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Review: The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

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Last Updated on December 25, 2022 by Mary Elle

The Family Upstairs was my first reading journey into a Lisa Jewell book, and, although I was a bit uncertain at the outset, I don’t know how I missed this author for so long!

I’ve been on a thriller kick lately. And, while I do love mysteries and thrillers, I’m a bit of a weeny because I don’t like anything too, too creepy.

So, I was a bit skeptical of the Family Upstairs because I was concerned about the creep factor. After all, I do want to be “thrilled” while reading the book but I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night wondering if there is a family upstairs in my house.

So, did The Family Upstairs out-creep me or not?

My review post will give you a short synopsis of the book along with my honest thoughts on whether this book is worth a read, a reread, or whether you should just skip it entirely.

The Family Upstairs

view of london houses of parliament from the thames river with image of the family upstairs book cover and the words book review

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell was published in 2019 and is the first in a two-book series.

In case you’re not yet familiar with Lisa Jewell, she is a #1 New York Times and Sunday Times, bestselling British author. She lives in London with her family, and her books have been published worldwide in over 25 languages.

Lisa Jewell’s first book was published in 2000, and, although she wasn’t always known for her mysteries and thrillers, she’s earned a solid reputation in that genre now.

And she wasn’t always an author either! I particularly love her story of how she got started writing novels. As the story goes, her professional career started in the fashion industry where she worked for several years. But after being fired from her current position at the time, she accepted a writing challenge from her friend.

Exactly what was the challenge?

The challenge was to write three chapters of a novel in exchange for dinner at one of her favorite restaurants. And, who wants to miss out on the dinner, right? Off she went writing those chapters, and low and behold, not only did she meet the dinner challenge, but she also sent those chapters off to literary agencies and eventually they became her first novel.

Publishers Synopsis of The Family Upstairs

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.

The Family Upstairs – What I Liked

I’m not sure what I expected out of this book, but I didn’t expect to devour it completely in little more than a day. I guess that means I liked something!

It’s hard, though, to use the term “like” when referring to some of what happened in this book. I can’t give you any spoilers here, however, so I’m afraid I have to be a bit vague.

This book was a mix between a thriller, mystery, and family drama. I was concerned before reading it that it would be way too creepy for me. That wasn’t the case, however. Don’t get me wrong – it certainly had its share of creep factor. Just nothing that I, personally, couldn’t handle.

The Family Upstairs was odd. In certain ways, it was overwhelmingly odd. And somehow, the total oddness of the story combined with the mystery/thriller aspect made it a gripping can’t put it down mystery that compelled me to keep reading until the end.

The characters were also odd, yet I liked most of them, despite the fact that some of them were not only odd but disturbing.

The characters that, for me, fell into the “like” category were Libby, Lucy, Henry, Clemency, and Phin. I can’t divulge who I thought was disturbing. These characters represented the children of the family that is at the center of this novel. The characters that represent the parents are, I’m afraid, below in the “Didn’t Like” section.

This was not a “feel-good” book in any way. It was disturbing in many ways. Yet, the outcome at the very end of the book made me feel satisfied and pretty good, actually. I felt like my characters were all safe and accounted for in a very satisfactory way.

Until the last four words.

And finally, there is the matter of the second book in the series.

While I was reading The Family Upstairs, I was well aware that there was a second book in the series called The Family Remains. I must say that the entire time I was reading The Family Upstairs, I couldn’t quite imagine how there would be another book in the series. I felt like everything got resolved in this first book. Until the last four words of the book. I loved how the author did such a great job of adding the suspense just at the right time and at the very end of the book I finally understood what might possibly be in store for me in the next book.

The Family Upstairs – What I Didn’t Like

When I first started reading the book, I was a bit confused about who all the characters were and how they were related to one another. The story is told on multiple timelines and until I got to know the characters a bit better I had a hard time determining which timeline I was on.

So, I already talked about the fact that I liked some of the characters despite the fact that they were odd, weird, and disturbed. Those were the children of the family that this book is about. But there was a whole parental generation represented as well and those characters, at least some of them, were creepy. The creepiest – David and Birdie. I didn’t like them, but they were central to the story and the story couldn’t have happened without them.

The Family Upstairs – Read, ReRead or Reconsider?

And now, for my 3 Rs of book reviews. Should you read, reread or reconsider reading The Family Upstairs?

Read!

The Family Upstairs had me hooked from the first page. If you like a thriller that has unexpected twists and turns and is darkly enthralling and atmospheric, you may love this one.

If you race through The Family Upstairs as quickly as I did, then you might want to dive right into the sequel, The Family Remains. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed!


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