Book Review: The Girls, by Lisa Jewell

Available nationwide from 2 July.cv_the_girls

A closed London suburban community, centred around a developed common garden is the least place to expect anything out of the ordinary. Some families are of three generations of residency around its border. Children use the garden and its planned areas for play and exploration. All seems peaceful.

Until a disturbing incident reveals their dubious background and events from the past are dragged into the here and now.

The most recently arrived residents – Grace and her daughters Grace and Pip – have brought with them their own story and trauma. As the two girls are gradually accepted by the Garden’s children, their mother is drawn into socialising with other parents. Over months we become more and more uneasy about the manner of each resident’s stories.

We follow Clare’s experiences among the community as she learns more about them and their past interaction: a man with a reputation, an elderly woman who has observed it all, a child neglected by her mother, the family whose three daughters are home-schooled, a young boy who cares for his adult brother’s welfare. Both Clare and Adele (the home-schooling mother) are drawn into following the trail of the children’s play, and in doing so learn of events more and more disturbing.

At first, in spite of the crime occurring in the first chapter, the domesticity of each family seemed of little interest. But as the back story worked its way through the lead up to the crime, I was drawn into the same feelings of worry felt by any protective mother, as Clare discovers more and more detail about her neighbours and their children. On reading through to the end, I have to adjudge the writer’s ability to entangle a reader in the mesh of the community as being superbly deceptive and enthralling. I am glad I had the opportunity to read Lisa Jewell’s thirteenth novel – and have a lot of catch up reading to do now.

Reviewed by Lynn McAnulty-Street

The Girls
Lisa Jewell
Published by Century, for Penguin Random House
ISBN: 9781780893594

Words of the Day – Tuesday, 1 October 2013

This is a digest of our Twitter feed (now with a new title) that we email out most Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Sign up here for free if you’d like it emailed to you.

Book reviews
Book Review: The House We Grew Up In, by Lisa Jewell
Doctor Sleep
by Stephen King – review (Guardian Books)

New Releases
New Release: Juno & Hannah, by Beryl Fletcher (Spinifex Press) 

Giveaway: The Score – tell us what score means to you at, and be in to win.

Mega children’s book giveaway – one pack for younger readers, one for older.

An extract from Demon Dentist, by David Walliams, illustrated by Tony Ross (HarperCollins)

Book News
It’s 1 October folks, which means Booksellers Gift Cards are available at these stores nationwide
What huge recognition for Matters of the Heart author Angela Wanhalla, picking up an $800k Rutherford Fellowship

Publisher behind Book Awards Finalist releases second book

New press and debut publication launched to celebrate 20 years of creative writing @WhitireiaNZ
A Window into NZ Writing: The IIML Documentary — 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Making Baby Float coming on television

Nook hires new chief operating officer and new executive vice president of content and marketing

Awards News
1 October means submissions are now open for the #nzpcba and the #nzpba. Get those books packed & out the door.

From around the internet
William Boyd introduces his new James Bond novel, Solo, to New Zealanders:   #BondSolo

Pop your headphones on and listen to the dulcet tones of Dominic West reading the new Bond book, Solo

Macmillan’s Swoon Reads looking for unpublished romance & new adult novels. How to submit

Yes you can make sales using social media. Here’s how:  #Free #whitepaper

Flavorwire put together a list of 50 books every parent should read their child  What would you add?

Interesting piece about trends in YA lit; whats does success of books like #hungergames say about teens’ concerns?

Book Review: The House We Grew Up In, by Lisa Jewell

This enjoyable book tells the story of two generationscv_the_house_we_grew_up_in of the Bird family – from their close-knit family unit to their scattering to the winds as the children grew into adulthood, and how events drag them back into each others lives.

The story is told at pace, and moves back and forth in time, switching between narrators and storytelling style (some of the most illuminating episodes are in email form).  Jewell teases the reader, slowly revealing different facets of the family mystery, and several times during the book I thought I had things worked out, only to realise that if I couldn’t possibly – I wasn’t far enough in for a “big reveal”.  The plot arc is familiar without being predictable, which keeps the read comfortable without being boring.

I didn’t particularly empathise with any of the characters, and some I found unlikeable or just plain bewildering – which isn’t the impediment to enjoyment that you might suppose.  It did feel like a family that could exist in real life, in some ways – you can’t pick your relations, after all – but some of the decisions made by some of the characters felt a bit melodramatic or soap-opera-ish.

The ending also felt a bit too neat, in the way that a TV series that’s been cancelled has to wrap up all the loose ends – without giving anything away to readers of this review, there was a lot more generosity displayed than I suspect would happen in real life.  But hey, it’s not a documentary after all … and reading this novel had the additional benefit of ensuring that I started my spring cleaning and clear-out early, and that I did a more thorough job than usual.  And if you want to know what that means, get yourself down to your local bookstore to pick up a copy yourself.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The House We Grew Up In
by Lisa Jewell
Published by Century (Random House)
ISBN 9781846059247