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Happy Families Library Binding – May 8, 2012

4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Against the backdrop of an ancient battle between the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness, Aidan struggles to control the newly awakened and enigmatic powers that seem to be his only hope for rescuing Ava, his little sister, trapped somewhere beyond the Veil. Paperback | Kindle book | See more for Teen and Young Adult readers
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

TANITA S. DAVIS is the author of the Coretta Scott King Honor Book, Mare's War, and A La Carte. She lives in Scotland with her husband.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Fire Festival at The Crucible, last May


The surge of chattering, pointing, gawking people pours into the massive auditorium, and I feel a shiver crawl up my arms. Rather than stand here, watching the watchers, I’m going to do some torchwork.

There’s a table set up at the back of my booth, covered with a square of galvanized metal and lit with a desk lamp. At the edge of the table there’s a small glass kiln, a miniature propane blowtorch, a handful of tweezers, metal rods, a graphite block, and a couple of terra-cotta flowerpots filled with sand and rods of glass in all shades. I sit down, my foot automatically moving to tap the switch for the small fan under the table. Checking to make sure my glasses are still on my head, I grab my box of matches and light my torch.

An older couple approaches my booth but instead of speaking I pick up the thin metal mandrel and turn it in the flames to warm it. The glass always sticks better if the mandrel is warm. My hands hover over the glass color choices, and I select a clear, bright blue. As I reach up to tug down my pink-tinted sunglasses, they catch on my hair, and the pins Grandmama put in the French roll she thought would look so elegant poke into my scalp. Muttering under my breath, I gently untangle the glasses and put them on, then start heating the glass. In no time at all, I’m putting down a small bead of molten glass, turning my mandrel until I’ve made a disk. I make another disk, a half inch away, and then, turning the mandrel all the time, keep laying disks of glass until the heat slumps them together to make a hollow bead. One down, a few hundred to go. I set the mandrel and the bead into the annealing kiln to slow bake and choose another rod of color. I want something with a streak of metal in it this time.

All of us have been awaiting this last weekend in May and hoping for good weather for the thousands of people expected to attend the Phoenix Festival. It’s a massive, three-day fund-raiser fair with food--spicy and cooked over an open flame, of course--face painting, flame throwing, fire juggling, fire archery, and pretty much all the firemen in three counties standing around looking worried. For me, the art show is the best part, and every one of the student artists at The Crucible has been working like crazy to get enough pieces for the exhibition. Around me are the end results--long tables covered with blue cloth displaying pottery, ceramics, jewelry, sculpture, metalwork, and of course, my glass torchwork. At the back of the hall, shelves rise to the ceiling, laden with hundreds of colorful glass vases and ornaments. Some of the largest projects (done by the blacksmiths) are on the floor at the back. Nearest my table is a sundial made out of granite with bands of brass and copper, a fused glass fountain, and something bizarre that looks like it was made out of a bicycle lit with a confused tangle of neon tubes. At the edge of each table is a binder with small pictures of each piece, listing price and artist.

I’m pretty sure no one is going to buy anything of mine today; after all, this is my first serious show. Somewhere in the crowd, though, are five judges from the Fallon School of Art & Design, and not only are the best exhibitors going to be invited to submit a few things to a juried show, but three lucky people are going to be considered for scholarships. They start the selections tonight.

At almost fifteen, I might be worrying too early about college scholarships, but this year I’ve decided I might as well get people used to seeing my stuff and hearing my name. The fact is, I’m not going to get into a college based on academics. I’ve got a B– average, but I’m not interested in setting the Ivy League world on fire, like my brother, Justin, will. This is what I do best.

My twin appears as if my thoughts have pulled him to me. “What’s up, Ys?” Justin comes around the edge of the booth and steps over my tools to give me a careful fist bump. “You sold out yet?”

I grin. “Yeah, right. Four minutes after the doors open.”

“You never know. Met the judges yet?”

I shudder. “I don’t even want to think about judges.”

Justin’s phone buzzes, and he flips it open briefly. “My woman’s here. Gotta go.”

I smirk. “Better not let Calli hear you call her that. Thanks for showing up, Justin.”

“Couldn’t miss your first show,” my brother says, giving me a light tap on the head. He waves and vanishes back into the crowd.

I choose a rod of clear glass and begin another bead. This time, I make a basic bead, then, after some thought, choose a rod of yellow and begin to melt little blobs of yellow against the clear. My shoulders relax, and the roar of voices and strangers turns into meaningless background music. I hum a little song to myself and rotate my blob of glass through the blue-white flame as the lumps of glass slump and the bead turns smooth again. I nod, satisfied with the effect, and then find a rod of cobalt with a spiral of silver in it.

“Ysabel!” I glance up and flinch as I see a camera. It’s only Starr, the program director here at The Crucible, so I stick out my tongue and keep working. Despite the fact that I told them not to come, I know my parents are out there, somewhere, with Poppy and Grandmama and my best friend, Sherilyn, in the orange and red poppy sundress she told me she’d wear just to be sure I could spot her. Ms. Wendth, my old art teacher, was invited, and Justin is probably still in the building if his girlfriend, Callista, hasn’t dragged him off into a dark corner somewhere.

It’s a good feeling to know that all of my people are here today.

“Miss?” An older couple waves to catch my attention. “Did you make that pink necklace, with the big millefiori beads? How much for it?”

“Why don’t you take a look at the binder there, and I’ll be right with you,” I call, quickly setting the mandrel in a holder. Being taken from the heat so fast, the surface glass on my bead will probably crack. If I can’t smooth the cracks with heat, I’ll have to scrap it and start over again, but right now I don’t care. My heart is thumping, and I wipe my sweaty hands on my jeans. It’s my first sale, and I do an internal happy dance.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, God!

By the time the day is over, I’ve sold all but five necklaces, made thirty good beads at my station and fixed the cracked one, done a little welding at a welding exhibit, and gone outside to grab lunch and watch the fire-breathers dance. Farida, the welding instructor, came by to point out the judges from Fallon, and they’ve walked by slowly three or four times. I pretend not to notice.

When Starr climbs on her makeshift stage and quiets the crowd for the announcements from the Fallon judges, I cheer for the people who are being selected for the juried show. Then Starr is pointing at me, a little manic grin on her face.

“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we’d also like to introduce our prodigy at The Crucible, Ysabel Nicholas, a freshman at Medanos Valley Christian Academy!” she shouts into the mic, and over the applause, she yells, “Stand up, Ysabel!” and I feel like I’ve been struck by lightning. On suddenly shaky legs, I stand, wave, and immediately hunch back onto my stool.

Starr gestures at me frantically to stand again as the group of judges comes toward my table. All of them shake my hand and say something nice. A woman with a blond-frosted afro and a massive silver and turquoise medallion hanging around her neck beams at me, and I’m almost blinded by her grin. She shakes my hand and says, “Great job, young woman!”

“On behalf of The Crucible,” Starr says as she puts a small glass phoenix in my hands, with its wings outstretched and curlicues of glass flames beneath it. She gives me a hard hug, and I can only grin. Suddenly my family is visible at the front of the crowd, and Dad and Justin are directly in front of me. With a carefully choreographed move, the two of them lift up bouquets of roses and toss them. At my feet. In front of everyone.

I can’t decide if I should laugh or run. I put my hands to my face and groan.

It’s not possible to die of embarrassment. But as I hastily scoop up the bouquets and scuttle back to my seat, to the amusement of everyone around me, I’m almost positive you can at least have a coronary, or a stroke or something.

“It could have been worse,” Mom says, tucking me against her side as we walk out into the parking lot. With my boots on, I’m almost as tall as she is. “Your poppy wanted us all to throw the roses one by one. I reminded him that your father and I didn’t have the insurance to cover the potential breakages and eye injuries.”

“Think of it this way,” Sherilyn says, grinning. “The next time you get that many roses, you’ll be doing a solo show. This is just practice.”

“A solo show. I wish,” I say, watching as Dad stands the hard-sided pink case that holds my torches and glass behind the driver’s seat in Mom’s van and closes the door securely. For tonight, she’s removed the Wild Thyme Catering magnetic signs from the doors, and I’m glad. She gives me one last squeeze, then heads for the driver’s seat. Sherilyn hops in the passenger side, and I slide in back, next to my case, and lean forward between the front seats. We’ve done this so many times we all three go to our spots without any thought.

“See you at home,” Dad says, and we wave as he and Poppy join Justin and Grandmama at his car.

“So, did you see the cute blacksmith instructor?” I ask Sherilyn. “Levi?”

“Ysabel, he’s, like, thirty,” Sherilyn complains. “What’s with you and the geriatrics?”

My mother laughs, a particularly loud hoot, and shakes her head. “Geriatrics?”

“Well, just because he doesn’t have fangs or skin that sparkles,” I strike back, teasing Sherilyn about her latest vampire romance craze. “Levi might be thirty, but at least he’s alive.”

“Don’t knock the vampires,” Sherilyn says defensively. “You know they’d be way more mature than any guys we know.”

“Mature, Sherilyn? Really? Let’s just say ancient.”

Sherilyn and I keep laughing about nothing in particular as my jitters dissolve. By the time we get home, I’m starving and just about on the verge of collapse. We could have stayed at the Phoenix Festival and eaten there, but I know my parents have something better planned. Sure enough, as soon as I come into the house, I can smell it. In the dining room, a pan of stuffed mushrooms sits over a chafing dish, and I head straight for the table and pop one into my mouth, savoring the garlic-and-cheese stuffing.

Sometimes it’s really great to have a caterer for a mother.

“Madam?” Poppy, Mom’s dad, motions me back to the door. Now swathed in a long apron over his black suit pants and white shirt, he holds out his arm to Sherilyn like a waiter, his silver-lined hair giving him an elegant appearance. “Your wrap?”

I kick off my boots and scrunch my toes in the wool rug in the entryway as Mom hurries into the kitchen, checking on all of the things she has prepped. “It’s just a little bit of this and that,” she explains apologetically to Sherilyn as she reappears carrying a platter of fresh veggies and dip, “but these are Ysabel’s favorites.”

“It looks great,” Sherilyn says, examining the spread on the candlelit table.

“Mom, yum! You made a torta!” I exclaim, mouth watering as I see the thin layers of pesto, potato, goat cheese, and bell pepper. “Yes!”

“And deviled eggs, and corn cakes,” Grandmama adds, bringing out a pitcher of iced tea, “just so we could be sure to have no theme to this meal whatsoever.”

“But it’s what I wanted,” I sigh, reaching for another mushroom. “It’s exactly what I wanted.”

“Belly-Bel, can’t you wait for the blessing?” Dad asks, swatting at my hand.

“Well, let’s pray already!” I exclaim, dodging him and snagging another bite.

When Dad calls me Belly, I don’t say, “Don’t call me that,” as I usually do. Tonight, I don’t care if Dad drags up all of my baby nicknames. I have everything I want right now, everything I need.

“People, I have things to do,” my brother announces, coming down the stairs. He’s changed into his blue Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed T-shirt and jeans. “Let’s eat.”

“Justinian,” my mother sighs, and Justin rolls his eyes. Though he’s only six minutes younger than I am, sometimes my brother just seems like he’s six. He’s this huge brain and all, but occasionally he has zero social skills.

“What? I’m hungry!”

“Can’t you at least greet our guest of honor?” Poppy asks reprovingly.

Justin snorts. “Sherilyn doesn’t count as a guest.”

“You know that’s not what he meant,” my mother murmurs, swatting my brother with the flat of her hand. He glares at her, then turns to me with exaggerated attention.

“Greetings, Ysabel, beloved Twin of Awesome Artistic Ability. Hey, Sherilyn, Mom, hi, Grandmama, Poppy, and Dad. Can we eat now? Finals are in three weeks and I’ve got papers out the wazoo.”

Dad snorts, cupping his hands to disguise it. He coughs. “Justin . . .”

“What? I could have said something worse.”

“Oh, spare me that,” Grandmama mutters, rubbing her forehead. She eyes Justin’s smirk and raises the back of her hand to him mock threateningly.

“I’m ready,” Mom says, sliding a covered dish on to the table and wiping her hands.

Dad puts his long-fingered hands on my shoulders and looks down at me, his brown eyes crinkling on the edges as he smiles. “I’m proud of you, Belly,” he says softly. He raises his head and smiles around the table as we all join hands. “Everybody ready? Then let’s pray.”

Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Library Binding: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (May 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375969667
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375969669
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Happy Families by Tanita Davis follows twins Ysabel and Nicholas as they spend spring break with their father who have recently learned of their father's secret, that he is transgender. The book is told in alternating voices as the twins spend time with their father, the first in months and try come to terms with their father's new life and try to heal their family.

This was a very good social issues book. Introducing teens to an issue that they are not familiar with in a way that is interesting and relateable. While I was not rushing to finish the book I had no problem finishing it and I found myself caring about the characters and hoping for a happy ending. The author doesn't provide a happy ending but does provide a hopeful one. This is a book that needs to be on library shelves.

Appropriateness: There is no adult content in the book. The author does a good job talking about transgender persons and the differences even providing a glossary in the back of different terms and resources for more information. I would recommend this book to teens 12+
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Format: Hardcover
Happy Families is not your usual family drama type novel. Up until recently Ysabel and her brother Justin have lived pretty perfect lives. Ysabel is artist working mostly in bead work at a place near her house called the Crucible. Justin is the academic, with a five year plan which he hopes will hopefully lead to Stanford He is also on the debate team which he is very good at. That is until one meet where he noticed his father, while giving his current argument....dressed like a woman,

After that, things only get worse. With some help from their grandparents the family realized that their dad is Transgender. Soon after the realization hits many things change. Their father moves out to a place on the other side of the state. Ysabel spends all her time at the Crucible to stay away from the family drama, and perfect her skills. Justin completely abandons his college plans, breaks up with a girlfriend he really likes for fear that when she finds out that she will hate him and pretty much tries to meld into the background. He does find a family members of transgender peoples support group online to help him understand.

The book after a brief prologue of how things once were, we find the twins getting ready for a trip to their dads to spend sometime with him after a long time separated. Neither are looking forward to their little vacation. Being that it is their spring break they would much rather do their own thing. Neither parent will budge though on the plan so they are stuck.

What the trip turns into is a week of therapy trips and events with other transgender folks and their families.. It seems daunting but maybe it will help...who knows?
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Format: Kindle Edition
Told from the viewpoints of two siblings, Ysabel and Justin, Happy Families asks what it truly means to have a happy family. Can things drastically change or is a family a cookie cutter of what we think it is? Ysabel and Justin, twins, see things through very different eyes. They both feel as if they have a good family, Ysabel is artistic and a free spirit while Justin is the golden child, worrying about grades. All that changes the night Justin sees his dad in the audience of his trivia team’s meet, looking like his dad but outfitted in a dress.

The story then fast forwards a few months and the family now knows about their dad’s secret life. Their parents have split, Ysabel and Justin’s lives have been irrevocably changed, and their father is now living as a female in a different town. Neither of the twins want anything to do with their father and after months of no communication, their mother makes them go to stay for a week with their Dad. What follows is a story of how this formerly happy family deals with these huge changes, when at heart, their father is still the same.

Davis takes this story in an interesting direction and shows how difficult this sort of a situation is on all involved. Ysabel and Justin’s parents’ marriage is crumbling, yet they still love one another and don’t know how to move forward. Their father needs to be his true self and dressing as a female makes him feel complete. Neither of the twins know how to connect with this new version of their father and honestly, they really don’t know if they want to. It isn’t until they meet other children with parents that are transitioning sexes that they realize their father may not be as different as they feared.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
as a family who is part of the LGBT community (specifically the T), I'm still not 100% sure where I stand on this book. I bought it thinking our kids might find it interesting when they reach young adult reading level... but it seems geared more toward individuals who have had no experience with the transgender community at all. and that's okay! I'm all for people (especially teens) learning about different kinds of normal. most of the technical information was good, I liked the glossary at the end. I found it odd that the mom still referred to the dad as "he/him," when it's more appropriate to use the person's preferred pronoun (as stated in the glossary). I suppose the dad never actually specified what his preferred pronouns were, and they never actually saw their dad as a woman. I was uncomfortable with the way transgender/transsexual/cross-dresser/drag queen were used interchangeably at times (though not always), and how it was stated that being transgender isn't genetic. while that *may* be true, there is compelling evidence that it can be. it was also a little too churchy for me, but it's interesting to see a family going through this situation with a strong religious background. i'd recommend it to a young reader, and I may even send a copy to an adult family member who doesn't want to "deal" with our own situation :)
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