Summary and book reviews of The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald

The Irresistible Henry House

A Novel

by Lisa Grunwald

The Irresistible Henry House
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2011, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Megan Shaffer

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About this Book

Book Summary

Filled with unforgettable characters, settings, and action, The Irresistible Henry House portrays the cultural tumult of the mid-twentieth century even as it explores the inner tumult of a young man trying to transcend a damaged childhood.

It is the middle of the twentieth century, and in a home economics program at a prominent university, real babies are being used to teach mothering skills to young women. For a young man raised in these unlikely circumstances, finding real love and learning to trust will prove to be the work of a lifetime. In this captivating novel, bestselling author Lisa Grunwald gives us the sweeping tale of an irresistible hero and the many women who love him.

From his earliest days as a "practice baby" through his adult adventures in 1960s New York City, Disney's Burbank studios, and the delirious world of the Beatles' London, Henry remains handsome, charming, universally adored - and never entirely accessible to the many women he conquers but can never entirely trust.

Filled with unforgettable characters, settings, and action, The Irresistible Henry House portrays the cultural tumult of the mid-twentieth century even as it explores the inner tumult of a young man trying to transcend a damaged childhood. For it is not until Henry House comes face-to-face with the real truths of his past that he finds a chance for real love.

Chapter One
Welcome Home, Henry

By the time Henry House was four months old, a copy of his picture was being carried in the pocketbooks of seven different women, each of whom called him her son.

The photograph showed Henry on the day he arrived at Wilton College in 1946. He was lying naked in his crib, his backside bare and sassy, his hair already shiny and dark, and his grin already firmly in place as he pulled up on his chubby hands and turned back toward the sound of his name.

Henry House was a practice baby, an orphan supplied by the local home for the purpose of teaching college women how to be proper mothers. For more than two decades, since the early 1920s, colleges across the country had offered home economics programs featuring practice kitchens, practice houses, and, sometimes, practice babies. Henry was the tenth such baby to come to the Wilton practice house. Like the other so-called House babies before him, he was expected to stay for two years and be tended to in week-long ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Trust is a recurring theme in Lisa Grunwald's novel. Which characters are most deeply affected by its presence or absence? What makes us trust another person, and what happens if that trust is betrayed? Can a relationship recover after trust has been broken?
  2. For Martha Gaines, "there was no future for her without Henry. There was only her tiny world, bordered by practice walls and practice floors." (p. 113) Why does Martha become so attached to Henry, and how would you describe their relationship?
  3. Is it possible to love a person too much? Have you ever felt smothered by love? Is there a secret to building a relationship where both people feel equally loved?
  4. According to Martha, "a child was ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Lisa Grunwald takes Henry's extraordinary beginnings and digs deep to carefully construct the strained cords of his early attachments. Carefully working the tension of Henry's liaisons, Grunwald expertly leaves the reader in possession of the damaged emotional compass Henry will use to plot the colorful course of his adult life. Regardless, as the irresistible Henry moves into adulthood, I was left wondering whether or not he is just charming and irresistible enough to excuse his lack of tack and bad behavior. If you're not easily wooed, you might find yourself questioning if Henry is man enough for you.   (Reviewed by Megan Shaffer).

Full Review Members Only (565 words).

Media Reviews

Library Journal

... a compelling web of characters and emotions that will please will please the author's fans and readers interested in novels with emotional depth.

Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week

Starred Review. Grunwald nails the era just as she ingeniously uses Henry and the women in his life to illuminate the heady rush of sexual freedom (and confusion) that signified mid-century life.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. The near-omniscient narration perfectly suits this story, which often reads like a rueful but wry case study of nurture as nightmare.

Author Blurb Linda Fairstein, author of Lethal Legacy and Hell Gate
Brilliant and original, heartwarming and heartbreaking, this stunning novel is as irresistible as Henry House.

Author Blurb Liz Smith
At first I thought it was just Henry House who was completely irresistible, but then I realized I couldn't put Grunwald's truly extraordinary novel down. Get ready for a story, an adventure, and a cast of characters you'll never forget.

Reader Reviews

Melissa

An interesting look at RAD
This book is a must read for adoptive parents. It describes RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). I thought it was very interesting.

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Beyond the Book

Practice Babies

All it took was the unexpected image of a cute, bare-bottomed baby to set the wheels of The Irresistible Henry House in motion. While Lisa Grunwald was researching another book, she happened upon an online exhibition detailing the history of Cornell University's home economics program which ran from 1900-1969. Originally established as a way to apply science in areas of home, farm, and family, Cornell's home ec. program implemented the use of live babies to mirror real-life domestic settings.

Incredible? Though it's too outrageous to imagine the use of a live baby as a teaching tool in today's educational settings, that's precisely what went on in the "practice apartments" of Cornell's home economics program back in 1919....

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