Title: The History of Us
Author: Leah Stewart
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Eloise Hempel had a promising academic career ahead of her when the unthinkable happened: her older sister and brother-in-law were killed, and it was up to Eloise to take care of their three young children. Now, years later, Eloise still lives with the three grown children—Theo, Josh, and Claire—and despite the fact that she’s tried to encourage them to make lives of their own, they seem to cling desperately to what’s safe and known. Determined to have a life of her own, Eloise announces that she’s planning on selling their house, which leads to surprising and difficult consequences.
The History of Us is a novel about family, first and foremost. When Theo, Josh, and Claire’s parents’ died, Eloise had to put her life on hold and step in to make sure these three young children had the love, guidance, and support they so desperately needed. After all, it’s what you do when you’re family. What Eloise can’t help but think of, though, is what she left behind in order to care for these kids. She’s in such a difficult position, and it’s understandable why, now that the three are adults, she finally wants to think of herself, of her wants and needs. But what Eloise doesn’t take into account is that, though these three appear to be adults on the outside, they’re just as jumbled and confused as they have ever been on the inside.
The reasoning behind their stunted emotional maturity isn’t the focus of The History of Us, but the consequences certainly are. Eloise so badly wants these kids to go out and live their own lives, but they don’t seem to have that ability. They’re terrified by their options, and as a result, they cling onto what they know and trust. That is especially a problem for Theo, who can’t muster up the will to make any decisions about her future. It’s frustrating, to say the least, but Stewart makes the characters incredibly realistic.
At the same time, though, the reader has to question Eloise’s pushing in The History of Us. Yes, it’s good to steer children, to make them want more than what they have. But leaving Cincinnati for bigger and brighter things was her dream. Yes, it was taken away from her by horrible circumstances, but does it really mean there’s something wrong with Theo because she doesn’t want to leave her hometown? Stewart doesn’t give the reader any easy answers, and as a result, this is a thought provoking novel.
There are so many aspects to The History of Us I haven’t even begun to touch on here: Eloise’s difficult mother, the situation with their house that is old and too expensive to maintain, Eloise’s personal situation—there’s a lot within these pages. Stewart ensures that the reader is hooked from beginning to end, and though there are times when the reader might scream in frustration at the characters, she always keeps their behavior believable and realistic. In the end, this is a character-driven book, and as a result, it would make a great book club pick as readers will want to dissect motives and decisions made throughout the novel.
Other books by Leah Stewart: