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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Nuclear Family

A Tragicomic Novel in Letters

Susanna Fogel

Holt Paperbacks


Your Dad Is Less Than Thrilled about Your Childhood Dream

Dear Julie,

It sounds like you are enjoying summer camp in Maine. I have no doubt your chief concern in receiving this “care package” from your parents will be the bag of Starburst candies we have enclosed per your request. I’m sure you will also wax nostalgic at your mother’s attached note detailing her progress with her tomato garden and how much your little sister has grown.

However, I ask that you also take a moment to consider this personal note I have included expressing some concern about the content of your last letter to us.

Specifically, you mention that you and a girl named “Mandy” intend to apply to the same university, an institution in Virginia that allows you to bring your own horse to campus. I would assume this is a two-year college. Suffice it to say, I question the academic rigor of any environment that advertises the accessibility of livestock as a chief amenity. You also mention a collective goal shared with Mandy and two other new acquaintances to move to Florida after graduation and open a stable you will name “Four Girls Farms.”

I am seriously concerned about your academic and professional ambitions, or apparent lack thereof. Your mother requested I table this discussion for several years, but as I told her, my own summer after seventh grade, auditing physics courses at Caltech, was instrumental in my decision to pursue a career in medicine. All of which is to say: though the momentary pleasure of sailing over an obstacle on horseback may feel like an ascent, I encourage you to aspire to greater heights for yourself in life.

That said, as a neurologist, I was pleased to see in your last enclosed photo that you were wearing protective headgear.


Your Mom Wants to Reassure You That What She Just Caught You Doing Is Totally Natural

Hi sweetheart—

I hope I’m not embarrassing you by slipping this under your door. I didn’t know if the reason you didn’t come down to dinner is that you felt bad about what I saw earlier when I walked into your room with the laundry. I’m so sorry I didn’t knock first. That was a violation of your privacy and as a therapist I should have known better. Just so you know, I didn’t say anything to Dad at dinner. In the future, I will assume that every time your bedroom door is closed you are doing private things in there.

I also wanted to let you know that I noticed the picture of your cousin Paul nearby. I’m not sure if there was any connection, but if there was, that is also totally normal! Often, some of our first intimate feelings are inspired by members of our family. I remember when I was about your age, I had some very confusing feelings about my brother (Uncle Ken), who was a point guard on the Bronx Science basketball team and very handsome growing up. I can show you pictures sometime if you like.

I hope this letter makes you feel less embarrassed.



Your Dad Does Not Care to Negotiate with You about Hanukkah

Dear Julie,

I received your handwritten note in my office requesting that your mother and I supplant our traditional eight small gifts at Hanukkah with one “Super Nintendo” video game console, to be bestowed upon you the first night.

Unfortunately, as I told your mother, I do not think this is a sound investment for reasons having nothing to do with our religious beliefs. (After all, as even the most unobservant Jew may note, Hanukkah is in fact a third-tier holiday that has benefitted from a massive PR campaign here in the States due to its proximity to Christmas.) The fact of the matter is that I am well aware of current research studies in my field on the long-term effects of video games on brain chemistry. As their results are yet unproven, I would be as negligent in allowing my own daughter to be a test case for this potential mental erosion as I would in allowing her to ingest off-market SSRIs in Phase One clinical trials.

That said, I will happily factor in the spirit of your request when purchasing your gifts this holiday season. I’ve asked my research assistant to cull detailed information about various Super Nintendo games in an effort to replicate aspects of the experience you seek. You can expect books on various legends (though “Zelda” may be fictional, The Decameron is thought to be based in reality) and fraternity and brotherhood in contemporary Italian culture (Super Mario World), as well as several CDs of minimalist synthesizer music with repetitive melodies.



Copyright © 2017 by Susanna Fogel