An Occasionally Happy Family by Cliff Burke (May 18, 2021, HMH, for ages 8 to 12)
This is one of the funniest books I've read from The21ders, my debut group of MG and YA authors. But there's also a touching undercurrent of sadness running through it.
Heartfelt doesn't begin to describe it.
Thirteen-year-old Theo's mom died two years ago, and he and his dad and his fifteen-year-old sister, Laura, still haven't really talked about it. Then Dad informs the siblings they're going on a road trip to go camping in the hottest park in Texas during the hottest part of the summer, with a promised surprise at the end. Neither Theo nor Laura want to go on this trip and would prefer to spend all their time in air conditioning and on their phones.
What follows is hilarious, as one disaster after another befalls the family, from a broken cooler that turns their lunch to mush, to a vlogging teen hiker who tries to include Laura in his vlogs, to a bear in their campsite, to a naked elderly couple in the Hot Springs. But what you'll love most about this book is the spot-on dialog between the siblings and their father. Judicious use of dialog tags, and a finely-tuned ear for the way kids really speak makes this dialog sound like a real family squabbling and teasing each other. Plenty of snark. And I never lost track of who was speaking.
When Dad's "surprise" turns out to be a new girlfriend, Theo and Laura react as any grieving kids would. Long before the end, you'll fall in love with this family, and your heart will ache for them to finally talk about their feelings.
A winner in my book!
You can pre-order AN OCCASIONALLY HAPPY FAMILY from Bookshop!
Other pre-order info and more on Cliff Burke's website