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The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

My rating: 4.5 of 5

400 pages
Published August 12th 2014 by Atria Books (first published August 2014)
Available on: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

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What they say:

“Clever, intelligent…wonderful” (Jojo Moyes, New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You).”

What I have to say:

I have to start this review with the following quote from the book:

“I love other people’s families,” he said. “They always make me feel better about my own.”

Secrets, lies, fears, estrangement, tragedies. Hidden or not, every family has them. We can’t deny that. The House We Grew Up In tells the story of the Bird family. On the outside they are picture perfect English family, happy and united. Devoted stay at home Mom, responsible working Dad and 4 kids living and growing up in the Cotswolds, but no one really knows, not even them, what they hide inside themselves. Everything seems fine until one Easter day, something tragic happens and we read how each family member reacts and copes with the situation through the years, a premise with which we can all relate to.

The House We Grew Up In in is an unputdownable book. The writing is fantastic. It is fast paced. I’ve read it twice. The first time it took me a couple days to finish but it was hard to put it down. Then I re-read it in one sitting. It is also compelling and descriptive. The author makes an excellent job in transmitting feelings and emotions, making it hard not to feel the characters’ happiness, fears and pains. You also get a full-length picture of the settings. The third person narration is great, you feel like reading a very real and actual story. I enjoyed the way everything unfolded. We go back and forth into different episodes in this family’s life. It was cleverly written in a way that you don’t feel lost in time. Unlike other books I’ve read, where the time jumps are just confusing, the transitions between the past and present memories in this book are flawless. Also, the emails inserted in the story are a great plus to understand many questions that flourish while reading.

The characters were very well developed. You feel like you get to know them all through the years. There are characters for everyone: babies, kids, teens, young adults, grown-ups you name it. They are all intertwined and important for the story. Despite their flaws, you can bond with any of them. I’ve read this book twice and I can tell you that I’ve bonded with different characters each time I read the book.

But there’s another unusual character in this story, one that teaches valuable lessons. A character that is not human. For me, the house was another main character in this book. It played an important role in this family’s life. For years these people blamed the house for being their source and receptacle of bad memories. They were eager to escape the house and leave their woes behind. But the house proved them and the reader wrong. It’s not the house.

SPOILER Lorelei never left the house and her demons stayed with her permanently no matter how much she hoarded to avoid thinking of them. Colin and the kids, they all left the house and took their demons away with them. When they came back to the house, they brought their demons inside again. END SPOILER

Even when you move out, your demons go with you wherever you go. Not because you leave a place and ignore those demons, it means they’re gone. They’re always there and unless you gain the courage to face them, they will be there forever. Haunting you. Making you forget to enjoy life.

Thanks to the house, the Birds finally accepted the things they couldn’t change or understand from their past, they let go and they grew up. SPOILER The fact that they didn’t get rid of the house was a brilliant proof of that. END SPOILER In the end, I could feel and see the house smiling.

I liked this book very much. It personally hit close to home in different ways. I know that if you read it you will, without a doubt, think of your family and the issues that “haunt” you. This book touches an infinite variety of subjects that everyone can relate to. This book will make you reflect on how you handle similar situations. Highly recommended read for families and book clubs (Here’s a link to the publisher’s reading book guide). It is a window of opportunity to have profound discussions on topics like lesbianism, suicide, mental illness, alcoholism, adultery, hoarding, incest, unconventional relationships, cyber dating, parenthood and familial bonds, to name a few.

Hoarding is one of the main subjects in this book. I think it was addressed in a respectfully impeccable way. We’ve all seen those TV shows in hopes to get some insight on the matter, but these shows don’t get to the core of the situation. If you’re interested in this topic, this book is a great aid.

Every hoarder is different. They all have different backgrounds. In this book, the “eggcentric” Lorelei was a hoarder in my humble opinion because she was afraid to be alone. I felt so sorry for her. Even though she was the one that had to find the key inside her to open the door out of her troubles, it was too sad that no one had the guts in the beginning to fight with her against her illness. A lot could have been prevented early on. I’m not justifying her, but everyone took a rude approach and belittled her because of her illness, they were selfish leaving her to deal with her problem. Again, it’s no excuse but she must’ve felt so abandoned as an empty nester to hoard so compulsively. Instead of punishing her, they should’ve taken the time to ask her how she was. It’s so important to ask people how they are, but not just casually, but letting them know that you are interested to listen and want to really know how they are. That’s what Jim did and it worked. He listened (well, actually he read her emails) without judging. Lesson learnt.

Even though I’ve enjoyed reading this book twice and have learnt quite a few lessons from the story, I gave it 4.5 stars because I felt that we needed a little more insight on Rhys. He’s the only character in this story that remains unknown. I understand that it had to be that way in order to bond with the rest of the characters and feel what they felt, but still, I got to know too little about him that I felt like I needed to understand him as much as I did the other characters. Rhys was a loose end. If it weren’t for that it would be a solid 5 star read.

18764826The cover is just so perfect for the story. At first, I was attracted by the pretty image and colors. But having read the book it’s so much more than that. The fact that the egg is cracked is perfect. That egg symbolizes so many things for me. Yes we can go with the obvious, on how Easter is not a pretty colorful marketed day but an imperfect and haunting date for this family, the “eggcentric” egg-hunts Lorelei was obsessed with, etc.; it ties well to the plot. But there’s more to it. It can be the house, it needed to be lived, happy times and tragedies, it needed to be cracked to be appreciated for what was inside. The egg can be the family, I mean they even had Bird as a last name! The Birds! So clever Lisa Jewell, so clever! Anyway, each family member, they all needed to come out of their shells on their own, they needed to stop hiding and let go of the fear of facing their troubles to grow up and be free. It also represents hoarding or any issue that haunts families and healing this problem. I know this cover is more appealing to females, but men, don’t judge the book by the cover, I highly recommend this story for men and women alike.

The title of this book is so clever. Hats off to Lisa Jewell. Some people think they grow up the minute they leave their childhood home, like once you’re outside “the house”, leaving everything inside that house is a rite of passage that magically makes you an adult. But the Birds didn’t grow when they “flew the nest”; they grew up when they came back to the house to clean it up. Cleaning the hoard wasn’t just about getting rid of all the stuff accumulated inside the house, they also cleansed themselves from guilt and all the feelings and thoughts that had them stuck and didn’t allow them to move on. They came back to the house, they reunited, bonded and grew up IN.

This was the first book by Lisa Jewell I read, and it was so fascinating that I will look for her other work in the future.

The House We Grew Up In is a powerful story about a family that could be yours or mine. You will definitely think of your family and reconsider your relationship with them when you read this book. There are no perfect families. This book teaches you that, in case you were still dreaming about perfection.

NewWords Button by Bloggeretterized

  • set in aspic:  British English if something is preserved in aspic, it has not changed for a very long time.
  • glean: verb. To collect bit by bit.
  • nonplussed: verb. To put at a loss as to what to think, say, or do; bewilder.
  • agog: adjective. Full of keen anticipation or excitement; eager.
  • frisson: noun. A passing sensation of excitement; thrill.
  • avuncular: adjective.   Regarded as characteristic of an uncle, especially in benevolence or tolerance.
  • forage: verb.  To search about
  • countenance: noun Composure; self-control.
  • flaxen: adjective. Of a soft yellow colour.
  • facetious: adjective. Playfully jocular; humorous.
  • lurid: adjective. Gruesome. Horrible. Revolting.
  • antipodean: adjective. Australian.
  • prowess: noun. Outstanding or superior skill or ability.
  • ephemera: noun. Something transitory or short-lived.
  • sinews: noun. A tendon.
  • gossamer: adjective. Sheer, light, or delicate.
  • elastoplast: noun. Bandaid.
Words have multiple meanings, what you read are those that apply at how the word is used in this book.
All definitions taken from the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary.

LessonsLearnt Button by BloggeretterizedNever thought of pics this way, it’s weirdly true, but it won’t stop me from liking them 🙂

Photographs are lies, darling. You know that. They’re one-dimensional. They only tell you about one precise moment in a whole infinite string of moments.

HOARDING EXCUSES: valid up to a point but in the end they’re that, excuses that must be addressed.

I can’t throw it away. Because it’s like throwing away something that happened.

I just sort of leave things and I intend to do something about them but then once they’ve been sitting there for a few days I kind of stop noticing them.

Do you think that’s why Mum lives like she does? Do you think she’s punishing herself too?


All families can relate to these

…no family is indestructible. But we’re pretty resilient.

Well, you know, that’s life, isn’t it? Families aren’t all the same.

…would you believe me if I told you we all used to be close? Like a paper-chain family. Inextricably linked. And now we’re just ephemera. Scattered across the globe. Nothing to link us together. Absolutely nothing.

Remember, Megan, that wherever you find yourselves, you are all pebbles from the same beach. Look after each other.

I’m just dealing with a toxic family. I’ve managed to keep them away for all these years, and now they’re all drifting back and I know it has to happen but, still, it’s a lot to take on board.

…would you believe me if I told you we all used to be close? Like a paper-chain family. Inextricably linked. And now we’re just ephemera. Scattered across the globe. Nothing to link us together. Absolutely nothing.


Adultery lesson:

…that’s what these stupid, stupid women don’t realize, when they sleep with a married man. They’re not just sleeping with him. They’re sleeping with his whole fucking family. His whole fucking family!”


Growing up lessons:

…only the individual has the key to change themselves. It’s buried deep inside each and every one of us and although someone else can help us to find the key, we’re the only ones who can use it.

Oh, darling,” she said, “one day, God willing, you’ll be forty too, and I promise you, you will not feel a day over eighteen. Not a day.

…you are a grown woman! You’re not a teenager. This is the real world. We are real people. This is real life. And things sometimes happen that don’t fit in with how we think the story should go, but we just have to take a deep breath and get on with it, not sit there in the corner sulking because it’s not what we were hoping for. Come on!

Funny how people deal with stuff.

It was as though this other person had been living inside him for all those years, just waiting for a chance of escape. And maybe I have another me, living inside my daft old body, a me who might wake up one morning and say, ENOUGH!

…the foundations beneath the dream house were made of sand and the whole thing collapsed.

The hardest thing to accept is that some things happen for absolutely no reason at all.


If you want to be happy, BE:

“It hurt me too. It hurt more than anything ever hurt me in my life. But look at us now. You’re about to have a baby. Me and Bill are happy.”

“Are you?” Beth sniffed and looked up miserably at Megan. “Seriously?”

“Yes. We are.”

“But I don’t understand how you could be.”

“Because we wanted to be,” said Megan simply.


A thought on memories

…a spirit is just another word for a memory, isn’t it? The stronger the memory, the stronger the spirit. Because as much as I’d love to believe that the spirit lives on as a thing separate to humanity, I know that’s not true. It’s in our minds, in our hearts, that a person’s spirit lives on.


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I received a copy of this book but was not financially compensated in any way nor obliged to review. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my personal experience while reading it. This post contains affiliate links as stated in my disclosure policy.