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Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes

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A debut middle grade novel about throwing things out -- and letting people in. Family Game Night tackles a tough issue with a light, accessible touch and writing that sparkles with heart.

Annabelle has a secret . . . a secret so big she won't allow friends within five miles of her home. Her mom collects things. Their house is overflowing with stuff. It gives Annabelle's sister nightmares, her brother spends as much time as he can at friends' houses, and her dad buries himself in his work.So when a stack of newspapers falls on Annabelle's sister, it sparks a catastrophic fight between their parents--one that might tear them all apart--and Annabelle starts to think that things at home finally need to change. Is it possible for her to clean up the family's mess? Or are they really, truly broken?Mary E. Lambert's moving and heart-breakingly funny debut novel about the things we hold dear--and the things we let go--will resonate with anyone whose life has ever felt just a little too messy.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published February 28, 2017

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About the author

Mary E. Lambert

2 books15 followers
Mary E. Lambert has an MFA in children's writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a middle school English teacher in Tempe, Arizona.

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5 stars
309 (35%)
4 stars
398 (45%)
3 stars
148 (16%)
2 stars
18 (2%)
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3 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 181 reviews
Profile Image for Kiera.
319 reviews117 followers
December 1, 2018
Such a light and fun read!! I picked it up since it is a 2018-19 Washington Battle of the Books books. I loved it 4.5 stars!!
Profile Image for Corabel Shofner.
Author 1 book74 followers
December 23, 2016
I wasn't ready for this book. The title made me think it would be a slap-stick goof. Boy was I wrong. I realized by the end of the second chapter that this book, while humorous, was a dead-on study of a highly dysfunctional family that loves each other deeply. Annabelle's mother is a hoarder, which involves many of the same problems as other addictive behaviors. Hoarding can be as damaging as alcoholism or gambling and it affects the entire family, each in different ways.
And this is where Mary Lambert excels. She effortlessly juggles three generations: the grandmother and aunt, mother and father, Annabelle and her siblings (an older brother and a younger sister) and her friends. There are so many moving parts in this story, but Lambert never loses the coherent heart of this family and how damaged each one of them is. Closely observed with all the nuance and levels of struggling to heal. Shame and guilt, secrets and blame, perfectionism, escapism. There is something very 'real' in Lambert's writing.
The story is frustrating because the Mother can't stop herself, but it is neither dreary nor depressing, rather FAMILY GAME NIGHT is loaded with smart humor and hope and love.
Profile Image for Jen Petro-Roy.
Author 8 books341 followers
July 18, 2016
I loved this book! What a pitch-perfect middle grade voice. I so felt for Annabelle, dealing with her hoarder mother, avoidant father, friends, and a crush, while figuring out how or if to let people in.
June 1, 2021
I wanted to read this book for very personal reasons; I grew up with a hoarder for a mother. I related so well to the young female protagonist, because she lived in a house that the author could well have been describing as mine in the 70’s. Annabelle’s room was the only clean room in her house, as was mine; I used to call it “my oasis of cleanliness.” I remember my mother getting angry when I cleaned my room and bathroom weekly. She claimed I was doing it to make her seem sloppy. Like Annabelle, I never, ever invited my friends over! In order to avoid guests, but give me a chance at having friends, my parents would take us away from the house to do stuff. This was nice, and my (few) friends enjoyed the outings. Getting them to understand why they were never invited over, whereas I went to their homes, was impossible unless I explained the truth, however. And that was something I never, ever wanted to reveal.
If there was going to be a sequel to this book, I would hope that Annabelle and her siblings grew up to be the opposites of their parents. That they would make, and keep, inner promises to themselves and their future families that they would not allow themselves to become hoarders. Not clean-freaks who sanitize everything, always, but people who will do the work that it takes to keep a nice, clean, uncluttered environment that they can invite others into. (Without having to perform urban renewal.)
Profile Image for Barbara.
13.1k reviews271 followers
March 18, 2017
All families have secrets, but seventh grader Annabelle Balog is particularly embarrassed by hers. Her mother is a hoarder, and the house is filled to the brim with her mother's collections, various items procured at yard sales and online, as well as towering stacks of newspapers that necessitate tricky navigation from spot to spot. So fearful is Annabelle of what others will say about the state of her house that she keeps most of her friends at arm's length, and hasn't let anyone visit for the last couple of years. When her sister Leslie is almost crushed under a pile of newspapers, her father offers an ultimatum to her mother and moves out while she is supposed to get rid of the trash. The arrival of her mother, Grandma Nora, only adds fuel to the fire as the two women battle over empty milk cartons and canned food items. Although Grandma Nora finds it easy to sort trash from treasure, her daughter is unable to do so, and for every garbage bag that is hauled out, she hauls another one back in, unable to let go of her treasured objects. The book contains several emotional scenes in which the effects the hoarding is having on all members of the family are described as well as the helplessness with which Annabelle's mother tries to tackle her demons. Tackling hoarding, a topic that is not handled often in middle grade novels, the author has created a family in the midst of crisis, and even when it looks as though they will fall apart, their love for one another keeps them going. Clearly, the tie that binds just might be enough to get this family back on the road to recovery with a nudge from some helpful therapy. Although Annabelle wants nothing more than to run away from her problems, her love for her sister brings her back just in the nick of time. For readers who have always thought that their families had issues, this book puts some of those into perspective with insight, empathy, and humor. Older readers may ponder at what point the line between having supplies in reserve and hoarding has been crossed and may be curious as to what prompted this woman's actions. Every case is different, of course, but it is clear as Grandma Nora points out, the Annabelle and her mother are two sides of the same coin, one seeking to be unencumbered with any possession and the other seeking solace in the largess of ownership of stuff, no matter how useless. After all, one never knows when some object might come in handy. I was touched by Annabelle's plight and her feelings of shame over her broken family as well as the author's vivid reminder that all of us have something that is broken and needs repair. This is a promising debut from a middle school English teacher who knows her stuff.
Profile Image for Dee Dee G.
505 reviews7 followers
September 7, 2019
I never thought I could fall in love with a book about hoarding.
Profile Image for Emily.
873 reviews146 followers
June 29, 2017
This is about as well done as a middle grade book on this very painful topic could be, and it had me turning the pages fast. Not something I'll feel drawn to reread, though.
4 reviews
November 12, 2016
Mary E. Lambert's first novel is a Dostoevskian romp through family dysfunction that will teach the young (and remind the old) that the trials of life inevitably leave little chips in your soul, but those chips don't prevent you from being whole. Unless you try to split your soul into seven pieces hidden away in places relevant to your personal history in an unlikely bid to achieve immortality. That will prevent you from being whole.

A highly recommended book for introspective readers of all ages.
Profile Image for Eve beinguniquebooks.
1,411 reviews47 followers
March 22, 2019
Annabel, Leslie and Chad live with their parents in a house full of stuff hoarded by their mum.

Drew and Rae, her best friend and crush, Annabel tries to hide her house situation from them, her dad leaves early for a trip and then their grandma shows up causing them to have a family game night suddenly to fake everything is ok despite their dad leaving despairing about his wife's obsession.

However as the kids especially the sisters try to clear out their house of their mum's hoarded mess, Annabel discovers that her mum might just have a good reason why she began hoarding and why she seems sad a lot of the time and can she being her dad back home to stay?

It was a serious middle grade read dealing with all aspects of family life that suffers from hoarding and how it can effect health and the happiness of all effected by it. The children seemed more like the adults as their mum was misbehaving typically not wanting to let her 'treasure' go. I really enjoyed this book and it's a quick easy read for younger readers too.
Profile Image for Maria.
3,960 reviews101 followers
January 21, 2021
Annabelle has a strict policy of not letting her friends within five miles of her home. She is waging a one person battle against her mom's collections. Their house is overflowing with stuff. So when breakfast ends with a stack of newspapers crashing onto her sister, it sparks a catastrophic fight between their parents. Suddenly her mother is forced to change. But will she really change or is this just a reprieve?

Why I started this book: Need to read my library books and not just reread my favorite books.

Why I finished it: Quick but powerful read. Lambert captures the frustrations of being an older child smoothing the way for the younger sibling and the resentment that you are still a child too; the guilt and the love. Annabelle's journey is one of compassion and also learning the necessity of asking for help. A lesson and a reminder that we all need.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
472 reviews4 followers
September 16, 2017
This was a fun but intense read. It was well written and explored a family's issues and how all parts of the family impact the system. Light hearted yet serious. I'm recommending for my almost 10 year old and anyone who likes a good family story.
Profile Image for Jennifer Eckert.
260 reviews2 followers
July 10, 2018
A fantastic middle grade novel about hoarding; an issue rarely dealt with in children’s literature. This book is very well written and deals with the subject with empathy. You really feel the desperation of the kids in their attempts to deal with their mother’s behavior. And while the storyline isn’t wholly resolved, you’re left with a sense that it will be ok. The relationship between the two sisters is particularly sweet, and seeing the entire family pull together to overcome something those daunting leaves the reader with hope. I’d highly recommend this to kids who like other realistic fiction novels in the vein of Wonder, Counting by 7’s, The Thing About Georgie, and Out of My Mind.
328 reviews19 followers
February 12, 2018
This was just a random book Megan pulled off the shelf from the library, and we gave it a shot. I had no idea what it was about, but I actually loved it. I don't think everyone would give this 5 stars, but if you have ever personally dealt with a hoarder in your life, this was so potent and accurate. Also, the writing was so well done and made me laugh multiple times.

This is really more appropriate for a middle schooler to read since the main character is 13 or so and deals with some middle school drama (friend dynamics, a boy she likes) and I edited some of it while reading out loud to Megan (such as the parts when the other kids are complaining about their mom or dad being so dumb or stupid for having curfew or whatnot), but I just loved it. I loved seeing the personalities of the characters, the deep emotional issues that are dealt with but in a kid-relatable way, how to work through your problems and admit it when you need help and not just ignore the problems or run away, also I really liked how

What a nice random gem that Megan found at the library.
Profile Image for Rebecca D..
Author 8 books5 followers
August 5, 2020
This story provides a masterful, compelling window into the struggles which face adolescents in a home destabilized by untreated mental illness. While the issues in Annabelle's family arise from her mother's compulsive hoarding, this story will resonate with anyone who has had to cope with the mental health crisis of a loved one.

Mary E. Lambert's voice is fresh and believable throughout the book. The story's hopeful conclusion provides a refreshing antidote to the bleak tone too often seen in realistic YA fiction.

Annabelle learns she cannot blame all her problems on her mother, that she must take responsibility for her own issues, and that the answer for all of them is to support one another as they move toward mental wellness as a family.
Profile Image for Susan.
166 reviews1 follower
March 30, 2017
There are so many things that kids find hard to talk about with anyone, including friends or family, and books/stories can be a way for them to relate, identify, and then hopefully, share. This book deals with a compulsive hoarder and her children and how the middle child, Annabelle deals with it. Her brother runs to work and friends and her sister has nightmares, but Annabelle trys to control her reactions and it slowly erodes her sense of safety and family.
An excellent book for late elementary/middle grade readers.
Profile Image for Jessica Rinker.
Author 5 books39 followers
July 22, 2017
I always appreciate a middle grade that wrangles with something deeper, and the author has a done a lovely job of portraying a fractured, but not destroyed, family with humor and everyday happenings like cute boys and best friends, exactly how life usually goes.
463 reviews59 followers
January 22, 2019
It was a good book, but it didn't blow my socks off. It was good and had a good story line, but the ending was a little weird.
285 reviews
July 3, 2021
I read this upon recommendation of my 9 year old. Excited that we are at the point of recommending middle grade novels to each other. I think she expected this one to be a lot lighter than it was as it is about a hoarder and her family.

A quick read, but a good one. 3.5 ⭐️ my daughter gave it 4!
Profile Image for Wendy MacKnight.
Author 3 books83 followers
March 18, 2017
I've been waiting for this book for so long! Last night I started to read it and couldn't put it down so read it in one fell swoop. The story of Annabelle, whose family has become completely dysfunctional thanks to her hoarding mother is at turns heartbreaking, heartwarming and most of all, utterly believable. I kept turning the pages, desperate to see what would happen next. The characters are completely believable and their flaws painfully rendered. This is a story I hadn't read before in MG and I think it will help and support so many kids. Well done, Mary!
Profile Image for Steph.
4,467 reviews48 followers
June 22, 2017
Well boy oh boy, I sure was unprepared for this one. The cover of the copy I have is blue with a bubbly, bold title and some illustrated items (a phone, game, teddy bear, etc.) randomly around the title. I truly guessed this was Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library but revolving around family games at home.

Little did I know this book is about a girl whose mom is a hoarder, and how their family and her friendships are affected by this. I literally could not put this down... her relationship with her sister is just amazing and reminded me so much of how much my sister and I have always leaned on each other through all of life's ups and downs.

This book is incredible. So grateful to have stumbled upon it.
Profile Image for Nadine.
261 reviews
March 16, 2017
Hoarding isn't a topic I see in children's fiction. This book covered it with sensitivity and understanding and best yet, it was a terrific story. The characters were realistic and believable and the emotional side of hoarding was addressed with respect. This book will help children understand that things are always what they seem. I will recommend it!
Profile Image for Cindy Mitchell *Kiss the Book*.
6,001 reviews185 followers
December 9, 2016
Lambert, Mary E. Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes, 256 pages. Scholastic, FEB 2017. $17. Content: G (1 swear, 0 ‘f’).

It’s almost time for her father’s annual pilgrimage to teach in England, but after a huge family blow-up he takes off early. At first Annabelle thinks she can escape on vacation with her best friend, but she decides that she needs to stay, especially when she finds out that her younger sister has called their maternal grandmother. If living with her mother’s every growing piles of stuff weren’t bad enough, Grandma will only make things so much more worse if she uses her bull-like methods to deal with her daughter’s hoarding. Annabelle is rightly worried, but she will tough it out and see what she can do to hold the family together.

From the cover I would have never guessed what a deep book this actually is. I loved watching Annabelle’s story unfolded, feeling so bad for her as she navigates the family minefield. Mu poor summary does little to help you understand what a compelling book this is. I can’t wait to share it far and wide.

MS, HS – ESSENTIAL. Cindy, Library Teacher
Profile Image for Sarah Sammis.
7,231 reviews215 followers
January 20, 2021
It is what it is.

The last lingering memory of Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes is the "forbidden room." In Anabelle's family, it is the dining room. It has remained locked as the rest of the house has filled up. This detail reminded me so much of my grandmother who had a compulsion to collect things, a habit she picked up from her mother. Except, in both their cases, instead of the majority of their homes taking on collections, they kept their treasures behind locked doors. For my great-grandmother it was the bedrooms or her long since grown up children that were overflowing with a century's worth of ephemera, and a disused garage filled with I'm not even sure. My grandmother, meanwhile, had a third bedroom, a bedroom that could have been for a second child if she'd had one. Instead it held whatever she couldn't integrate into the rest of the house or give to someone. It was a weird jumble of stuff.

Anyway, the book hits home for anyone who has lived in a cluttered or hoarding situation or knows someone who does.

Profile Image for Stephanie Elliot.
Author 5 books178 followers
March 1, 2017
Annabelle's house is in a shambles but it's always been this way. But the morning the pile of newspapers fall on her younger sister is a wake-up call for her. Something needs to happen. And something happens. Her father leaves. Her grandmother arrives. Mayhem ensues. You'll love this genuine story about what it takes to keep a family together despite big problems. Annabelle is trying to keep it all together but can she? And can she handle a first crush at the same time, and managing her friendships all while keeping her home troubles a secret? She's busy trying to keep her own room from becoming the next disaster, she's trying to keep her little sister from falling apart, she's trying to get her dad to come home, she's trying to get her older brother more involved, and she's not even aware that she may be falling into the same type of control issues as her mother. Family Game Night is a sweet reminder of what it means to be a family no matter what obstacles (physical or metaphorical!) are in the way! This is a beautiful debut that had me tearing up more than once!
Profile Image for Kate.
533 reviews35 followers
August 6, 2017
This was a great read - Annabelle was such a relatable character, and I liked how Lambert took care to show different coping skills for difficult life situations through her and her siblings. Annabelle's inner life is rich and well described, and she's astute - in particular at reading people, especially her friends. The last five or so pages were not realistic (a true hoarder would never keep one room pristine just to do so - they might do it as a shrine to someone or something), but overall it was a good look at a psychological problem that is often overlooked, especially its effect on children who live in hoarder homes.
Profile Image for Shae.
9 reviews13 followers
September 22, 2017
Absolutely love this novel. Wonderful characterization and such a unique voice for the main character.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 181 reviews

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