“My grandparents love me in their own way. But I feel important here. My grandparents always took good care of me, but it’s different – better – here somehow. I feel like my dad and Michael understand me more. They love me.” AMERICAN FAMILY, 10-year old Brady
The face of the “all-American family” is changing and nowhere is it more evident than in Catherine Marshall-Smith’s novel, AMERICAN FAMILY (SheWritesPress). Her novel, part of BookSparks’ summer reading challenge, tackles gay relationships, alcoholism, drugs, grandparent rights, father rights, sobriety … I’m sure I’m leaving something out. AMERICAN FAMILY is an important novel for our times.
Richard and Michael are both three months sober and moving in together, when Richard feels a strong desire to contact his ten year-old daughter, Brady who he’s never met. Brady has been living with her grandparents, since her mother died from alcoholism, after Richard abandoned them. Richard suddenly decides to make a call to Brady’s grandparents, which puts numerous situations in motion. Michael questions his relationship with Richard, since he didn’t discuss the call first and Brady’s fundamentalist grandparents are intent on fighting any long-term connection.
Both hire lawyers and much like in real life, these attorneys have their own agendas, over their clients. Brady is at first trusted into Richard and Michael’s care, while a social worker does a home study. Brady’s grandparents seek advice on how to keep Brady from her dad, based on Richard’s lifestyle.
Eventually a hearing date is set before a judge to decide who will have custody of Brady and ultimately, both families are finally motivated to actually act in the “best interests of the child.”
Catherine’s prose is smooth. She creates well-developed characters that are multi-dimensional. She also includes a great deal of well-written dialogue, which keeps the pace of the story moving along. It’s obvious she has spent a great deal of time researching family court and parental/grandparent’s custody rights. I really enjoyed AMERICAN FAMILY, but it was a tough read for me, because I really identify with Brady. I appreciate how Catherine creates a situation, exploring how familial decisions have changed with modern times.
Having personally been involved in something similar as a child, I can express from my very clear memories, that the concept of the “best interests of the child” is rarely reached. It’s a nice idea, or goal. As a child, it’s simply heartbreaking to watch parties fight over you, especially when they haven’t asked you what you want. I’d like to suggest that adults ask their children what’s best for them. Children are brighter than we give them credit for.
Catherine lives and teaches English and Social Studies to middle school students in the heart of the Silicon Valley, Santa Clara. She tells her students daily that writing will make them immortal, pointing out that ancient civilizations that had a written language are still studied two thousand years later while cultures without a writing system disappeared with the wind.
She is married and has three adult children, two grand dogs and one dachshund who has nothing wrong with his nose. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1977, and a certificate in Creative Writing from UCLA. She was short listed for the James Kirkwood Award in 2012.
We have one copy of AMERICAN FAMILY to giveaway. Please share any story you may have of a custody battle. We’ll announce a winner next week.