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#354 ~ The Irresistible Henry House

The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald

Published by: Random House

Published on: August 16, 2011 (paperback)

Page Count: 448

Genre: Fiction

My Reading Format: Review copy sent by the publisher in order to participate in this book tour

Available Formats: Hardcover, paperback, eBook, audioboook


tlc-logo-resizedToday it is my great pleasure to be Lisa Grunwald’s host on her TLC Book Tour. This tour is to celebrate her novel, The Irresistible Henry House.

I have a lot of fun working as a tour host for TLC Book Tours.  They always have great books and authors on tour.  Check out their website for more information on this tour and the others that they are hosting.


My Review

There was once a time when home economics was taught on American college campuses. During the last few decades of that time, there were college campuses that offered courses in carrying for infants that used actual babies. These babies were cared for by any number of student mothers for a year or more and then returned to the orphanage to be placed for adoption in a permanent home. At the time, no one considered how this might impact the child. After all, these babies were loved by several mothers. If one mother is good, more can only be better. Henry House was one of those practice babies.

In the afterward of  The Irresistible Henry House, Lisa Grunwald explains how finding a photo of an actual practice baby created that spark that eventually became this novel. From that adorable photo, she weaved an often compelling story about an infant who received excellent care but never had the solid, unconditional emotional anchor that a parent provides. As a child, he was always “on,” playing the boy expected of him by the current caregiver. He never had the luxury of self discovery. When you can’t be yourself, you can’t give of yourself, no matter how much another person demands it. Grunwald’s writing and the storytelling created a sharp image of life at a Practice House. I could almost feel the uncomfortable stress in that prefabricated home on my fingertips as I turned the pages.

Growing up in an age where people lobby against and protest the use of animals in any kind of experiment, it was shocking to begin reading this novel and discovering its premise. Actual babies were once used to teach college women how to care for a baby and run a home. How is it that anyone in a place of higher education could have conceived that this would be a good idea? I raced through the first half of this novel almost feverishly because I had to know more. Martha Gaines, the woman who ran the Practice House where Henry was brought as a near newborn was so fascinating. She is the type of woman who cannot function without order and logic, yet she takes all of the pain of a failed marriage and a still born child and places that burden on the top of Henry’s head. As a parent I’ve learned that having children requires me to die to myself in a very real way. Martha was incapable of doing that. She made sure to keep Henry with her as her not quite adopted son so that he might fix what was broken inside of her. Henry, caught up in the drama of so many different broken mothers, had to find his own way to cope.

The novel was at its best when Henry had to deal with Martha front and center. As Martha’s sphere of influence weakened, the national and world events that occurred during Henry’s young adult and older took a more prominent place. As much as I enjoyed and appreciated the historical figures that patched together Henry’s adulthood, it felt empty. Henry’s access to several interesting pop culture places in time was made possible by his smooth charm and resourcefulness, but without Martha to fight against, it seemed that Henry ambled through life without concrete purpose or meaning.

Although the second half of the book never achieved the “I must read just one more page” frenzy I experienced through the first half, I enjoyed The Irresistible Henry House. Throughout my reading, there was so much that gave me pause to think and question. I wish I wasn’t reading it alone. I wanted to know if others felt what I felt or saw what I saw. If your book club were to chose The Irresistible Henry House, you’d find that Lisa Grunwald will provide you with the foundation for an excellent discussion.


You know how I felt about Henry. Why not check out what my fellow hostesses have to say?

Lisa Grunwald’s TLC Book Tours Tour Stops:

Monday, August 8th:  Unabridged Chick

Wednesday, August 10th:  Knowing the Difference

Thursday, August 11th:  The Broke and the Bookish

Monday, August 15th:  Nomad Reader

Tuesday, August 16th:  Luxury Reading

Wednesday, August 17th:  Jenn’s Bookshelves

Thursday, August 18th:  Melody & Words

Monday, August 22nd:  A Bookshelf Monstrosity

Wednesday, August 24th:  BookNAround

Thursday, August 25th:  Life in Review

Monday, August 29th:  Book Club Classics

Wednesday, August 31st:  Write Meg!

8 Comments

  • At 2011.08.19 09:34, rhapsodyinbooks said:

    I had no idea that was what this book was about! I remember Home Ec both with fondness and with anxiety (smocking pillows, making aprons, making a monkey sock doll), but we never had to learn how to be mothers, thank Heavens!

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    • At 2011.08.19 12:05, Sandy said:

      The whole idea of this just blows my mind. That poor baby! The book has been on my radar since it first came out, and most the reviews have been pretty good. I bet this would give you lots to talk about. (I think Swapna has read it…)

      • At 2011.08.19 13:11, Ti said:

        There was a short stint in one of the schools I attended where we cared for an uncooked egg. Not quite the same as a practice baby!

        I LOVE the premise of this one and won a copy last year, but it got buried somewhere. I’ve got to dig it out of the pile!

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        • At 2011.08.19 14:03, Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said:

          I can’t imagine the idea of a practice baby – it seems so crazy to me today, but I’m sure it seemed perfectly logical at the time.

          Thanks for being a part of the tour.

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          • […] #354 ~ The Irresistible Henry House (literatehousewife.com) Share this:EmailFacebookStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

            • […] August 15: Nomad Reader August 16: Luxury Reading August 17: Jenn’s Bookshelves August 19: The Literate Housewife Review August 22: A Bookshelf Monstrosity August 24: BookNAround August 25: Life in Review August 29: Book […]

              • […] Friday, August 19th:  The Literate Housewife Review […]

                • At 2011.08.31 10:49, Meg said:

                  This definitely felt like a book I wanted to discuss with others afterward, so I think it would make an excellent book club read! I was also pausing to digest and process what I was reading at many points in the narrative.

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