What the Family Needed

What the Family Needed

A Novel

Written by:

Additional Formats
  • Ebook
  • ISBN 9781101603802
  • 272 Pages
  • Riverhead Books
  • Adult


In this incandescent novel, a family’s superpowers bestow not instant salvation but the miracle of accepting who they are.

“Okay, tell me which you want,” Alek asks his cousin at the outset of What the Family Needed. “To be able to fly or to be invisible.” And soon Giordana, a teenager suffering the bitter fallout of her parents’ divorce, finds that she can, at will, become as invisible as she feels. Later, Alek’s mother, newly adrift in the disturbing awareness that all is not well with her younger son, can suddenly swim with Olympic endurance. Over three decades, in fact, each member of this gorgeously imagined extended family discovers, at a moment of crisis, that he or she possesses a supernatural power.

But instead of crimes to fight and villains to vanquish, they confront inner demons, and their extraordinary abilities prove not to be magic weapons so much as expressions of their fears and longings as they struggle to come to terms with who they are and what fate deals them. As the years pass, their lives intersect and overlap in surprising and poignant ways, and they discover that the real magic lies not in their superpowers but in the very human and miraculous way they are able to accept, protect, and love one another.

What the Family Needed

What the Family Needed

Written by: Steven Amsterdam


“Remarkable … at once magical and very normal, a wishful fantasy about the strength it can take to love one’s family members well.” AEntertainment Weekly

“I loved this book… What I thought was so wonderful and moving about this book is, on the one hand, it’s filled with really careful observation of quotidian details—it feels so real—and then there are these twists… This is really what a great storyteller does.” –Bill Goldstein, “Bill’s Books,” NBC New York

“Brilliant, unexpected, wide-ranging and deeply moving, the story of one family’s extraordinary—and sometimes otherworldly— negotiation of the very real hazards of life.”  –Maile Meloy, author of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It

“Steven Amsterdam is a superhero and his power is to create stunningly crafted, heartbreaking stories that are as fun as they are brilliant. In this story of a ‘super family,’ the greatest ability on display is Amsterdam’s own control of story, which outshines the fantastic by being even more so.” –Mat Johnson, author of Pym

“There are moments when the writing’s simplicity becomes its own kind of superpower… the book soars.” –Publishers Weekly

“Pulses with hope… It’s a tantalizing novel, one that’s both sharp and touching, and Steven Amsterdam is fast becoming one of our most interesting writers.” –The Canberra Times 

“A wonderful novel: imaginative, intelligent, empathetic. It’s like a cross between The Corrections and The Slap, except without any of the gloom or rage and with the addition of something that may or may not be either a form of magic realism or simply that old staple of the literary art, metaphor.” –Sydney Morning Herald 

“Surreal and fantastic… [Amsterdam] develops his own kind of reality that has more than a tinge of fantasy.” –Kirkus


“Breathtakingly strange… the kind of book that can inspire us to think differently about the world and entertain us at the same time.” –Washington Post 

“Feels like a genuine discovery… Timely and unexpectedly moving.” –The Daily Beast 

“Brilliant… Thoughtful, intelligent, savvy… full of horror and hope and compels you to think.”  –Raleigh News & Observer

“Don’t read this book in bed unless you want to stay up past your bedtime thrilled by the discovery of a new writer… [A] stunning read.” –The Millions


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