Reviews for History of Us


Booklist Reviews 2012 November #2
Stewart (Husband and Wife, 2011) takes what could have been a sitcom premise--a single aunt left to care for her sister's three orphaned children--and turns it into a poignant exploration of the meaning of family. By fast-forwarding from the point of tragedy (when fledgling professor Eloise Hempel inherits her nieces, Theo and Claire, and nephew, Josh), Stewart deftly avoids the trap of relaying stock scenes of the incompetent singleton flummoxed by tasks such as preparing breakfast. Instead, we meet the siblings in early adulthood, each struggling with questions of identity and a desire for roots they fear might not exist. Meanwhile, Eloise is plagued by thoughts of what might have been and the personal sacrifices she made to fill her sister's shoes. A tug-of-war emerges between Eloise and Theo, the eldest of the children, over whether or not to sell the family homestead. Eloise views the house as a burden. For Theo, it's home. Resolution comes when the two finally understand that the life they've lived was as much a gift as the life they lost. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2013 January

Leah Stewart’s fourth novel, following 2011’s Husband and Wife, opens as 28-year-old Eloise Hempel, newly hired as a history professor at Harvard, receives a phone call from her 11-year-old niece Theo in Cincinnati. Eloise’s sister, Rachel, and her husband have died in a crash while on vacation. Theo and her siblings, Josh, 9, and Claire, 2, had been staying with Francine, Eloise and Rachel’s mother, who somehow finds herself unable to make that difficult call herself.

Though she loves Boston, especially her plum job at Harvard, Eloise realizes she is the logical choice to raise her sister’s children in Cincinnati—with their familiar schools, their extracurricular activities, their friends.

The story then shifts to 2010, 17 years later. Eloise, Theo, Josh and Claire all live in Francine’s huge old house in Clifton, the Cincinnati neighborhood close to the university where Eloise now teaches. With the kids about to leave home, Eloise feels this is the perfect time to put the house on the market—maybe she could even move back to Boston at long last. But therein lies the snag, for the children, now grown, are all very attached to the house where they grew up as orphans. Unfortunately, none of them have the means to keep it.Theo feels the strongest—but still a student working on her dissertation, she has nothing to contribute to the bills. Josh dropped out of his band a year earlier, and has a mediocre job; Claire, a ballerina, is leaving soon for a position in New York City.

Stewart is a wonderful observer of family relationships, and she adroitly weaves the stories of Eloise and the children she’s raised—their work, their loves, their disappointments and dreams—while focusing on what ties families together, and what ultimately keeps those ties from breaking.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2012 October #2
A professor who raised her late sister's three children grapples with the long-term consequences. At 28, Eloise is a rising star in Harvard's history department, having just published a much acclaimed book. She's prepared for a fulfilling academic career but not for the phone call she receives from her 11-year-old niece, Theo, telling her that she and siblings Josh, 9, and Claire, 2, need her to return home to Cincinnati immediately. The children's vacationing parents have perished in a helicopter crash, and their grandmother, Francine, is lying in bed, unable to cope or even phone Eloise about the tragedy. Seventeen years later, the makeshift family is at a turning point. In less-than-free-wheeling Cincinnati, Eloise is loath to come out as a lesbian, although her lover is pressuring her for a commitment. She's had to settle for a less prestigious position at a local college in order to raise her nephew and nieces in their preferred domicile, Francine's large, crumbling Cincinnati home. (The narcissistic oldster has long since departed for Sewanee, where she makes trouble from a distance.) Josh was once a near-famous rock star before giving up music to please a manipulative girlfriend, who has since dumped him. Theo, now 28, has followed her aunt into academe but is stalled in her dissertation and her love life. Ballet prodigy Claire, 19, the only one to achieve escape velocity from Cincinnati, has left for NYC…until by chance, Theo spots her on the street, Cincinnati being not all that big a town. Francine has complicated matters by reneging on her promise to sign the house over to Eloise. Now, the Machiavellian matriarch insists that she'll give it to whoever marries first. This hook is not as gimmicky as it seems. Rather, it forces Eloise and her charges to fully examine their connection to each other and to the world. With a playwright's precise, sometimes excoriating dialogue and an insightful novelist's judicious use of interior monologue, Stewart crafts a tearful yet unsentimental family coming-of-age story. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2012 October #1

Stewart (The Myth of You and Me) has a knack for introducing characters in need of mending: they are not broken, just disjointed, needy, and, at times, without emotional support. Eloise Hempel is the de facto mother to three twentysomething siblings, having become their primary caregiver after their parents were killed in a car accident. Always planning to put her life back on track as a Harvard professor, Eloise has found herself rooted in Cincinnati for 20 years as she parented her sister's children to adulthood. There's Josh, her kind nephew, something of a negotiator and very much the middle child, a young man who has recently tossed away a life in music. The youngest, Claire, is a wispy, wily ballet dancer, and sensitive Theodora, the eldest, is nearly as sensible and strong as Eloise. Inextricably linked together, the three also have strong ties to their childhood home. Looking toward future domestic arrangements, Eloise slowly hedges toward momentous decisions, while the siblings dabble in their own decision making, sometimes with disastrous results. VERDICT Domestic fiction fans favoring strong, intelligent characters will be intrigued by Stewart's introspective examination of a family.--Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA

[Page 74]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 October #3

In Stewart's new novel (after The Myth of You and Me), Eloise Hempel, at 45, is a history professor whose rising career is derailed when her sister dies, leaving her custody of her sister's three children. Eloise returns home to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she does her best to raise Theodora, 11; middle-child Josh, and two-year-old Claire in her family's large, enviable home. Seventeen years later, her sister's children now adults, Eloise reveals her plan to sell the house and, maybe, move in with Heather, her secret girlfriend. But Theo, Josh, and Claire, none of whom want the house to be sold, confront Eloise, each other, and themselves; in trying to come to terms with adulthood and responsibility, they are all nearly ripped apart. Stewart's novel is an intimate exploration of a family in crisis and the different ways in which people cope with grief. While the plot meanders and the characters seem paralyzed with indecision, readers will empathize with their plight. Unfortunately, the combination of a melodramatic story line and a focus on minutiae make for a forgettable read. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman. (Jan.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC

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