Review of The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

The book Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell held over a snow covered deck.
(C) Allie Mikenna, 2020

Last year, I knocked out my reading goals, but I didn’t spend a ton of time reflecting on or reviewing them. My goal is to write more book reviews in 2020. I review books on Goodreads, but want to review them here in longer form. I’m kicking things off with a review of The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell.

The quick synopsis

Shortly after she turns 25, Libby Jones gets home from work and finds the letter she’s been waiting for her whole life – the one that will tell her who she is. 

She gets a whole lot more than she bargained for when she learns the identify of her birth parents and that she’s the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion in London’s Chelsea neighborhood – and it’s worth millions.

25 years prior, police were called to the home with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found Libby, ten months old and happy in her crib in a bedroom. Down in the kitchen were three dead bodies dressed in matching black outfits with a quickly written suicide note. The four other children who allegedly lived in the home were missing. But they’ve been waiting for Libby to turn 25 and discover the mansion – and she’s destined to meet them when she does. 

This story features three entangled families living in a house full of very dark secrets, as you will discover. 

On to the review!

This is my second book by Lisa Jewell. Both were described as thrillers across marketing and bookstagram. In both cases, I felt that really didn’t do the books justice. The Family Upstairs reads more like a domestic fiction with suspenseful undertones than it reads like a true thriller. It’s not action-packed – it’s a slow build. The first 1/3 of the book or so were pretty boring and backstory based. Things pick up in the second 2/3 and do get more interesting. 

My rating

I rated this 2.5 stars, but 3 stars on Goodreads since I round up there. In my review system, three stars means “liked, didn’t love, may or may not recommend, often lacked something I looked for.” Two stars means “just okay and typically not a book I’d recommend.” This falls in the middle for me because I liked parts of it, but just felt underwhelmed on balance. 

What I liked

Lisa Jewell is a great writer – she writes interesting places with detail you can picture. Her pacing is typically good, and I did read this almost straight-through without stopping because I wanted to know what happened. So she successfully kept me hooked as a reader despite me being on the fence about the plot itself – meaning, I don’t think this is a bad book. It just wasn’t for me. 

How I felt

The first 1/3 of the book bored me. I had difficulty getting hooked, but stuck it out since I was reading this as a buddy ready. I went in expecting a thriller since that’s how it’s marketed, but there weren’t that many twists and turns that felt all that suspenseful. Of the twists included, a lot left me feeling “alright, that’s it?” Many of the characters aren’t fleshed out enough to be all that interesting to me. I like Libby, the main character, and felt connected to her. As for the rest, given the amount of backstory included, I feel there should’ve been more to their personalities. I did still sympathize with them and their situations, however. 

Who should read it

If you are a fan of domestic fiction/ family drama and books with an air of mystery, I’d recommend this for you. For fans of Lisa Jewell, this seems in the same vein as The Girls In The Garden to me, just a bit darker. If you are expecting a fast-paced, twisty thriller, I think you’ll be disappointed reading this one and would recommend skipping it. Or, I’d recommend going in with the right frame of mind around the pacing and “thrill” level. 

Things to note

I appreciate when I have a heads up on heavy themes in books. Note a trigger warning for domestic violence, sexual assault references, physical and emotional child abuse, and neglect here. 

Have you read The Family Upstairs? Did you love it or was it just alright for you, too? I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments section below!

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