I decided to read this book because I saw it was one of Colleen Hoover’s current reads. While I wasn’t a fan of “November 9,” when I gave Hoover a second chance and read “It Ends With Us,” she freaking blew me away. So now I follow her on goodreads and, apparently, take recommendations from her.
Also, “The Family Upstairs” is just a really good title and I’m always a sucker for a good domestic suspense. (I mean, I did write one that has 51k reads on wattpad, not that I look for reasons to awkwardly pitch my own work or anything…hehe….who would do that?)
Well, Colleen Hoover didn’t steer me wrong. I really enjoyed this book. I gave it four stars on goodreads. There was enough to keep me guessing throughout the story. At first I felt like skipping between past tense first-person and present tense third-person was annoying, but it weirdly grew on me over the course of the book, and in the end, I found myself feeling like it worked.
Henry was by far the best character. He wasn’t fully evil or fully good. He was twisted, but still remained oddly sympathetic. Even though it starts in the present and then darts back into the past, and we know the basics of the ending from the very start, enough was left out to keep things interesting. I enjoyed how things were revealed to us one nugget of information at a time.
The descriptions were beautiful and grotesque. Henry’s descriptions of Birdie were especially vivid. You could really tell how Henry felt about each of the other characters by the way he described them.
Now I will reveal a few spoilers. Go away now if you don’t want them———————————————————————————————-
The biggest shock at the ending was that Henry was behind Phin’s illness the whole time. And the fact that Phin only pushed Henry in the Thames because Henry tried to kiss him, I couldn’t believe what an unreliable narrator Henry was, and I LOVED it!
My only criticisms of the book are that, while the mystery aspect was fun, this book didn’t have an edge-of-my-seat gripping quality. I think what could have made the book a real page-turner was if it had spent more time in Henry’s POV and showed the decline of the household more slowly. I also think that giving away less of the details right at the beginning.I really found myself wishing that there wasn’t such a heavy reliance on time-lapses and glossing. I wanted to see the slow decline of these people and their lives. And Libby’s story wasn’t really all that interesting. Lucy’s was more interesting, but I still found every Libby and Lucy chapter to be a bit of an annoyance. The only really great elements of those chapters were the new bits of information we learn about the house and the lives of Henry and his siblings.
Also, I figured out Lucy was Henry’s sister right away. How could you not? She’s the only character without a name when we’re in his POV in the past. Every other character has a name, but with her it’s just “my sister.” If it has to say “my sister” thirty times on a page, so be it. It wasn’t clever. Just annoying. A better way to not give away Lucy’s connection to Libby would be to give her another name. I mean, she has new documents with a fake name on it anyway and she’s totally distanced herself from her whole life. Giving her a different name would have been a much less obvious way to go about this “twist.” It’s not really a twist if I can see what’s happening by the fifteenth use of “my sister.”
And I found the title slightly misleading. There isn’t really a “family upstairs.” They become intertwined with Henry’s family so quickly (at least in terms of Henry’s POV page count-there’s a LOT of time lapses and glossing), that the title barely makes sense. It’s ominous and all, and it would be a good title if it fit, but it doesn’t.
Overall, this was a good book. It was entertaining and kept me guessing. The ending genuinely surprised me. Henry was a wonderfully three-dimensional character and the best way to improve this book would have been to sacrifice a TON of Lucy and Libby’s chapters and give that page count to Henry. Really, I cared so little for Lucy’s life of playing the fiddle on the streets of France and Libby’s life selling kitchens and trying to date. It was all just so boring compared to miscarriages and imprisoning children and strange polyamorous family dynamics that include a man impregnating (or at least it looked that way) both a mother AND her underage daughter. That house was fucking wild. THAT is the content I wanted.
When in doubt, writers, keep it simple, just write the exciting stuff. You don’t need to slow it all down with POV characters that are boring as hell compared to the “good” POV, and with how interesting Henry was, there’s no way Jewell didn’t look forward to his chapters more than either of the other main characters.
I will say Jewell must have put a lot of work into crafting such a complex plot, going back and forth in time, among several POVs. Each little clue unfolded and revealed its secrets eventually. There wasn’t one gun in this story that didn’t go off. The level of detail and thought put into this story is truly breathtaking.
I recommend this book for anyone who enjoyed Paul Tremblay’s “Head Full of Ghosts” or Jeffrey Euginides’ “Middlesex.” There was a dash of horror and a whole lot of domestic suspense, coupled with the kind of intergenerational intrigue that Euginides crafts.
I’ll be making it a point to check out Jewell’s other books shortly. She’s a talented writer that I need a LOT more of in my life.