“The house had been impenetrable by either of its front doors for many years now. The family had always come in and out through the kitchen door at the back and for the last few years Lorelei had been used both hallways at the front as bonus ‘storage areas'” – The House We Grew Up In
Lorelei is the matriarch of the Bird family, a sweet, yet highly dysfunctional British family. Lorelei is both loving and disordered, kind and cluttered. She has four beautiful, yet starkly different children, and it is hard to understand who she is at the point of her death without looking back at her past and the events that shape her.
The House We Grew Up In is both tender and heartwarming as a look back at the triumphs and struggles of one particular family, and incredibly disturbing as it examines Lorelei’s descent into madness and disarray. Lorelei falsely imagines that her children are all content, but over time she comes to see that Meg, her eldest, is disappointed with Lorelei’s hoarding, Beth is afraid of rocking the boat regarding the crumbling relationship between her parents, and the twins, Rhys and Rory are starkly different and rarely communicate with each other. While this alone may be bearable, when a family tragedy strikes, the Birds slowly fall apart.
This book is a heartwarming tribute to a complex and caring family, yet it brings up the emotions so often involved with family drama. Beautifully written with realistic characters, I largely appreciated this book until a certain rather unbelievable event left me doubting the characters, their motivations, and the story as a whole. Overall, this is a touching story, but it is simultaneously frustrating as the characters evolve from being entirely believable to being extreme caricatures of their former selves. This is an interesting read, and likely will spark discussion, but not necessarily for the right reasons.
Book Club Discussion:
1. No one seems to understand why Lorelei never deals with the family tragedy. Why might she refuse to do so?
2. Does Meg ever fully come to understand her mother’s illness?
3. Is the trajectory of Lorelei’s life realistic, or does it become increasingly fictitious?
4. What is the ultimate message about families within this book?