Stories about families seemed to be a theme for my reading this year, and Immediate Family by Ashley Nelson Levy is one of the most original and moving versions of this story I've ever read. It's about the many ways in which a family can grow and change, with the deep and complex relationship between siblings as its center. I laughed and cried, and came away from this book feeling full of awe. — From The Best Books Molly Read in 2021
A goop Book Club Selection and Best Book of the Year • Amazon Editors' Choice
“This unsparing and absorbing family portrait broke my heart and remade it a hundred times over.” —Rachel Khong, author of Goodbye, Vitamin
It is the day of her brother’s wedding and our narrator is still struggling with her toast. Despite a recent fracture between them, her brother, Danny, has asked her to give a speech and she doesn’t know where to begin, how to put words to their kind of love. She was nine years old when she traveled with her parents to Thailand to meet her brother, six years her junior. They grew up together like any other siblings, and shared a bucolic childhood in Northern California. Yet when she holds their story up to the light, it refracts in ways she doesn’t expect.
What follows is a heartfelt letter addressed to Danny and an attempt at a full accounting of their years growing up, invoking everything from the classic Victorian adoption plot to childless women in literature to documents from Danny’s case file. It’s also a confession of sorts to the parts of her life that she has kept from him, including her own struggle with infertility. And as the hours until the wedding wane, she uncovers the words that can’t and won’t be said aloud.
In Immediate Family, a tender and fierce debut novel, Ashley Nelson Levy explores the enduring bond between two siblings and the complexities of motherhood, infertility, race, and the many definitions of family.
About the Author
Ashley Nelson Levy received her MFA from Columbia University, where she was awarded the Clein-Lemann Esperanza Fellowship. Her work has been a notable mention in Best American Nonrequired Reading, and she’s the recipient of the Bambi Holmes Award for Emerging Writers. In 2015, she cofounded Transit Books, an independent publishing house with a focus on international literature. Immediate Family is her first book.
goop Best Books of 2021
"Throughout Immediate Family, the narrator probes her identity as the older sister to a boy who confounds her, but also as the mother she longs to be. At the time of the wedding she has spent months undergoing fertility treatments, and her desire to reproduce . . . is both mirror and counterpoint to her parents’ aching, yearslong quest to adopt Danny." —Jessica Winter, The New York Times Book Review
"This short, unsparing novel is a beautiful and provocative snapshot of a family and the complicated, imperfect love that binds one member of it to another." —goop
“Ashley Nelson Levy’s unflinching debut novel, Immediate Family, puts a fresh and culturally relevant spin on the theme of adoption in literature . . . Nuanced and generously rendered . . . A unique, gorgeously textured narrative that explores the boundaries of familial love . . . Boldly embracing life’s entanglements, Levy’s novel is a work of powerful, life-affirming generosity.” —Ryan Smernoff, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Deeply moving . . . What a delight to find the same sensibility that pervades Transit [Books, cofounded by Levy]—a sharp aesthetic and moral intelligence, an embrace of subtlety and complexity, a taste for risk and daring—in every page of Immediate Family." —Katie Kitamura, BOMB
"Feels almost memoir-like in its realness." —Seija Rankin, Entertainment Weekly
"A beautifully raw ode to the bond between siblings." —Sabienna Bowman, PopSugar
"Touching and tightly crafted . . . Gifted with a lifelike finesse, the narrator's piercing tales of family and self are love-wrought, delivered in Levy's honed, beautiful writing." —Annie Bostrom, Booklist
"Wrenching . . . Powerful vignettes, such as memories of Danny being bullied as a child for looking different, blend with musings about the history of transracial adoption, Victorian literature, and famous adoptees . . . The smooth flights may remind readers of Donald Antrim’s novels. This exhibits a delicate touch while unpacking a complicated relationship, yielding much emotional insight." —Publishers Weekly
"Levy captures elusive ideas and intense emotions about transracial adoption and infertility." —Kirkus
"A book as intimate as a whisper between two old friends, late in the night, with no one to eavesdrop but the owls." —Catherine Lacey, author of Pew
“For all the orphans populating the pages of contemporary fiction, there are vanishingly few novels that honestly explore the complexities of adoption in modern America. Those of us whose immediate families are formed by this process will read Ashley Nelson Levy’s novel with recognition and revelation: it plumbs the ethical ambiguities, surveys the fault lines of race and privilege, creates space for the uncertainties and obligations so often written out. Composed with emotional candor and intellectual clarity, Immediate Family is about the improbable relentlessness of love. It's a testament to the reality that no family, regardless of origin or composition, is ever fully formed: most days the best we can do is keep each other from coming undone. It's a book that refuses tidy conclusions, and yet by the time I turned the last page, this book that had undone me had also left me magnificently whole.” —Anthony Marra, author of The Tsar of Love and Techno
“This unsparing and absorbing family portrait broke my heart and remade it a hundred times over. In prose that is distilled, astute, and precise, Immediate Family covers the territory of life that words are often insufficient for, those challenges that are at once isolating and universal—waiting, the imperfect love that binds a family, what you choose and what is chosen for you.” —Rachel Khong, author of Goodbye, Vitamin
“This gorgeous debut opens with a request: the narrator's younger brother, Danny, has asked her to give a speech at his wedding. From there, the story unspools into an elegant, intellectual, and heartrending examination of the bonds and silence of a family complexly expanded—and completed—by Danny's transracial adoption. A stirring novel by a writer with uncanny insight and sensitivity, Immediate Family asks urgent questions about belonging, what makes a family, and the horizons of love. It moved me deeply.” —Julie Buntin, author of Marlena
"I've never read a love story like Immediate Family before—complex, challenging, sensitively and beautifully told. This is a gorgeous, affecting novel that probes the fissures and hidden places of familial love—and all its provocations and possibilities—and in so doing gets to the heart of love itself." —Lydia Kiesling, author of The Golden State