The Family Upstairs
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Psychological Suspense, Psychological Thriller, Suspense, Thriller
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Atria Books
Be careful who you let in.
Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.
She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.
Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.
In The Family Upstairs, the master of “bone-chilling suspense” (People) brings us the can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets.
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Lisa Jewell is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of eighteen novels, including The Family Upstairs and Then She Was Gone, as well as Watching You and I Found You. Her novels have sold more than 4.5 million copies internationally, and her work has also been translated into twenty-five languages. Instagram @, and on Facebook @.
Libby ends the call and stares around her kitchen. Five minutes ago, this kitchen was the only kitchen she could afford, this flat the only one she could buy, here in this quiet street of terraced cottages in the backwaters of St. Albans. She remembers the flats and houses she saw during her online searches, the little intakes of breath as her eye caught upon the perfect place–a suntrap terrace, an eat-in kitchen, a five-minute walk to the station, a bulge of ancient leaded windows, the suggestion of cathedral bells from across a green–and then she would see the price and feel herself a fool for ever thinking it might be for her. She compromised on everything in the end to find a place that was close to her job and not too far from the train station. There was no gut instinct as she stepped across the threshold; her heart said nothing to her as the estate agent showed her around. But she made it a home to be proud of, panistakingly creaming off the best that T.J. Maxx had to offer, and now her badly converted, slightly awkward one-bedroom flat makes her feel happy. She bought it; she adorned it. It belongs to her. But now it appears she is the owner of a house on the finest street in Chelsea and suddenly her flat looks like a ridiculous joke.
If you were contacted one day regarding a hefty inheritance, would you think it a hoax? There are all sorts of ramifications to something like this, right? How would you not know about the inheritance? If you were adopted, would you want to know more about your biological parents? Would you want to know if you had brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, or cousins? This is a significant amount of pressure, not to mention the inheritance itself; would you want it? If you accept the inheritance, how would your life change? Jewell has a captivating psychological suspense that will leave readers speechless.
The Family Upstairs begins with Libby, but is told from three different characters. Libby has always wanted to know more about who she is, who her parents are, and if she has any siblings out there somewhere. She’s just about given up hope of ever having those answers until she is contacted about a sole inheritance on her twenty-fifth birthday. There is such a sinister past behind the mansion that she has inherited, but against the lawyer’s cautioning, Libby is determined to find out more about it. Lucy is the second narrator of the story and we get a lot of backstory from her that leads you to believe that her and Libby are connected. Her past and present are awful, but there is a shining beacon of light at the end of the tunnel for her. Her will for her son to have a better life is the sole force that keeps her going in the right direction and that is back to the old, abandoned mansion that she ran away from… where she must now go and wait for the baby to come back. Henry is the last narrator that readers will get a little bit of a an altered story, but nonetheless, it appears to be interconnected to Libby and Lucy as well. In his point of view, after the tragedy that befalls their entire family, he lies in wait. Living across the way from that old mansion he grew up in for years with his parents and the family upstairs, he silently awaits for the baby to return as well. How are they all connected? Are they all telling the truth? You’ll have to read it to find out more, but we hope this has seized your attention.
Jewell’s characters are absolutely fantastic. There is mystery, suspense, tragedy, and joy to be had with this story, but the characters ultimately tell all. The story is written quite well and the creativity is off the charts. What can really inspire a reader is learning more about how the author chose to write about these specific characters and where the inspiration came from. You can only get that from the Barnes & Noble copy, so it is highly recommended that you pick it up and give it a read after finishing this profound story. If we had to determine the genre of this story, it would fit best in psychological suspense. If you are a reader of this genre, this is a MUST read. We’ve included some of the topics and questions for discussion from the Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition below. By now, you’ve already discovered that this review is written a little differently from our other reviews. We will only be doing this for the Book Club Editions.
Turning Another Page did purchase this hardcover and participate in the book club discussion, but please do not go any further unless you’ve read the book because there may be spoiler alerts!!! We provide Lisa Jewell’s The Family Upstairs with a five-star rating.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
If you’ve read this story, please feel free to comment below with your thoughts on these questions. We would LOVE to engage you in conversation.
1. The Family Upstairs is told from three perspectives: Henry, Lucy, and Libby’s. Was there one character in particular whose point of view you especially enjoyed? What is the effect of having Henry’s sections told in first person narration and Lucy and Libby’s told in third person narration? Why do you think Lisa Jewell structured her novel this way?
2. Henry, rightfully, hates David. Yet, Henry and David share many similar tendencies and qualities. Compare and contrast the two men.
3. There are many intriguing characters who do not directly narrate the novel. Is there a character whose point of view you’d have liked to had included? What do you think Martina, for example, thought about David and Birdie’s choices?
4. What is the effect of characters calling Libby “the baby” throughout the novel? How does this inform your opinion of Libby and her role in the story?
5. Which of adult Henry, Lucy, and Clemency’s behaviors can you directly trace back to their harrowing experiences as children? How do you see the influence of their abuse in their grown up lives?
6. The relationship between Henry and Phin is pivotal to the plot, but we aren’t told as much about the friendship between Lucy and Clemency. What details do we glean about their relationship from Henry and Lucy’s memories and Clemency’s account toward the end of the novel?
7. What types of power are wielded in this novel? Who has power, who loses it, and who wants it? Is there a character without any agency?
8. Do you think Henry’s lies and violent acts were born out of his need to survive an unimaginable situation, or do you think there is, as Clemency states, “a streak of pure evil” (page 280) in him?
9. Lucy and Clemency experienced unspeakable abuse as children, but, miraculously, they managed to break the cycle and become good mothers to their children. What are their relationships like with their children? What makes them good moms?
10. After Clemency tells Henry that her father tried to con his own family once, Henry decides he must act against David. As he remembers his conversation with Clemency, he thinks, “It was a fork in the road, really. Looking back on it there were so many other ways to have got through the trauma of it all, but with all the people I loved most in the world facing away from me I chose the worst possible option” (page 274). While Henry claims he would have resorted to less violent ways of escaping the Lamb house, do you really believe him? Or do you think part of him wanted revenge?
11. Libby finds many disconcerting traces of the house’s previous inhabitants when she tours it. Which artifacts did you find the eeriest? Which intrigued you and made you want to find out what had happened inside the house?
12. In your opinion, who is the most tragic figure in this novel? Do they experience healing or redemption?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. When Libby tells Dido that she and Miller are investigating her past and the home she inherited, Dido insists on helping, saying she may be useful because, “I’ve read every Agatha Christie novel ever published. Twice” (page 99). Choose one of Agatha Christie’s mysteries set at a family home with a dark secret, such as Crooked House or Peril at End House, and discuss how Lisa Jewell and Agatha Christie use family homes to similar or different effects.
2. With its atmospheric setting, dark mystery, and twists and turns, The Family Upstairs seems like the perfect book to adapt to a movie. Who would you cast as its stars? Discuss as a group how a director might adapt a book with so many narrators and perspectives.
3. Many of the characters in this novel survived abusive relationships of various types. As a group, consider volunteering at a local women and children’s shelter to support those in your community who are recovering from their own traumas.