There’s that saying that you can’t pick your family. You know the one and have probably marveled at its truthfulness at one family event or another over the years. You know, when that weird cousin brings a stripper to a wedding and no one can stop staring.* Anyway, that’s sort of the point of The History of Us. It’s all about family, and all the great and annoying qualities you wouldn’t trade for the world mostly because those defining moments in life become great blog fodder. Yes, that.
Eloise Hemple is a newly minted college professor when she receives a call informing her that her sister and brother-in-law have died in an accident. She rushes home and somehow never leaves; staying to raise children that aren’t hers but children she can’t live without — the only part of her sister she has left. Life veers into the unfamiliar and instead of writing well-received research papers on her topic of choice, she’s struggling to pay the heating bills, ballet lessons, and save for college for three children that were not part of the future she imaged, and so carefully planned, for herself.
I wanted to feel sorry for Eloise but I couldn’t because she wouldn’t let you. She knew from the moment she took that call that her life would never be what she thought, and hoped, it would be. Her three children (and they are her children), Theo, Josh, and Claire, are a different story though. Her niece Theo is a self-righteous, annoying person who thinks she’s been slighted her whole life. Yes, she lost parents but Eloise went out of her way to ensure she never lacked for anything giving up any hope of a life she might have had for Theo’s sake. When Eloise finally starts to want a life of her own after raising the three siblings, Theo balks and does everything she can to blame her for any bit of unhappiness she feels or has ever felt. Josh, well, he copes like he always does. Claire throws every plan on its head with a decision no one saw coming. All in all, life in most families.
There are the ones you feel sad for, the ones you get annoyed by, and the ones you just like no matter what. Stewart manages all the personalities well and doesn’t let you like or dislike anyone of these characters too much. It’s a heartwarming story and if you happen to like family drama, I’d give this one a try. You’ll be annoyed, you’ll possibly want to yell at a character or two, then you’ll finish the book, grab a glass of wine and head back in that room with your family knowing it will all work out somehow. Or at the very least, you’ll come out of it with a story to tell.
* Stripper at wedding is a true family story. I kid you not.
The History of Us
By Leah Stewart
Simon & Schuster