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REVIEW: All Adults Here by Emma Straub

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

Emma Staub’s new novel All Adults Here features a complex family web of multi-generational characters navigating various stages of their life. Family, friendship, and what it means to be human are at the heart of this feel-good novel. Thank you to Gaby Young and Michael Joseph Books for sending me this novel and having me on the Blog Tour! (see the rest of the Blog Tour schedule at the bottom)

When Astrid Strick, a 68-year old mother of three, witnesses an acquaintance get hit by a school bus, it puts her life into perspective. She decides to open up to her children about a secret - but her grown-up children all have secrets of their own. From making their own parenting mistakes, to clinging onto their youthful actions, Straub's characters are blindly riding the ride that we call 'life'. The result is a multi-generational narrative, from Astrid as matriarch, right down to her 13-year-old Granddaughter, Cecilia, who may know more about acceptance and forgiveness than any of the adults.

Despite the idyllic small-town setting of Clapham, with its quirky shops and town parades, the problem with small towns is that everyone knows everyone. Which means everyone knows your personal business. The setting reminded me of Gilmore Girls' Stars Hollow with its diner, bookshop, pancake house, and, you guessed it, a gazebo right in the middle. A small-town setting was perfect for this novel, really bringing out the tensions between the past and the present, in a place where childhood and adulthood blend. Straub shows how deeply embedded each character is to their home and their roots, with the novel rotating around the town. Each place has a memory attached to it, which Porter coins as “A Strick museum" of their adolescence. With all of the family in town, it surfaces a tension between the past and the future. Sibling jealousy, ex-boyfriends, the failure to meet expectations - all problems rooted in the past. This tension needs to be overcome for each character to progress into the future.

The novel is completely character-driven, and I think Straub executes this perfectly. She doesn't dwell too much on propelling her plot forward, but instead allows the reader to sit in her character’s thoughts and feelings. Straub has created interesting characters who each have their own unique backstory. Cecilia was definitely my favourite character, being funny, head-strong, and a great friend. Astrid is also a fascinating character as the family orbit around her, making her decisions ripple-effect all of the other characters. I did find the women characters much more engaging and I didn’t care as much for the sections that followed male characters. However, by focusing on multiple characters, Straub shows the assortment of characters that make up a real family; people with their own lives, problems, and quirks.

Despite being lighthearted, with an ultimately happy ending, the novel does not shy away from important topics. Straub tackles sexuality, gender identity, marital affairs, abortion, and even an internet grooming situation. Yes, it sounds like a lot. Maybe it is a lot. But these are a part of people’s real lives and it's important that these are reflected in literature too. One of my favourite characters in the novel was August (or Robin as she is later called). Without spoiling too much, we watch August wrestle with themselves to become who they truly are. When Cecilia comes to stay, she befriends August and they start a beautiful friendship that is a delight to read. Both of these young people have their own struggles and Straub validates these just as much as those of the older characters. The title itself undermines the whole idea of adulthood too, with all characters losing their way despite their age and showing that even in adulthood, you have no idea what is going on.

I’ve seen a few reviews mention that they felt these topics lacked depth and were resolved too easily. While to some extent I would agree, isn't a feel-good ending what we need right now? Resolving these problems gives a message of hope for this family who are united through their struggles. The ending is idealised but in a small, idyllic town, what else can you expect? The Strick family may be dysfunctional, but love is at the core of it, just like this novel. If you are in the mood for a feel-good novel where you will see parts of yourself in each character, then this is the one for you.

You can buy All Adults Here here.

Some of my favourite quotes:

  • "Living in the same town you grew up in meant sometimes politely ignoring people you'd known for decades, because otherwise you'd never be able to finish your grocery shopping."

  • "Pregnancy was so bizarre, so full of unanticipated effects and side effects and side-side effects that Porter felt both connected to every woman who had ever lived and also like she were the first person on Earth who this has happened to."

  • "The problem was that she, Astrid, a woman, a person, turned out not to be made of steel the way her children thought she was."

  • "This was the job of a parent: to fuck up, over and over again. This was the job of a child: to grow up anyway."

Thanks for reading and check out the rest of the blog tour!

Kate x

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