Everyone knows Louise Fitzhugh as the author of HARRIET THE SPY. Some of you may have even read the lesser known sequel THE LONG SECRET. But a few months ago, a book I’d never heard of, her book NOBODY’S FAMILY IS GOING TO CHANGE, was mentioned during a show on NPR. Apparently, lots of people in Vancouver listen to NPR because the 38 year old book was suddenly on a waiting list at the library. It took a few months before I could check it out.
This is a very different book than HARRIET, and some of the content is dated of course, but the themes still apply. I guess families haaven’t changed much in 4 decades.
Emma is 11. She comes from an upper middle class black family living in NYC. She wants to be a lawyer when she grows up. But in 1974, women lawyers were not taken seriously. Her father is a lawyer and laughs at the idea of women in the courtroom. Emma’s mother says she’ll grow out of this phase and maybe she can marry a lawyer some day. But not if Emma doesn’t curb her appetite. She’s a chubby kid and has been convinced that she is ugly.
Emma’s 7 year old brother wants nothing more than to be a dancer like his uncle. Of course their father disapproves of this as well, claiming everything from dancers aren’t real men to they are lazy and poor and no son of his will have a lifestyle like that.
Emma’s father is a bully and her mother is weak. She has trouble standing up to him and has no other life outside the family.
This has none of the quirk of HARRIET. It is a serious book and the conclusion Emma comes to at the end is an interesting and surprising one, but it’s also a sad one. The title of the book should give you a clue. Don’t get me wrong, there is hope and Emma and her brother are strong. But Emma must rely on her independent mind in a family that is constantly belittling their children’s dreams.
One of the things I really liked about the book was that even though Emma is a precocious child, book smart and articulate, she is still eleven emotionally and constantly struggles with her feelings about her family. I also liked that nothing was sugar-coated or tied up in a pretty bow. Great book for classroom discussions on many topics. A good choice for mature middle graders.