Title: The House We Grew Up In
Author: Lisa Jewell
No. of Pages: 400
Origins: Atria Books
Release Date: 12 August 2014
Bottom Line: Interesting look at the mindset of a hoarder and the damage it causes on family members
“Meet the Bird family. They live in a simple brick house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching just beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together each night. Everybody in town gushes over the two girls, who share their mother’s apple cheeks and wide smiles. Of the boys, lively, adventurous Rory can stir up trouble, moving through life more easily than little Rhys, his slighter, more sensitive counterpart. Their father is a sweet gangly man, but it’s their mother, Lorelei, a beautiful free spirit with long flowing hair and eyes full of wonder, who spins at the center.
Time flies in those early years when the kids are still young. Lorelei knows that more than anyone, doing her part to freeze time by protecting the precious mementos she collects, filling the house with them day by day. Easter egg foils are her favorite. Craft supplies, too. She insists on hanging every single piece of art ever produced by any of the children, to her husband’s chagrin.
Then one Easter weekend, tragedy occurs. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass and the children have become adults, found new relationships, and, in Meg’s case, created families of their own. Lorelei has become the county’s worst hoarder. She has alienated her husband, her children, and has been living as a recluse for six years. It seems as though they’d never been The Bird Family at all, as if loyalty were never on the table. But then something happens that calls them home, back to the house they grew up in—and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.
Delving deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the gripping story of a family’s desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.”
Thoughts: Families are the source of our life and our exasperations. The very nature of familial relationships means that family members have the power to cause more harm to other family members than any outsider could ever attempt. These relationships also mean that not only will family members keep secrets, but those very same secrets will see the light of day eventually. It is no wonder that stories about family dysfunction never grow old.
In The House We Grew Up In, the Bird family has its share of tragedies. In fact, the story reads like a soap opera at times with all of the drama among the family members. It can be quite comical actually because there is just so much of it. Affairs, dubious relationships, dubious career choices, psychological issues, enabling – and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Some readers may find it all just a bit too ridiculous for comfort.
Lorelei’s hoarding, and her family’s reactions to it, are just one facet of the complexities occurring within the family dynamic although by far the most visual element and a great symbol for everything else. Descriptions of Lorelei’s piles of stuff will cause visceral reactions within readers, to the point where readers will find themselves cleaning out their own closets and storage areas, purging and decluttering, cleaning and sanitizing, all in an effort to be as unlike Lorelei as possible. Thankfully, Ms. Jewell spends much more time describing Lorelei’s hoarding as a physical symptom of a greater issue, which is the more important element of the story.
Outside of issues with the sheer number and extremity of family drama, The House We Grew Up In does a fantastic job showing the ever-changing family dynamic as well as the stress and strain of family in general. The story moves quickly over the years as it draws closer and closer to uncovering the truth of the tragedy that sets everything in motion. All of the characters are flawed, adding an air of realism to a somewhat extreme story. No matter how one feels about any of the scandals uncovered throughout the story, it remains entertaining to the very end. To that extent, the note of hope on which the story ends is a fantastic way to close the story of the Bird family drama.