Book review: The Radleys by Matt Haig

Posted December 28, 2010 by 3 Comments

I got my hands on a copy of this book a couple months ago and wrote a review, but it was so long ago it seems like ages. With The Radleys out today in the U.S., I thought it was worth reposting, with a few updates.


Peter, Helen and their teenage children, Clara and Rowan, live in an English town. They are an everyday family, averagely dysfunctional, averagely content. But as their children have yet to find out, the Radleys have a devastating secret.

From one of Britain’s finest young novelists comes a razor-sharp unpicking of adulthood and family life. In this moving, thrilling and extraordinary portrait of one unusual family, The Radleys asks what we grow into when we grow up, and explores what we gain – and lose – when we deny our appetites.


I’ve been hearing buzz about this book for months — it’s already out in the U.K. but only hits U.S. shelves today. I was so thrilled to get my hands on an advance copy despite my growing aversion to all things vampire. (Really, does the world need yet another vampire book?)

Yes. Yes, it does.

Page 1, I was hooked; page 119, I exclaimed, “This cannot be YA!” The Radleys has been released in both an adult version and a YA version in the U.K. so I assumed I had gotten my hands on the adult version. An Internet search turned up little, so I sent an e-mail to Jenny at (a wondrous YA blog across the pond). She confirmed that yes, there are two versions, but the only difference is the cover art. The content is exactly the same.

Which brings me back to, “This cannot be YA!”

Here’s why: No teenager in their right mind wants to think or read about their parents having sex!

You’ve been warned.

That mental image aside … I’m not convinced The Radleys will appeal to young adults because of its mature content. Not mature as in, “You’re too young and you shouldn’t be reading this!” But mature as in, “I’m not sure young adult readers will find the subject matter interesting.” This is not Twilight. But it’s not Southern Vampire (Sookie Stackhouse) Series either.

The major crisis of the book centers not around teen siblings Rowan and Clara Radley — who are very compelling characters – but rather their parents, Helen and Peter, and their prodigal Uncle Will, a bad guy of the highest order. And yet, it’s his free-spiritedness that makes the characters — and readers — question their morality.

What happens when you deny yourself for so long, you do physical harm? The pain and tension is killing you. You want to be good, but being bad feels soooo much better. Not the greatest message, but it makes for one fabulous read.

Matt Haig perfectly captures pain, yearning and frustration. Readers can expect to feel the characters’ tug-o-war over and over, back and forth, yes, no, maybe so, and it’s not until the carefully constructed facade cracks wide open that any of the characters find satisfaction. It’s this inner struggle and tension that everyone can relate to that will be this book’s salvation.


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