Tolstoy is famous for writing, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” What he doesn’t mention is that each member of the family can be happy and unhappy in their own individual ways. That’s where Angela Flournoy picks up in The Turner House, the story of a big African-American family struggling with the decision of what to do with their family home.
In a Detroit struck by poverty and violence live the Turners, a sprawling family of 13 children. The oldest and the youngest practically belong to different generations, different Detroits and different parents. Their mistakes and their lost hopes are the bonds that connect them to each other.
Flournoy doesn’t just detail the journey the family goes on together; she also lets us in on the problems each individual struggles with alone. Family is their support system, but that doesn’t mean they share everything. Sometimes family members only serve to make each Turner feel more alone with their personal weaknesses.
What makes The Turner House profound is its reality, its observation of a family so diverse and well-drawn that they seem real. Many books center on romantic love or parental love, but we rarely find such an honest portrait of what it means to be a sibling—defined by your differences as much as your similarities—as the one Flournoy gives us. The Turners are continually rebuilding their lives, re-establishing connections that get tangled, torn and broken. Their story is beautiful in the way family is beautiful: full of heartbreak and broken dreams, but ultimately connection and community, understanding and love.