It’s so hard to review books that are just okay. I didn’t hate The Turner House, and I didn’t love it. It left very little impression on me at all. I feel like maybe I was missing something, because it’s certainly won a lot of awards. I just didn’t feel much connection to the plot or the characters. I had to force myself to finish it, because I knew if I didn’t there was no way I could squeeze out a review.
The Turner House is the story of the Turner family from Detroit. There are 13 children in the Turner family, and when we meet them in 2008, they range in age from their late 60s to their mid-40s. Their father, Francis, is dead, and their mother, Viola, is no longer able to live alone. The siblings are faced with the idea of what to do with their childhood home, now that Viola lives with her oldest son Cha Cha.
The story focuses on three siblings: Cha Cha, the oldest, Troy, the second youngest, and Lelah, the youngest. Cha Cha’s subplot involves a “haint” that he first saw as a child and has spent his life trying to figure out whether it was a hallucination or an actual ghost. Troy’s subplot is barely even there–he’s trying to find some backdoor way to buy his parents’ house before the bank takes it, but this is given very little time in the book. Lelah’s involves her relationship with her daughter and her gambling addiction. This was interesting to me just because I’ve never read about someone with a gambling addiction before, and Lelah’s story is incredibly sad. There’s a small amount of backstory regarding how their parents first moved to Detroit, and these parts are interesting and have a lot of potential. But like Troy’s story, they take up only a few pages of the whole book, so there’s not really enough time to develop.
Cha Cha and Lelah are both fairly well-developed characters, compared to everyone else in the book, at least. Even still, they’re pretty one-dimensional. I liked Cha Cha. He was the only character in the book that I had any opinion about. The book starts off really promisingly with a flashback to the night Cha Cha first sees his haint, but it’s all downhill from there. There’s a lot of great possibilities here for character development or potential themes: the decay of Detroit, the housing crisis, addiction, sibling relationships, aging. . . none of them are developed more than superficially. I think maybe the author tried to tackle too much, and couldn’t address any of it very substantially.