.

This is a story primarily about Nina’s quest for family connections, relationships and love. Most of the chapters are told from Nina’s perspective. Newly orphaned, recently divorced, and generally lost, the grieving Nina goes on a search for her birth mother. Nina who grew up as an only child is sad and lonely. She is 35 years old and a lot of other reviewers have questioned Maddie Dawson’s characterisation of Nina.  Nina appears juvenile, and her thoughts, actions and general demeanor seems younger, like a young adult, early 20-something. But to me that is what made Nina was so endearing and I felt connected to her instantly.   Nina at the start of the novel is lost, is broken, immature and directionless.

Meanwhile, Lindy, grew up in a big family and has her own family, is a suburban super mom.  From all appearances Lindy is successfully juggling being a business owner work, family and marriage. But Lindy is desperately trying to hold things together. Lindy struggles with panic attacks and social anxiety.  And while I would have have loved Dawson to have given Lindy more chapters, I appreciate how she wrote Lindy’s social disorders and challenges as facts of her life, that is works through daily without over narrating and reasoning out the conditions.

Then, there is Phoebe, she had been moderately famous, the lead singer of a girl band in the ’80s. Phoebe has no interest in being a mother to these adult women, and so the complexity of family, nature vs nurture and motherhood and sisterhood are explored.

Maddie Dawson is an amazing storyteller. I will be looking into getting her other books. The characterisation and the writing were perfect, quirk,y funny, dynamic, flawed characters that I instantly connected to. All the characters, even the very minor ones had strong personalities that felt so authentic. The Survivor’s Guide To Family Happiness is one of the best books I have read this year.

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, NetGalley!

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