What the Family Needed
2013 Longlist

What the Family Needed


“Okay, tell me which you want: To be able to fly or to be invisible.” Alek, 7

And so begins the tale of a family finding itself, told by each of its members as they discover powers they never thought possible, from the author of the acclaimed Things We Didn’t See Coming.

“What the Family Needed is 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

“Every now and then, a novel arrives that conveys not only wisdom and understanding but also offers a dose of magic. Part fable, part dreamscape, part family drama, What the Family Needed can be read in several ways. Some of the delight is that nothing is lost in choosing one way over another; in fact, each reading contains all other possible readings.” – Brisbane Courier Mail

“To tell you the narrative concerns a family whose members have superpowers is only to graze the surface of a moving and beautifully realised meditation on what it is to be an ordinary human being.” – The Australian

“Strange and marvellous territory… With such a ferocious intelligence and playful curiosity at work here, all we can hope for is to hang on for the ride.”
– The Monthly

“Amsterdam has a gift for switching reality about: in his sharp and engaging fiction, life seems ordinary but radically unsettling. It’s not even clear what species of fiction we are dealing with… Exhilarating.” – The Australian

“Ingenious.” – Australian Book Review

“A wonderfully fresh perspective on families, homing in on those transformative moments that shape not merely our futures, but our understanding of the past. This is a novel that pulses with hope… It’s a tantalising novel, one that’s both sharp and touching, and Steven Amsterdam is fast becoming one of our most interesting writers.” – Canberra Times

“Unputdownable.” – Townsville Bulletin

“What the Family Needed is a probing exploration of familial love and forbearance, communication and letting go.” 4.5/5 stars – Bookseller and Publisher

“There’s something fresh and engaging about Steven Amsterdam’s writing – a lightness of touch with some of life’s more troubling human scenarios sprinkled with a frisson of other worldliness… Like his 2009 debut Things We Didn’t See Coming is packed to the brim with fascinating ideas that play on your mind and characters so vivid… It’s a magical concept…” November’s Great Read, 2011 – Australian Women’s Weekly

“Amsterdam seems to my mind to be at the height of his considerable literary powers. A tale of a couple of chalk ‘n’ cheese sisters, their respective spouses (ditto), and their teenage siblings – all of them tangled up in what appears to be the ‘wrong version’ of their lives. How those young people in particular make their journey through life, and the means by which they do so, is some of the magic… It’s a book where almost line for line you’ll be unable to wipe the smile off your face; it’s also one where you will marvel at the human sympathy Amsterdam brings to his characters.” – Readings

“An Incredibles for grown-ups. In this cunning and kindly novel, the fantastical is not primarily for show but for illuminating so-called ordinary life.” – Steven Conte

“A brave book, that moves effortlessly through time, reality and space. Amsterdam captures the strangeness of ordinary life in a truly extraordinary way.” – Jessica Au

“Puckish and humane, this is a novel that gives family drama a twist, and another twist, and another.” – Malcolm Knox

“In only his second novel, Amsterdam comes at us as a writer of immense accomplishment, depth, complexity, and a style already his own.” – Matthew Condon



Stephen Amsterdam is a palliative care nurse and a writer. His first book, Things We Didn’t See Coming, won the Age Book of the Year, and was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.

Stephen Amsterdam is a palliative care nurse and a writer. His first book, Things We Didn’t See Coming, won the Age Book of the Year, and was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.


‘What the Family Needed’ was selected by Victoria public librarian vote from a list of suggested nominations compiled by the State Library of Victoria.


Date published


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