“Family History” by Dani Shapiro

Genre: Domestic FictionFamily History
Publisher: Knopf
Pub. Date: 2003

The story reads as a women’s fiction novel with a “literary” vibe. The author explores a family in crisis. “Family History” is a page-turner with flaws, but still worth reading. A young teenage daughter, Kate, returns home from summer camp as a different person shocking her parents, Ned and Rachel. Kate had always been the apple of her parent’s eyes. Before camp, she excelled academically and in sports with a friendly disposition that made her popular in school. Every summer, she had gone to sleep away camp. However, this is the first time Kate returns angry, depressed, and destructive. Her negativity and insolence become even more pronounced as the school year progresses. Her teachers, parents, or even her old friends no longer have any influence on her. Kate is unrecognizable to all that know her. The author nails the parents’ agony in trying to help their child while desperately attempting to understand what is causing her detrimental behaviors. Shapiro can even make you feel sorry for the highly unlikeable girl since she, too, seems clueless about why she is so out of control. This is the point where the flaws come in. The reader never finds out why Kate is so dramatically changed. Is the problem teenage angst on steroids, is she jealous of the new baby, did something happen at camp, or does she have an undiagnosed personality disorder? Since schizophrenia symptoms often show up when someone is in their teens, I went with the last guess. But then again, something horrible could have happened while she was at camp. I was frustrated not having a conclusion. Maybe the author didn’t give her readers an answer because we are often left guessing without an outcome in real life. This is a sad and challenging tale to read. However, as long as you know what you are getting into, I can still recommend this book because of how well the author writes and captures her character’s intensity.

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