Witnessing a fatal accident involving an acquaintance of hers, on the same day that her granddaughter arrives for a prolonged stay, proves to be a watershed moment not only for Astrid Strick but also her family in All Adults Here, the latest novel from Emma Straub.
Astrid Strick has always tried to do her best for her three children. Now, they’re finally grown up – but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Elliott doesn’t have any idea who he really is, or how to communicate with his own sons. Porter is, at last, pregnant – but feels incapable of rising to the challenge. Nicky has fled to distant New Mexico, where he’s living the bohemian dream.
And Astrid herself is up to things that would make her children’s hair curl.
Until now, the family have managed to hide their true selves from each other. But when Nicky’s incorrigibly curious daughter Cecelia comes to stay, her arrival threatens to upturn everything . . .
There’s nothing quite like the shock of a sudden death to make you re-evaluate your own life or for a new arrival to effect a change in the status quo. Ordinarily, one of these might be enough to make a difference but here both happen on the same day to one woman in a small town in upstate New York.
For Astrid Strick, it’s a chance to look at her life and be more open about what she wants from it and who she needs in it; she reflects on long-held grievances and whether there were ever valid reasons for them, and tries to repair some of the damage caused by perceived past mistakes on her part.
Just as the accident affects Astrid, her own change in behaviour, and the decisions she makes as a result, create a ripple effect throughout the family. Her granddaughter, Cecelia, also plays her part upon arriving in town for an extended stay of unknown duration, after leaving New York under a cloud. It was refreshing to see a teenager who was shy but not moody or stroppy in her new environment, and to see how sensitive she is to those around her. She often seems to have more about her than the grown ups.
Each family member has a different viewpoint and I like that we don’t only see things from Astrid’s in All Adults Here; Emma Straub moves the story along well by switching perspective from one to another of the family, and sometimes straying into their friends’ circle, so that the reader has a more complete picture and better understands the personalities and family dynamics at play by the end of the novel.
And just as each family member has a different perspective, they’re all having to deal with their own insecurities and struggles, which we gain an insight into throughout the book. There is so much going on that I can see how some readers might think Emma Straub has put too many issues into this novel but, in response, I’ll only say that if those same people stepped back for a moment and considered their own nearest and dearest, they’d no doubt come to realise that this is inherent in family groups, especially ones of this size.
All Adults Here covers a range of issues, showing human beings at their worst and best or somewhere in between on that scale, with some certainly questioning themselves more than others, people simply doing the best they can under the circumstances, and a few not even trying. It shows the importance of good communication, telling people how we feel, what we need, or that we believe in them and support them.
Emma Straub not only keeps her narrative moving forward with ease but she also injects humour and compassion into it, which lends it a lightness of touch, saving it from becoming too earnest or didactic.
There’s so much of this book which struck a chord with me, made me laugh (or cringe, equally as much), that is quotable or seems to speak a truth about life and how we either learn from past mistakes or continue in the same pattern of behaviour. All Adults Here is a novel about doing the best we can, questioning our behaviour and how we don’t always understand or know the people closest to us as well as we think we do, and their relationships with us and others.
One of my favourite scenes in this book is where Astrid is trying to right a perceived wrong she did to her eldest child, Elliott, only to have him turn around and demand an apology for something else, wholly unrelated to that incident. It just goes to show how much weight we can attach to a past event, how our memory expands it to become a millstone over time, yet it can be almost completely insignificant to the other person concerned.
Despite the issues it covers and the web of relationships and family roles contained within the book, All Adults Here is a joy to read; it fizzes with wit and bubbles with life, and longing, and love. And having read it, I now want to read Emma Straub’s entire back catalogue, which means I have three novels and a short story collection to keep me happy for a while. If you enjoyed reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng or Ask Again, Yes by May Beth Keane, I think you’ll enjoy this.
All Adults Here by Emma Straub is published by Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Books UK, and is available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive instead, where each purchase you make helps to support your local independent bookshop.
Emma Straub is a New York Times bestselling author of three other novels and a short story collection and, together with her husband, co-owner of the independent bookstore, Books Are Magic, in Brooklyn, New York. For more information, check out her Author Website, Facebook Page, Instagram or Twitter feeds.
My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.
The All Adults Here blog tour stops are all listed here: