The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

By Ekta R. Garg

August 20, 2014

Rated: Bypass it

Four siblings try to escape their home circumstances by making radically different choices from one another. These choices force their lives to intersect, despite their best intentions otherwise, and the siblings ultimately understand that no matter how far away they go from home eventually they may have to return. Lisa Jewell brings to readers this plot in the somewhat insipid novel The House We Grew Up In.

Meg, Beth, and the twins, Rory and Rhys, live in a home with a whimsical mother and a father who exudes patience for their mother’s quaintness. But as she grows up, Meg realizes that what some call her mother’s quirk actually points to a serious problem. Her mother can’t let go of her physical possessions and finds ways to add to her growing collection. The house starts to get lost under cleaning supplies, newspapers, dinnerware, and dozens of other objects, and Meg finally admits the truth to herself even if her mother can’t: her mom, Lorelei, is a hoarder.

The hoarding becomes worse when tragedy occurs, and that tragedy causes a crack in the foundation of their family. As events start to unfold, the crack spreads and reaches the seams. Before long the seams widen and some of the family members leave home. One sibling turns into a compulsive cleaner; another moves out of the country. Without realizing it, however, they all continue to make life choices based on their experiences in the house. When another tragedy brings them back, they must work together to understand those experiences and decide who they will become in light of—and despite—them.

Author Lisa Jewell takes her time to develop the story and the characters. In true British fashion, the characters share dry wit and observations. Unfortunately the witty moments come few and far between. Jewell emphasizes the dramatic events, which readers may not mind in the beginning of the book. By the middle, however, fatigue may set in; readers won’t have much trouble guessing at the nature of the tragedies and their consequences. Jewell provides enough foreshadowing to take out much of the intrigue, and readers may decide to stick with the book only to see whether they guessed correctly. In most cases, they will have.

Lorelei’s hoarding offers an unusual backdrop for the story, and the story problem will interest readers for a short time. Because the point of view toggles between Lorelei and her children and other characters, however, readers will find themselves distracted after a certain point. Toward the end of the story, readers may feel like telling all of the characters to just get on with it already.

I suggest readers bypass The House We Grew Up In.

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