Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: The Perfect Family by Kathryn Shay

I first saw this book featured at I Just Finished Reading..., Lori wrote a gorgeous review that I first missed and read later on. Once I read it though, I wanted to pick up this book immediately. Well, she was right and I'm glad I DID pick it up. This was my top read for the month of February and one I can't recommend enough. Thanks, Lori!

What happens to the "perfect family" when the future suddenly changes in the most unexpected way?

Seventeen-year old Jamie Davidson doesn't think being gay should be such a big deal...until he comes out to his parents and friends. Even as Jamie celebrates no longer needing to hide his true self and looks forward to the excitement of openly dating another boy, the entire Davidson family is thrown into turmoil. Jamie's father Mike can't reconcile his religious beliefs with his son's sexuality. His brother Brian is harassed by his jock buddies and angry at Jamie for complicating all their lives. Maggie, his mother, fears being able to protect her son while struggling to save her crumbling marriage. And Jamie feels guilty for the unhappiness his disclosure has caused. Every member of their “perfect family” must search their hearts and souls to reconnect with each other in this honest, heartwarming, and hopeful look at the redemptive power of love and family.
The Perfect Family by Kathryn Shay is a contemporary family story about the struggle a family goes through while coming to terms with their seventeen year-old son Jamie's sexuality after he discloses that he is gay.

Mike and Maggie Davidson have, what many would consider, the "perfect family." They love each other and their sons, athletic eighteen year-old Brian and artistic seventeen year-old Jamie. Both are excellent young men, well-liked, doing well in school, and getting ready for college. As Mike says at the beginning of the book, they "have so much to be thankful for." However soon after Mike makes this statement young Jamie finally reveals to his family that he is gay and the struggles begin.

Mike, Jamie's father, is a religious man and has always felt the comfort and reassurance that participating in his community church give him on a personal level. Reconciling what his religion dictates, faith (two different things as presented by Ms. Shay), and the fact that his son is gay summarizes Mike's personal struggle. Then we have Brian, a young man who is torn between loving his brother and best friend, peer pressure, and religious beliefs reinforced by his father.

Finally, we have Maggie whose family was torn apart while growing up because of the church. Maggie not only fights for Jamie, but her already negative feelings about the church place her in a precarious position with her husband Mike. On top of that, Maggie must take her son Brian's feelings on the subject into consideration. There's a danger that their family might split apart. Can she find an alternative and keep her family intact? That's her struggle right there.

But of course the family is not only affected by their internal struggles, they also have to deal with external pressures: school, neighbors, family members, church officials and friends affect the Davidsons, making this a well-rounded story as the family experiences disappointments and finds support from the most unlikely of places. Shay balances out the Davidson's issues by showing how different families react to the same situation. She highlights a different side of the story by featuring how Jamie's boyfriend Luke and his family deal with his coming out to family and friends.

The Perfect Family is narrated in the third person perspective, so although the story begins with Jamie's coming out to his family, Shay gives each family member a voice and explores their thoughts and feelings about this subject. As a result the characters are well-drawn, realistic and believable as are the circumstances surrounding them. I personally couldn't stop thinking about them for days after finishing the book.

Kathryn Shay approaches this story from personal experience, although she stresses in the Author's Note that the story is not autobiographical. However, she also points out in the same section that some events that occurred during her own son's coming out experience are used as a base to tell Jamie's story. It is perhaps the author's personal experience, combined with her writing talents, that make the characters and circumstances in this book feel so real and unforgettable.

The Perfect Family is a well-paced and well-written, engaging read. I became so invested in the characters that I didn't want to stop reading until I finished the book. I was impressed with the direct way in which Shay approaches and discusses important subjects; from differing psychological and religious views on homosexuality, to suicide in gay teens, to religious and community based venues that provide support and can be accessed by teens and families. Yet all these subjects are made very "personal" in a way that makes this an entertaining and educational read at the same time.

I see this book as a must read for families whether their teens are coming out or not. Specifically recommended to those who just want to be aware or are interested and want to know how to be of help to that friend or neighbor. Highly recommended to all.

Genre: LGBT Contemporary Fiction/YA
Series: None
Released: Bold Strokes Books - September 14, 2010
Grade: A

Visit Kathryn Shay here.


  1. Oh, yay!! So glad you loved it. So powerful, right?

    And fantastic review, too!

  2. Yes Lori! Powerful is the right word for this book. My top read during a great reading month for me. I couldn't put the characters away or pick up another book for days. Thanks again!

  3. What a powerful sounding book... must pick it up. It sounds so incredibly emotional though, may have to wait... not sure if I can handle emotional just yet; but I will definitely be buying it.

  4. I've enjoyed many books by Kathryn Shay. My favorite thus far is Someone to Believe In, book one in her O'Neil series. However the series was cut off before it was finished...the last two books weren't written because Berkley didn't think "the audience is growing enough for them". I'm still disappointed to this day.

    Glad you enjoyed this book of hers!

    Shay put up a number of her books for the Kindle and Smashwords...but the formatting was wonky for the one that I purchased though so I haven't tried to buy any others. :(

  5. Mariana, I definitely think you'll enjoy reading this book. It's powerful, heartwarming and just downright good stuff.

    Tabitha, this is my first Shay book! I know she has an extensive romance backlist and I've heard great things about it. Lori did a great interview with her at her blog recently. I'll look for Someone to Believe In.

    PS: Which book had the wonky formatting, in case I decide to buy it? I'll purchase that one in print. :)

  6. Great review Hils! I've had this on my TBB list ever since Lori's review.

  7. Thanks Leslie, it's an excellent read. I hope you get to it some time, I know your TBR is already a problem. :)

  8. Great review, Hils. First Lori, now you... Hmmm, sounds like this is a very powerful book :)

  9. Thanks Nath. It is... and an excellent read too. I'll be reading some of Ms. Shay's romances. :D

  10. Hey Hils, it was Someone To Believe In that has the wonky formatting. It could just be my copy though, I don't know...

  11. Thanks for letting me know Tabz, I'll get this book in print. :)

  12. I thought I commented on this. Boo at my bad memory. LOL

    Great review Hils and I am for sure adding this to my tbb list!


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