The House We Grew Up In
by Lisa Jewell
The Birds seem to be the perfect family: mother, father, four children, a picture-book cottage in the country.
But when something happens one Easter weekend, it is so unexpected, so devastating, that no one can talk about it.
The family shatters, seemingly for ever.
Until they are forced to return to the house they grew up in. And to confront what really took place all those years ago.
Unlike my other reviews, this is going to be… very different. I’ll write about what I enjoyed so much about this as I go along, but I want to have a discussion on marketing, and the roles book covers play in marketing.
The House We Grew Up In is about many things: how families can fall apart and come back together, especially in grief; the impact mental illnesses and disorders have on your children; the misunderstanding people have towards hoarding.
For me, the most important thing was the exploration of the pain that lingers after the loss of a loved one, and how the trauma can be a weight on your mind for a long time. Not getting into details, but my family have experienced a lot of losses and it still influences us twenty years on.
I found myself uncomfortable reading this, not because it was badly written, but because it captures the reality of trauma. I have so much respect for Lisa Jewell in how she writes realistic family dynamics. Others might see it as over the top or doubt that characters would forgive one another for the things that they do in this book, but I’ve seen it happen in real life, and it was just incredible how honest it is.
Lisa Jewell’s writing is compelling. It’s not overly descriptive, focusing instead on developing characters and establishing the back and forth of the narrative. The relationships between characters are believable and I genuinely loved every character, even those I hated. She’s just that good! And, because of the way the story uses flashbacks, showing us then and now, it hints at just enough familial secrets that we can’t help but carry on reading.
‘Now it’s done. Now,’ she whispered sadly, ‘I really am all alone.’
Now comes the book cover discussion.
This book, in spite of the cover I included above, is nothing like how it’s marketed. And that’s the biggest issue I have with this book.
These are the other covers this book has. The cover I included at the start of this review just feels…. false. Almost as if there’s a hatred towards quote-unquote ‘chicklit’ covers.
A lot of other Lisa Jewell books are thrillers, and it feels like they tried to sell this one under the same umbrella, but by doing that, they create a false impression before the reader even starts the book. It undersells what ended up appealing to me most about this narrative: that, in spite of the difficult content, it has moments of softness, and these other covers really carry that across.
The first cover is, personally, my favourite. I think it’s beautiful.
A lot of the book takes place over Spring, with frequent flashbacks to the Easter celebrations of the characters. The font type and colour; the floral dress; the colour tones; it’s all stunning, and really does make me think of the book. Out of all of the covers, it’s the one that most sells the book accurately, in my opinion. I wish this was the cover I had on my shelves!
The second cover is… interesting. It’s the Large Print Edition, and I think the use of the bird is very apt. Not just because they are the Bird family. Every Easter, their mum hides Easter eggs in the garden for the children, and using a bird bath with the leaves in the background ties into that.
I’m not the biggest fan of the green tones of this. It plays more into the sombre parts of the novel, but I also think it fails to capture the vibrancy of Lorelei, who is almost the centre of so much of the story.
I love the use of the house in the palm of a person’s hand. I like to think it’s Lorelei holding the house, since, ultimately, it’s her house. It’s the only place she admits to feeling safe, and the latter years of her life are spent with severe agoraphobia after a break in happens at the house.
The usage of a feather has significance in my family, symbolising the return of passed on relatives, and I love that one is included on this cover alongside the house. This book takes place mostly in England, so I like to think my projecting onto the family is warranted and lines up with my own interpretation of this cover!
An egg! Surprisingly, that’s thematically relevant to the story, and the cracks in it probably signify the cracks in the foundation of the family. It’s not completely broken apart, but it’s difficult to fix the cracks in an egg once they begin to form.
I love the colours on this cover. However, I think it’s difficult to discern much from this cover. You could argue the same of all the covers, but this one is almost too soft for the story, in the same way the bird cover is too harsh. The other two employ contrasting colours that make it clear it’s very varied in tone when you read the novel.
The House We Grew Up In isn’t about any big mystery, even though it has mysterious elements. It’s just about the dysfunctions of a family that love each other in spite of their damage.
I really love this book, and it was great being able to analyse these covers! Please, I urge you to go into this novel not looking at it as a thriller or dangerous mystery, when it’s about familial bonds and repairing relationships.
Content warning: incest, mentions of rape and sexual assault, cheating, drug mention, hoarding, mental illness and discussions of mental breakdowns
If you like this review, you might like:
🍎The Elementals by Michael McDowell
🍎The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan