Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Original Publication Date: July 18th, 2013

Kindle Reprint Publication Date: August 12th, 2014

Publisher: Atria Books

Page Length: 416

Audible Audio Edition Length: 13 hours, 25  minutes


Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children's lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they've never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in -- and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Told in gorgeous, insightful prose that delves deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the captivating story of one family's desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.

What Did I Think About the Story?

 Oh how I loved this story! I purchased the book as a Kindle/Audible Audio version but to be completely honest I didn't read a page. The narrator (Karina Fernandez) was so spectacular that I wanted nothing more than to listen to her weave the story with each character's individual personality and voice and had trouble pulling myself away when I had to get anything else done. That isn't to say the story itself isn't as wonderful as the narration. This was a perfect combination of an excellent story and the right narrator able to pull off the complicated emotions and circumstances it presented.

The story weaves back and forth in time, from Meg, the oldest Bird child, her daughter and, eventually, her father, sister and brother Rory, cleaning out their mother Lorelei's home back to various Easter weekends over the course of their lives. When we first meet Meg in 2011 we discover that Lorelei was a hoarder (think of the worst possible episode of Hoarders and you'll have a good idea of how badly she lived). As we go back in time we see her sickness evolve from a sort of whimsical, free spirited quirkiness into a brutal, sometimes aggressive need to keep everything until there is literally walls of junk and only one chair she can sit in. She pushes everyone away and refuses to bend or compromise with anyone. This sickness, along with the tragic incident that happened one Easter, pushes each member of the Bird family in opposite directions and effects how each of them develops as a person. We get to see each character battle with their guilt and lack of control and the author really does an astonishing job of presenting the heartache and damage done to them (and that they do to each other) by the circumstances of their lives. We get to see first hand the vicious cycle of mental and, in some cases, physical damage that can cause generations to pass on this sort of problem even as they swear they will be different.

The story also incorporates the email correspondence between Lorelei and an online romantic interest and it is within this correspondence that we get to peek inside Lorelei's scarred heart and mind and see how her life imploded from her own point of view. We learn what really happened that one horrible Easter and her attempts to try and fight her mental illness as much as she can. These parts really broke my heart! The narrator does such a great job of inflecting a false happiness into Lorelei's words as the listener can hear the pain and sadness crack through. Even though Lorelei had hurt those she said she loved  most, quite badly at times, I couldn't help wanting to give this fictional character a hug and try to help her. Even being done with the story I still can't get her out of my head!

While I know this sounds just horribly sad it isn't all bad. We do get a sense that things could be different in the future for some of the Birds, if they are willing to get help and help each other heal and move on. Regardless of where these characters might have gone after the story technically ended, the time spent with each of them was quite the journey. I'm always amazed when an author can make me truly feel for their fictional characters and Lisa Jewell definitely did that. I am so excited to see what else she has to offer!

What Did I Think About the Cover?

It's perfect! You have the fragile yet beautiful egg with cracks showing in it's shell, not unlike the Bird family. Easter eggs also have a recurring place in the story and sort of represent the innocence of their lives before the kids began to grow up and realize how imperfect their family was. The colors are very soft and soothing as well.

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

Has anyone else read The House We Grew Up In? If so, what did you think of Lorelei and her family? Have you read any other books by Lisa Jewell? Any that dealt with this sort of outwardly hidden family unrest?

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