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What the Family Needed

3.36  ·  Rating Details  ·  856 Ratings  ·  161 Reviews
In this incandescent novel, a family’s superpowers bestow not instant salvation but the miracle of accepting who they are.

“Okay, tell me which you want,” Alek asks his cousin at the outset of What the Family Needed. “To be able to fly or to be invisible.” And soon Giordana, a teenager suffering the bitter fallout of her parents’ divorce, finds that she can, at will, becom
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 21st 2013 by Riverhead Books (first published November 1st 2011)
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10th out of 17 books — 17 voters
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184th out of 326 books — 979 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,672)
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Larry Hoffer
Mar 25, 2013 Larry Hoffer rated it really liked it
I don't know about you, but when I was growing up (and sometimes even now as an adult), I dreamed of having superpowers. The desire for those powers—of flight, invisibility, super-speed, x-ray vision, etc.—changed based on the situation I was in at the time, but I felt fairly certain that my life, or at least that moment, would improve significantly if I possessed those skills.

When Steven Amsterdam's What the Family Needed begins, 15-year-old Giordana and her older brother, Ben, are the pawns in
Mar 05, 2013 Jborghi rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Members of a family develop special abilities as they grow older and experience the mundane traumas of life. This is the central conceit of “What the Family Needed” an interesting, though flawed, collection by Steven Amsterdam.[return][return]Made up of an uneven set of short stories, “What the Family Needed” attempts to incorporate superpowers into a literary exploration of family dynamics and personal difficulties. In this way, it is similar to “Fortress of Solitude” by Jonathon Lethem. Howeve ...more
Tanya Eby
Jan 05, 2013 Tanya Eby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-m-the-narrator
I just finished narrating this. Now, no one has specifically told me that I shouldn't post reviews on books I narrate, but I generally don't, just because it's not my job to judge. My job is to give characters voices to the best of the ability. That said, I LOVED THIS BOOK.

I say that loudly.

There's a quiet gentleness to this piece that is deceivingly simple. The story is, actually, quite complex. It's told through stories that interconnect, through one family's experiences. And that's probably
Michael Livingston
Feb 11, 2016 Michael Livingston rated it really liked it
Maybe 3.5. This is a set of connected vignettes, each telling a story from the life of one member of a family. The gimmick is that each family member has some sort of super power. Amsterdam does a great job of keeping everything pretty low-key in spite of the Incredibles-ish setup, and the book is really about the challenges of families and how love makes you want to fix everything that goes wrong in people's lives. I really loved Amsterdam's first book, which had a similar structure, but the di ...more
Amy Foster
Jun 06, 2013 Amy Foster rated it it was ok
As a person who writes books about "normal" people acquiring supernatural abilities, I was intrigued to see Amstterdam's take. I was really disappointed in this book. I think he's probably a great writer, but not a great story teller. An entire family's history is told over thirty years. Each member has their own chapter which moves the time along, but also acts as kind of a contained short story (I used a similar device in my first novel- so I'm not against the idea.) However, the characters ge ...more
Dec 12, 2013 Maria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Non fatevi trarre in inganno dal titolo: non è un libro superficiale.
Ammetto che inizialmente ci sono cascata anch'io: il termine superpoteri ha spalancato il baule della mia infanzia tirando fuori una serie di immagini legate a paladini della giustizia, calzamaglie fluorescenti, mutazioni genetiche e raggi gamma a profusione.
No. Non non è così.
Ritratto di famiglia con superpoteri è innanzitutto la storia di una famiglia normale, con tutti i problemi normali che un mondo, normale, possa generare
Dhanaraj Rajan
Apr 06, 2013 Dhanaraj Rajan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Australian Fiction, Family Relationships.
Picked it up by chance. But had a wonderful time reading it. It is about two family. There are totally seven members. And the 7 chapters in the book are dedicated to each member of the family. Each member is with a supernatural power (eg: able to be invisible, able to fly, ability to be a cupid, etc.). But then through the narration of each one's character the story evolves and you begin loving the story more and more as it progresses. In simple words, to me, it is a book on human relationships ...more
Wendy Bousfield
Mar 26, 2015 Wendy Bousfield rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Murray, Peter, Michele
Recommended to Wendy by: Carol
Shelves: magic-realism

Amsterdam’s second novel is an exceptionally moving work of magic realism. The destinies of two families are intertwined over three generations. Fleeing from her alcoholic husband, Ruth finds refuge at the home of her nurturing sister, Natalie. With her are her teenaged son and daughter, Giordana and Ben. Natalie and Peter have two sons, Sasha and his endearingly goofy younger brother, Alek. The plot proceeds with startlingly (intentionally disconcerting) leaps in time. Over the next three decad
Nov 28, 2011 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australian
Should be 4.5 stars, and only because I need to hang on to half a star for Mr Amsterdam's next book, which will doubtless be even better. I think he's great. I also think my reasons for thinking so are entirely irrational and thoroughly tied up with what I like. So if you like what I like, you'll like this, and a lot.
Sep 06, 2012 Jen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australian, literary
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Wade McGinnis
May 06, 2013 Wade McGinnis rated it it was amazing
I was surprised that I liked this book enough to give it 5 stars after reading some of the ratings on goodreads and amazon... but, being a stickler for super-powered stories, I knew I wanted to read it anyway. This is an endearing story of one family who grow into their own unique abilities that compliment their struggles. There are no bad guys to battle, no comic-book action sequences, but simply a story of using one's gifts to interact and cope with their lives at the point they needed the mos ...more
Leo ~ Sangue d'inchiostro
Erano tutti separati, sparpagliati come pianeti, senza che nessuno chiedesse all'altro se andava bene così.

Sfido qualsiasi lettore a guardare la copertina di questo romanzo, a leggerne il titolo e a non pensare di avere tra le mani la versione romanzata del celebre lungometraggio Pixar Gli Incredibili. In realtà basta leggere la quarta di copertina per rendersi conto che così non è, ma evitate di farlo perché la casa editrice non si fa remore nel palesare alcuni elementi del romanzo che, teori
Nov 15, 2012 Melanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
There were a few things I liked a lot about this book but also a lot of things I found lacking. The way it was written in multiple stories from different points of view over 30 years was nicely done and made the book interesting. I enjoyed reading about all the different powers and how the characters used them in their day to day life.

However, I wish the consequences of those powers had been touched on more. After the chapter in which the power surfaced, they're never really mentioned again. (o
Apr 01, 2013 Franklin rated it liked it
An interesting take on 'super powers' without turning the characters into heroes. The book follows an extended family through many years as each acquires a special ability that helps them through their life. The book is divided into individual stories of family members as they age and acquire their powers. The one main aspect of the stories is Alek who seems to have been able to give his family members their unique gifts. I would have given more stars, but I found the book to be a bit confusing, ...more
May 01, 2013 Emma rated it liked it
they had me at the "incredibles" reference - anything with normal people getting superpowers is awesome, in my mind. i liked the use of the passage of time (really interesting, considering my last book was kate atkinson's life after life, where time is a huge variable too). it was hard for me to suspend disbelief that multiple people wouldn't be 1) completely freaking out upon this discovery and 2) not tell anyone else about it...once you get over that, the story is really engaging, especially w ...more
I know it is wrong to compare books, but I cannot help it: I read this in close proximity to reading Things We Didn't See Coming and I much preferred Things. But then, I do have a soft spot for post-apocalyptic survival stories.

This was certainly very good, and Steven Amsterdam writes people and relationships very well. The voices did all seem fairly similar but the ideas were very intriguing.

Of course, reading novels about people have supernatural powers make me wonder what mine would be. What
May 01, 2014 Jody rated it really liked it
What the Family Needed is one of those books that will stay with me. It's not so much a novel as a collection of interlocked stories spanning decades, each depicting a family member who learns s/he has a supernatural power--e.g., invisibility, flight, mind reading, etc. The last story/chapter links them all together. Part of me wishes Amsterdam would've blended it all together and kept the reader informed as to how each family member grew up and matured and lived with this power. Part of me like ...more
May 12, 2014 Shirley rated it it was ok
I'm reserving judgement until such time as I read this book again. I blame my book selection process which is based on very little information so as to preserve the elements of discovery and surprise. A book about family…YAY! Telling me what the family needs…we all want to know this right? In any case, I was not prepared for the world in which I found these characters with ordinary names…Ruth, Natalie, Ben, etc. living on the face of it pretty ordinary lives…sibling rivalry, divorce, etc. doing ...more
Nov 08, 2015 Alonso rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
El argumento de la historia es muy interesante: gente normal dentro de una familia que descubre que tiene superpoderes, todos estos superpoderes relacionados a con situaciones emocionales que enfrentan los personajes y que tienen que ver mucho con quiénes son. No es una historia de superhéroes luchando contra el mal, es una historia de seres humanos descubriéndose y usando sus poderes para entender a quienes los rodean.
El único pero que le veo al libro es que las historias de cada personaje ter
Sono profondamente combattuta.
Da un lato c'è la consapevolezza di aver appena terminato un libro tutto sommato gradevole e scritto con uno stile piacevole; dall'altro c'è la bruciante voglia di prendere a schiaffi Amsterdam per avere immerso l'interessante spunto narrativo in una piscina di noia e sbalzi temporali che alla fine non fan quagliare la storia come si deve.
Bisogna ammettere però che non posso dare tutta la colpa del mio disappunto al buon Steven, perché il titolo dell'edizione italia
Graham Clements
Jun 21, 2015 Graham Clements rated it it was ok
I enjoyed Steve Amsterdam’s award winning, apocalyptic, climate change novel Things We Didn’t See Coming, so I was quick to purchase a copy of What the Family Needed. Calling Things We Didn’t See Coming a novel might be bit of a misnomer as it is a collection of short novellas. But they all feature the same character and are told in chronological order. Amsterdam uses the same technique with What the Family Needed, but this time each story is told from the viewpoint of a different character.

Apr 04, 2012 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Melbourne author Steven Amsterdam came to international attention in 2009 with the publication of his first book, Things We Didn’t See Coming which won The Age Book of the Year and was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. This second novel, What the Family Needed shows no signs of Second Book Syndrome: his style is inventive and playful. That playfulness, and the sense that there might be liberating alternate realities reminds me of John Banville’s The Infinities (see my review), and ha ...more
Dec 07, 2012 Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was such an entertaining read.
7 chatterers for 7 members of a family, each chapter being told by a different family member.
In each chapter that family member discovers they have some kind of superpower. I absolutely loved how they handled it, just shrugging their shoulders and accepting that what is, is. Gave everything a much more real feeling about it.

As the book goes on so does time. We see the family going their separate ways for their separate lives. As happens.
Yet the stories slowly
Jul 22, 2013 Sam rated it it was amazing
What the Family Needed

I needed it in hardcover before I got to page five.

Before we even meet the family, it has cracked, and part of it is moving away to a sister’s house in paradisiac suburbia. Instantly, we realize this book’s universe did not begin on page one; it reaches far before it. We don’t even see Ruth pile her children into her blue hatchback, and leave her husband looking down (or not looking at all) at them as they take off. By they time they arrive at Natalie’s peaceful home, we’v
Tom O’Connell
Jun 14, 2013 Tom O’Connell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What the Family Needed is the exhilarating second novel by New Yorker-cum-Melbourner, Steven Amsterdam. This had been on my to-read list for a while. It never left my radar because its speculative fiction premise – an ordinary family with superpowers – had me intrigued. What the Family Needed has received a few superficial comparisons to The Incredibles, and while I wouldn’t say that’s entirely off the mark, I do think it’s a somewhat dismissive assessment, one that ultimately sells Amsterdam’s ...more
Scott Fabel
May 18, 2013 Scott Fabel rated it really liked it
This is a story about a family that is much like any other family. The story spans the lives of numerous family members as they learn to cope with life. What makes this family different from others is that each of the members of the family develops a super power--just when he or she seems to need it most. The powers really do seem to reflect just what the family needed.

The book's chapters are each focused on one member of the family. While the focus is on that particular family member, each chap
Beezlebug (Rob)
May 23, 2013 Beezlebug (Rob) rated it liked it
No Ordinary Family

Summary:If it hadn’t been for a review in Entertainment Weekly magazine I probably would have never discovered this book as its not one that would have popped up on my radar. When I saw the premise of the family gaining powers I thought it sounded like it might be an interesting read and follow along the lines of the TV shows ‘No Ordinary Family’ and ‘Heroes’.

The background of the story you can get from the Goodreads summary as I think that summarizes it nicely. Family members
This was another lucky First Reads win. I was sold on the concept after reading the book's description. Weirdly enough, the British television show Misfits came to mind. From the book page...

But instead of crimes to fight and villains to vanquish, they confront inner demons, and their extraordinary abilities prove not to be magic weapons so much as expressions of their fears and longings as they struggle to come to terms with who they are and what fate deals them.

Expectations were high. I love t
Apr 13, 2012 Bookchick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Every now and again a story comes along that really resonates while you are reading it, then seems to linger around the corners of your mind well after you have closed the final page. This second offering from Steven Amsterdam did just that for me and I enjoyed and embraced the experience.
What the Family Needed is not a book that it easy to describe and to really go on the journey, you need to take a leap of faith and just go with the literary devices that the author has employed to tell his del
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Is a writer living in Melbourne. He was born and raised by lifelong New Yorkers in Manhattan.

He wrote his first story about a hamster whose family was starving. A lilac bush in bloom saved everyone.

Steven Amsterdam has edited travel guides, designed book jackets, is a psychiatric nurse. Is a palliative care nurse.

More about Steven Amsterdam...

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