During the 2020 lockdown and shielding period, many people read more than ever. Not me. Pre-covid, I struggled to put a book down. However, during this unprecedented time, I strangely found myself unable to read novels. I decided to amend that during the summer holidays. I wanted to try and take some time for myself inbetween work and family. So, I treated myself to the latest Richard and Judy bundle, full of tempting delights but also found my eyes drawn to a book not actually in the current bundle. “Happy Families” by Julie Ma was in fact the Winner of the 2020 Richard & Judy Search for a Bestseller Competition and published in February 2021. I couldn’t resist so bought that book too and put it on top of the pile to read first.
Read on to find out more about Happy Familes, my thoughts and for a chance to win yourself a copy:
Happy Families by Julie Ma
A charming, uplifting story revolving around three generations of a Chinese family in a Welsh city and the resentments, secrets and grudges that have come to define them – and how they must be overcome if harmony is to be restored. generations, two secrets, one extended family . . .
“Amy is thirty-four and has just given up her glittering career in the big (Welsh) city to move back in with her grandfather, returning to work in the small-town Chinese takeaway where she spent her bookish and boring childhood. Why? That’s a secret she won’t tell.
Just like the secret of why her grandfather, Ah Goong, and her father, TC Li, haven’t spoken to each other in thirty years. Weirder still, they’ve lived in the same small flat about the takeaway for the majority of those years, with Amy’s mother Joan acting as their unfortunate go-between and buffer.
Now Amy’s parents have moved, leaving her in charge of looking after the old man. But then Ah Goong collapses in the street and Amy realises time is running out if she wants to play happy families again . . .”
My Thoughts on Happy Families
I was drawn into the story immediately, quite possibly because it felt both familiar and contrastingly very different to my own life. The book’s main setting is based in the next county to my own ‘Shire and our local Chinese Takeway will always be special to me as, just like in the fictional “JourneyGuru Review” that the book opens up with, I have also been coming here since I was a child and now bring my own children who love the free prawn crackers! They’re an important part of our towns and communities. As a kid, I enjoyed going with my dad to “pick up the Chinese” because there was a small tele to watch while we waited. Kids today will never understand why that was so exciting! Things have changed recently, of course, and since Covid-19, our Chinese now delivers (thank you Golden Fountain!), which is great and so convenient but we do miss out on the social aspect of visiting the Chinese in person.
A Family Secret
Our narrator, Amy, now finds herself back on the other side of the counter as she has returned to the family business. We don’t find out why until later on in the book but we’re kept busy meeting the wonderful, rich characters in Amy’s extended family. Most intriguingly her Grandfather, George (who she calls “Ah Goong”, as he’s her mother’s father) and her dad, TC Li, do not speak. And nobody talks about “the unspeakable matter” but Amy wants to get to the bottom of it and find out more and we as readers do too…
The chapters set in the modern day are told in the first person, through the eyes of Amy. Alongside this, the family member’s backstories are told in the third person from the 1950’s on and it’s even more interesting than you’d think.
I think every family has matters that affect them all but are just never spoken of. It’s an unwritten rule. Also, each new generation never really knows everything about their parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents; and just like Amy, as the youngest generation grow up they weave their own stories and secrets too. What a spiderweb of tales there are in all our lives, many of which we may never know. The only person you truly know everything about is yourself! I loved hearing the poignant story of George, his late wife and Joan their daughter, Amy’s mum. It was also interesting to get an insight into the lives, the language and culture of a Chinese immigrant family and the second and third generations living in Wales. There were uncomfortable moments witnessing the prejudice and racism the family experienced from locals and even their own customers but it’s important to include these and hopefully an important lesson too.
Warm, Humourous & Full of Love
In an interview with the author, Julie Ma said that some people have said the plot’s not as exciting as it could be. She explained that this reflects her feelings that you don’t have to have murders and mayhem to make a story. I often find real life so called “ordinary” stories more interesting than shocking plot twists for the sake of it. In this case, the credibilty of the story has led many readers to wonder if it’s in fact autobiographical to which Julie Ma states, when writing she takes some of her own life but definitely spins it out a lot, her own Grandfather actually died before she was born but she really does run the family Chinese takeaway in a town in Wales. Her Instagram bio reads- “Supplier of hot takeaway food and novels.” What more could you want?
The story is warm, humorous and full of love. Enjoy it while treating yourself to a Chinese takeaway! I enjoyed reading it and being invited into the lives of this family. I’m looking forward to seeing what Julie Ma writes next!
Watch the video below to see Julie Ma interviewed by writing teacher and psychologist, Philippa Davies:
Win a Copy of Happy Families by Julie Ma
For a chance to win a copy of “Happy Familes” by Julie Ma, please enter the Rafflecopter below. Remember to read the terms and conditions. Good luck!a Rafflecopter giveaway
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