“I know as well as you do that 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.”
The House We Grew Up In is Lisa Jewell‘s 2013 book which follows the Bird family – Lorelei is the hippy mother who lives in the moment, Colin is the sweet and caring father, Meg is the eldest daughter who is very pragmatic, Beth is the beautiful one but a bit of a dreamer, and twins Rory and Rhys are each other’s opposites. They live in a honey-coloured house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, but life inside isn’t so appealing. One Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that 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.
This is my third Lisa Jewell book of 2021 after The Family Upstairs and Invisible Girl and is undoubtedly my favourite out of those, which is odd since it seems to the complete opposite for most people. But for me, The House We Grew Up In is an edge-of-your-seat read that feels very detached from your everyday family but also too close to home at the same time.
I love Lisa Jewell’s writing but I’m finding that my enjoyment of her books comes down to whether I like the characters or not. I struggled to like any of the characters in The Family Upstairs or Invisible Girl because I didn’t feel like they redeemed themselves in the end, but I feel like I’ve just spent a week living through all this drama alongside the family in The House We Grew Up In and have found myself warming to each of them.
What Jewell does best is that she shows the good and bad in all of us by delving deep into her characters’ hearts and minds. Her books are often dark and shocking, but not from using big twists or characters who are complete psychopaths. Instead, she uses very real characters and situations to show how even the most well-rounded person can have a streak of darkness running through them. It doesn’t have to be anything too serious and their actions can be done with good intentions, but we all make mistakes, we sometimes follow the wrong path, and we will all do whatever it takes to protect the ones we love.
While every character in this book does something unforgivable, I felt a lot of sympathy for them all at the same time. They are undoubtedly a messed up family, but I have never met a family who doesn’t have something they want to hide. I was so ready to hate Lorelei but I was also heartbroken by her sole intentions to fill her children’s lives with happy memories. There’s nothing I fear more than my children growing up and resenting me for something, so I could really feel her pain.
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.
And of course there is the issue of Lorelei’s hoarding disorder. As soon as I realised that she was a hoarder, I was hooked. I love to get inside the heads of people with weird habits or dysfunctional mindsets. But of course I knew that people with hoarding disorder tend to have an emotional reason for doing so, so I was gripped to find out what secrets Lorelei was keeping.
I have to admit, the build-up to the “big reveal” was much more nerve-wracking than the reveal itself, but I’m glad Jewell didn’t take things too far. It could have easily overstepped some boundaries just for the sake of giving a big impact at the end, but it instead feels more like a genuine mistake which is what makes it all the more heartbreaking. Jewell deals with the illness with great compassion and her author’s notes are well worth a read afterwards, too.
The Birds are the definition of a dysfunctional family, but God I loved getting to know them. I know this isn’t a lot of people’s favourite Jewell book, but I found it painfully tragic, beautifully captivating and exceptionally moving. I’m still thinking about the lives of these characters days after putting the book down.