Ten interrelated, longish stories, originally published individually, explore the relationship between only-child Michael's family and his cousins who have moved to town.
His mother and Auntie Rosie might be sisters, but they are living totally different lives. There is not a trace of dirt at Michael's house—linen napkins and soft, gentlemanly tones are the order of the day. When the Wests blow into town, Michael learns how other families work. The Wests are in a constant state of hubbub and grime. Money is in short supply, but love is not. Michael is instantly welcomed into this warm house, and he spends many of his waking hours figuring out how to get his parents' permission to become a member of the West gang. He takes it all in: the wheeling and dealing of his cousin Royce and his favorite word ("S-H-I-T-!"), baby Honey's toileting escapades, a rotting dead rabbit, a stinking refrigerator and an amputated foot. Along the way, Michael learns to enjoy his own family, and his parents learn to relax a bit, too. The stories create a tidy arc that allows the reader to observe the changes in both families, but the overall length and repeated format (crazy incident plus humorous climax) might overwhelm the young chapter-book reader who tackles it in one go.
Episodic enough to dip in and out, this New Zealand import charms in small bites. (Fiction. 9-12)