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The Turner House

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There ain't no haints in Detroit.

So spoke Francis Turner—patriarch and provider, former preacher and current truck driver—when his children claimed to have seen a ghost. A rising homeowner set to banish all the old ways for the promise of the new, Francis was having none of it. He and his wife worked hard to secure that house, to move up from Arkansas to Detroit, to make this life possible. He would not be haunted by the past.

And so a myth was born, where any one of the Turners might later repeat that phrase and be telling about so much more than haints.

The Turners live on Yarrow Street for over fifty years. Their house sees thirteen children get grown and gone—and some return; it sees the arrival of grandchildren, the fall of Detroit's East Side, and the loss of a father. Despite abandoned lots, an embattled city, and the inevitable shift outward to the suburbs, the house still stands. But now, as their powerful mother falls ill and loses her independence, the Turners might lose their family home. Beset by time and a national crisis, the house is worth just a tenth of its mortgage. The Turner children are called back to decide its fate and to reckon with how each of their pasts might haunt—and shape—their family's future.

A major contribution to the literature on American families, The Turner House brings us a colorful brood full of love, pride, and unlikely inheritances. It's a striking examination of the American dream and a celebration of the ways in which our families bring us home.

341 pages, Hardcover

First published April 14, 2015

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About the author

Angela Flournoy

6 books669 followers
ANGELA FLOURNOY is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the University of Southern California. She has taught writing at the University of Iowa and Trinity Washington University, and worked for the Washington, D.C. Public Library. Her debut novel THE TURNER HOUSE will be released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in April 2015.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,137 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
February 20, 2021
looking for great books to read during black history month...and the other eleven months? i'm going to float some of my favorites throughout the month, and i hope they will find new readers!

"There ain't no haints in Detroit."

this is just a great old-fashioned family story with wonderful spirit and sympathetic characters; one part american historical, one part contemporary housing crisis, with ghosts, addiction, illness, and the myriad conflicts that affect a family over the course of their lives both together and apart.

the turner family consists of thirteen siblings born in detroit to viola and francis, now grown and mostly scattered, many with children of their own. their newest crisis involves their childhood home, and its staggering $40,000 mortgage, despite currently being worth only one-tenth of that sum. viola has gone to live with her oldest son cha-cha and his wife, "temporarily," but her age and illness make it likely she will never return to the old house, and a consensus needs to be reached between her children about what is to be done with it, inspiring strong reactions both practical and sentimental.

the focus is primarily on the oldest and youngest of the turner siblings: cha-cha, weary, put-upon, feeling responsible for all his younger brothers and sisters, questioning his marriage, his memories, and his sanity as he begins to see both visions and a therapist; and lelah, divorced, secretly squatting in the old turner house, having been evicted after losing her job to the ripple effects of her gambling problem, determined to work it all out for herself without her daughter or the rest of her family ever finding out. she's unsure of how to take the first step, just as she'd been when she moved back home the first time, after the collapse of her marriage where she'd

tried to figure out why she'd married Vernon in the first place, why she hadn't thought of any other plan for herself. At the twenty-four-hour mark she sat up, a new question in her mind: what would she do now? She was twenty-two years old, and the only answer that came was work and raise your daughter. Now, back at this place, Lelah saw it had cost too much to aim for so little.

the remaining eleven siblings make appearances, some more brief than others, and francis and viola are also voices in the mix, tracing the family's roots from francis' migration from arkansas to the black working-class neighborhoods of detroit in the 1940's, leaving viola behind as he struggles to navigate this new world and its temptations and the burden of his responsibilities.

it's a really well-developed story of a family big enough to have their own mythology, and while it does only focus on a few members of the family, there's enough revealed in anecdotes and asides that you get a sense of how the family operates as a whole, plus you have so much wonderful material about the gradual change affecting detroit itself, and i'd much rather have that than more people-parts:

The old Packard plant stood in more or less the same state of decay since the last time he'd driven by it - blasted-out windows, cryptic messages graffitied across the walls, the scars of past fires evident here and there. What depressed him more than the ruined factory were the houses farther up the boulevard that he'd coveted growing up, now blighted and abandoned. Those big houses, with their high porches so far off from the street, could have easily housed a family with thirteen children. Now the wide center islands on some blocks were so overgrown with weeds and grass, a child could hide in them.

there may not be any haints in detroit, but detroit itself is a haint, whose past haunts its present, and the turner house is the corpse in the middle of it all.

it's a good story - there's nothing showy about it, just good storytelling, a clear voice, and a confidence that the reader will stay engaged. and while it has some hard truths in it, it's not some bleak tragedy, like that other book with many pretty daughters in the detroit suburbs, The Virgin Suicides. it's made up of mostly small personal struggles as lelah and cha-cha forge their own solutions to their problems without the safety net of relying on their family - alone in the crowd, sometimes veering into the family curse as a result: It was a particular sort of Turner weakness: self-sabotaging self-righteousness masked as self-reliance.

it's a really impressive debut, and i look forward to seeing what flournoy does next.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Jaidee.
607 reviews1,205 followers
September 29, 2019
4.5 "solid, moving and engaging debut" stars !!

2016 Honorable Mention

Ms. Flournoy has written a very strong first novel that is full of raw emotion, minute traumas and the struggle to live, love and die on one's own terms.

Ma and Pa Turner are from Arkansas. African-American and poor. Full of hopes and dreams for themselves and their family and they move to vibrant Detroit. As their brood grows to thirteen children the city starts to die and become dangerous and chaotic. Each of the brood have their own struggles and the story focus primarily on the oldest boy (Cha-Cha) and the youngest girl (Lelah).

The story goes back and forth in time skillfully and compassionately. These are characters that all have their own desperation, addictions and hurts but underneath it all want to live despite being poor, despite discrimination, despite petty rivalries.

Each sib is part of a whole but their particular story is individual and despite their closeness there is fear of deep intimacy, dependency and support of each other.

This book is so damn real. Real people living real lives. Trying hard to survive in a world where they are forsaken because they are black, channeling their anger on each other rather than dominant forces that leave them helpless, gasping for air, wanting a piece of pie to live a life full of love, desire and beauty.

I was so very moved reading this novel. I remember having a lover in Ann Arbor in my twenties. When I would visit we would go into Detroit(for concerts or dinner) with utmost caution and fear. I lacked any understanding of the lives of the people that lived there. The subarbanites(mostly white and Asian) viewed the African Americans with either fear, contempt or bleeding heart liberalism but mostly a combination of all three. These same subarbanites allowed Detroit to die. They then blamed the victims of their privilege on this death.

Ms. Flournoy's book is important not only for the family saga but as a microcosm of what happened to a once flourishing American City. She painted a beautiful family portrait not as people that are oppressed or heroic but rather as flesh and blood beings that like all of us want to flourish.

Ms. Flournoy I so look forward to your future novels.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews623 followers
June 25, 2016
Knowing that this story was inspired by the author's personal history added additional
warm feelings from the start. Yet, I had read mixed reviews soon after wanting to read it. I knew it was nominated the national book award in 2015....and was still curious...enough to buy it for a $1.99 Kindle.
So...I finally took time to read it...( much of it during my sauna resting time on my old Kindle)....and I liked it. It's one big family saga...( the type of books I'm a sucker for).

"The Turner House", has been in the Turner family for 50 years....home to parents
Frances, Viola, an African American couple, their 13 children, and grandchildren.
THIRTEEN children....( my own mother was the 10th child in her family - the baby)...
I was afraid I'd never keep track of all the characters...but it's not a problem!!!
This large family loves & loathes each other. To gripe and bemoan one another -was the way these characters expressed their love- ( no sappy sugar coating pleasing going on). Too many challenges and frustrations going on with individual lives to - follow-the-clan and do as told.

There are two running storylines which weaves the past and present together....
The past: ...is about the lives and difficulties from when Frances and Viola moved from
Arkansas to Detroit, Michigan.
The present is the year 2008. All the children are grown. Some are married. Viola is frail, and Frances passed away long ago. The oldest son, Charles ( called Cha-Cha), lives with Viola along with his religious wife.
The youngest daughter, Lelah, has a plate of problems: gambling addiction, evicted from her apartment and relationship struggles with her young adult daughter and grandson.
The Turner House is vacant - in complete shambles- but the children need to decide
what to do with the the home they grew up in.
Detroits economy is hurting - the housing market is not a sellers market for anyone..houses are devalued. And their house is especially in need of work if they are serious of selling it.

This wasn't a perfect novel...but I liked it. There were times when the author did things with her writing that I might be guilty of, (which is why I'm not a writer)....she changed topics so quickly at times ...as if an idea just 'popped' into her head and she just felt like sharing a memory, this second).
I'm guilty of that....I could have shared a 'memory' a few times with this review...as this book reminded me of my cousins messy family
drama- at times.
However, I enjoyed it. ( more than I was expecting actually). It was easy to visualize the Great Migration and experience modern urban life in Detroit....( the legacies and history, the changes, black and white race issues, and family pride).

Plus...I laughed plenty! charming characters!

Profile Image for Jamise.
Author 2 books159 followers
February 12, 2016
What a disappointment! This family story had so much potential but the story development never materialized. There were several moments where I felt like the author was rambling and I as the reader was thinking what is she talking about. When I finally came to the end I was left with the feeling of nothingness. Yes it was about family ties, struggles, sibling rivalry & love, however I expected more depth. Reading this book kept me in a continuous fog, no vision & unable find direction.

Rating 2.5 stars
Profile Image for Read In Colour.
286 reviews454 followers
March 30, 2015
I hate to compare books, especially ones that are really well written in their own right, but this reminded me of Ayana Mathis' The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. The thing that made it better, in my opinion, is that the characters are tied together. In The Twelve Tribes, even though the characters are siblings, their stories are written in such a way that they can stand alone and there's little interaction between the siblings as adults. So while we see them interact as children, once they move into the adult world, there's very little dialogue among them - stand alone stories. While the Turner House doesn't delve deeply into the lives of all the Turner children, Flournoy gives us a good sense of how their lives have turned out based on the adult children's whose lives she chooses to explore. I'll have to take time to flesh out more thoughts, but this was a really good read.
Profile Image for Laurie  (barksbooks).
1,753 reviews701 followers
February 6, 2017
This review and the rest of the crap I write can be found at my blog Bark's Book Nonsense

I was under the impression that this was a book about a haunted house.

At about the halfway mark I finally realized that I was quite mistaken. Yes, it took me that long to figure things out.

This is a book about suburban decay, family dynamics and little life dramas. It’s well written but it’s not a ghost story, not even close and that’s entirely my own fault. I guess I saw the word “haint” somewhere in the description and I saw nothing else. But because I had purchased the audio during a sale I was determined to finish it. Am I glad I did? Not particularly.

Viola and Francis raised 13 children and somehow managed to survive it with their sanity intact. I shudder just thinking about it. Anyway, Viola is now widowed, her health is ailing and her grown children are faced with dealing with the family home that’s been mortgaged to the hilt and is now worth next to nothing because the neighborhood has gone to crap, along with the economy.

This book does not focus on all thirteen siblings (thank the lord, I never would have been able to keep track) but instead tells the struggles of the oldest, ChaCha, who feels the weight of the world on his shoulders and has the specter of a haint hanging over him, the youngest, Lelah, who has a gambling addiction and Viola and Francis by flashing back to the past.

It’s a well written story but honestly I never felt attached to any of these people. They are real and real flawed, I’ll give you that, but I didn’t like any of them all that much and thus reading about their struggles (many of their own making) got a bit tiresome in the end. The book also never resolves the main issue of The Turner House and that bugged me.

Basically it is a tale of family dramas but unfortunately none of them were very juicy or devastating, if you ask me.

The narrator was decent but at times several of her characters sounded too similar and I got a little confused as to who was speaking.

Audiobook Challenge: Book #3
HA Mount TBR Challenge: Book #4
HA Pages Read Challenge
2017 Horror Reading Challenge I can't count this. Boo!!!

See this and the rest of the crap I write at my blog.
Profile Image for Terryn.
20 reviews28 followers
December 23, 2014
I laughed so much...the characters remind me of my own family. In particular, the character Lelah was so real and well-drawn -- I wanted to know what else happens to the Turner family and Lelah even after the book ended. Strong debut!
Profile Image for Ruthie.
648 reviews4 followers
December 3, 2015
I was really excited to read this book, it sounded so promising, but ultimately I felt let-down. There were so many elements to this story, and each could/should have made for an intriguing read, but I think the author took on too much.
The Turner family is comprised of 13 siblings growing up in a 3 1/2 bedroom house - now there is the set-up for some great sibling dynamics! Just the day-to-day details would have been fascinating to me...where did they all sleep, eat, how did they manage with one bathroom, how did they not kill each other...but we get almost no details about how it all worked in this house.

The Turner house was originally on the edge of a white Detroit neighborhood, now it is one of a few left as homes are foreclosed upon, torn down, abandoned etc. Well there must be some great tales to be told here - how did the white neighbors react before they fled to the suburbs? How did it feel to live in a community that changes, goes through the riots, and then declines so drastically? We get almost no info in this book!
The father left the South, coming to Detroit for work. He reunites with the wife and child he left behind many months later, after almost no contact - how did that go? How did they settle in together after the time apart? How did they make friends? How did they decide to live in an area that was home to mostly white people? How were they received? We get a bit about the reunion, then not much else.
Thirteen children grow up ,and for the most part, do well. No teenage pregnancies, no real tragedies, pretty impressive for the era and yet we get little idea of how these parents did such a good job keeping their kids away from drugs/gangs/crime/cults/whatever that the 60's/70's/80's etc offered.
Instead we get a big story about the eldest son and his possible "haint" and how it affects him,his wife and their marriage. The "vision" brings to the fore issues in there marriage, and the author handles this well, but that was not what I thought this book was about! The other storyline that dominates is the youngest daughter and her gambling problem. This too is handled well, but once again, not whatI was led to believe the book is about.

In the end, many story lines are introduced, none were resolved. Many characters are introduced, only two are even remotely developed. The big issue, the title character, the house - is also left in limbo. So frustrating!
There was not one character in this book I liked or cared about - maybe because there were too many, maybe because none were fully realized, maybe because the ones that seemed like they may have been the most interesting were given short-shrift by the author...I gave up caring mid-way through the book and just read to find out how all the story lines would shake out - and I never did!
Profile Image for stacia.
96 reviews89 followers
January 2, 2015
The Turner House is the story of 13 siblings (most notably, the eldest, Cha-Cha, and the youngest, Lelah). It's a beautifully drawn narrative that transitions through time, alternately telling the 1940s story of parents Francis and Viola and shifting between the perspectives of their middle-aged children. At the core of the narrative are a haunt and a family house in Detroit that needs either to be sold for much less than its worth or paid off by each sibling at a price far higher than its value. But thematically, it feels like a story about how we build homes and with whom. What happens when the homes we've built can no longer house us? What happens to the mind when it cannot find rest in the sanctity of a family abode?

It's also about the state of Detroit just before Obama election (Spring 2008), before Kilpatrick's conviction, before bankruptcy and before the water crisis. It explores what black families were (and are) facing as their beloved city shifts through collapse and slow repair.

It also explores gambling addiction which is something I've never read described with language as engrossing as Flournoy's.

You'll want to read this when it's out in April. It's lovely and powerful without being tragic (which is quite a feat for a black family novel).
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,552 reviews604 followers
February 16, 2020
I truly enjoyed getting to know several members of the large Turner family. The city of Detroit is center stage here - at two pivotal times - the mid 1940s and 2008. Very engrossing - I would have been happy if it had continued for a few hundred more pages.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,118 followers
November 11, 2015
After reading Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff, I've wanted to read more about Detroit "natives." Flournoy takes a family that is deeply ingrained in the city and tells their story alternating between a few weeks in the 1940s and 2008. In 2008, the oldest brother of thirteen children is trying to figure out what to do about his family home. His mother has failing health and she owes more on the home than what it is worth.

I read this book because it was nominated for the National Book Award and while I don't think it is much of a personal favorite as a few of the other finalists, I do appreciate the vibrancy and currency of the setting and the realism of the siblings in the family who have all found different ways of coping (some successfully, some not so much.) The most compelling character to me is Lelah, who tries to hide her gambling problems from her family. The less successful element to me is the haint story line - I think the family stands on its own and didn't even need that element in there. After all, "Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do."
Profile Image for Sarah.
277 reviews28 followers
November 9, 2015
When the National Book Award nominations for 2015 came out last month, I got on the library wait list for several that interested me. The first one I received was Angela Flournoy’s “The Turner House.” It is the story of an African America family in Detroit. In many ways, the family’s ups and down are tied to that of the city. Along with Francis and Viola and their 13 children, Detroit and Yarrow Street are major characters complete with bad decisions, hard times, hopeful redemption and fierce love and loyalty from her family.

I enjoy generational family novels for the history and hidden secrets that usually impact the often clueless future generations. The young never suspect the old of what is hidden. I like seeing how and if birth order impacts a character.

I am torn about this novel. On one hand it is very well written, but on the other I felt a distance from the characters and the story. The story meanders through time, siblings and generations, but at the end I did not feel satisfied. I would not have nominated it for an award.
Profile Image for Joy D.
2,072 reviews240 followers
June 12, 2020
“Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do. Men and women assign value to brick and mortar, link their identities to mortgages paid on time. On frigid winter nights, young mothers walk their fussy babies from room to room, learning where the rooms catch drafts and where the floorboards creak. In the warm damp of summer, fathers sit on porches, sometimes worried and often tired but comforted by the fact that a roof is up there providing shelter. Children smudge up walls with dirty handprints, find nooks to hide their particular treasure, or hide themselves if need be. We live and die in houses, dream of getting back to houses, take great care in considering who will inherit the houses when we’re gone.” – Angela Flournoy, The Turner House

This book tells the story of the Turner family and their house in Detroit where thirteen siblings grew up. It focuses on the backstories of matriarch Viola, her husband, Francis, eldest son, Charles, nicknamed Cha-Cha, youngest daughter Lelah, and youngest son Troy. The modern story, set in 2008, is interwoven with scenes from the past seventy years. Viola now lives with Cha-Cha in the suburbs. Cha-Cha is haunted by ghost, called a “haint,” which he first encounters as a child and has stayed with him into his sixties. He is seeing a therapist about it. Lelah’s gambling addiction leads to her eviction and subsequent encampment in the now-vacant childhood home. Troy, a policeman, wants to short-sell the family’s house to his girlfriend.

The author covers a lot of ground. She shows the reader the history of Detroit across the generations, including themes of racial inequality, job loss, deterioration of the inner city, increasing prevalence of addition, and the correlated rise in crimes. I am impressed at her ability to portray this history through a focus on a singular large family. The characters are well-developed and realistic. The pressures on the family members are apparent and worsened by their ongoing emphasis on pride and not directly confronting issues. For example, Lelah’s gambling addiction becomes a major stumbling block, but her pride keeps her from sharing her troubles with her daughter. And Cha-Cha hides the nature of their mother’s illness from his siblings, believing he is protecting them.

One of my favorite scenes is the family gathering, which shows all the siblings and their many children coming together for a celebration of the matriarch’s birthday – this chapter is a wonderful piece of writing and vividly imaginable. The primary downside, for me, is the “haint,” which is a major portion of the storyline. I am not a big fan of stories involving ghosts, though perhaps it is supposed to be symbolic. I also think the ending is rather lackluster compared to the rest. Taken as a whole, though, this is a promising debut and I look forward to reading more from Angela Flournoy.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,677 reviews2,668 followers
May 22, 2015
In Flournoy’s debut, the 13 grown children of Francis and Viola Turner must put aside personal baggage to decide what will become of their parents’ Detroit house during the financial crisis. The novel prioritizes the oldest and youngest children: Cha-Cha is haunted (literally) by a teenage experience, while Lelah’s gambling addiction lost her a job and an apartment. Through flashbacks to the 1940s, when Francis first left Arkansas, Flournoy shows how important this house has been. To me, though, it felt like there were too many characters; if there were a reduction to, say, six or seven siblings, readers could get to know them all.

(Non-subscribers can read an excerpt of my full review at BookBrowse.)

Related reading: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis is a very similar, and slightly better book. I was also reminded in places of A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, which also features multiple generations and class struggles.
Profile Image for La Tonya  Jordan.
296 reviews89 followers
January 22, 2018
Francis and Viola Turner moved from Arkansas to Detroit (The Motor City) druning the end of WWII. There marriage produced thirteen children. Overall, they had a hppay life. As adults, the children reflect on their childhood as their childhood home on Yarrow Street, in Detroit, maybe foreclosed by the bank. The story of Cha-Cha's haint (ghost) takes center stage? Was it real? Has it come back? Did the haint ever leave?

Share the laugher, tears, smiles, and wonders as the Turner children reflect. See reflections of your own family in the large clan of the Turners. Each child has his/her own personality with his/her own drama. Enjoy the laughs.

Next time around she would look for a simple, hardworking man with a good heart, humble aspirations. It was just as Lucille had said: she was eighteen years old and had too much life in front of her to be without love.

Lelah had half a mind to tell her sister that slot machines would never get this money, that if anyplace got her money, it would be a proper roulette table. She felt ashamed of herself for the thought.

“I think you have a position within your family that affords you a lot of respect but not much true friendship, or a sense of individuality. This ghost, or the memory of it, has bothered you your whole life, but it’s also made you feel extraordinary, chosen."
Profile Image for Denise.
758 reviews73 followers
February 8, 2016

The Turner House is basically a long story about a large family that included 13 children. Through a series of flashbacks, the reader learns how Viola and Francis (the parents) decide to move to Detroit from Arkansas. Their house on Yarrow Street is central to the story. Cha Cha, the eldest child and his sister Lelah are prominent in the near present story. Unfortunately I did not become engaged with any of the characters or the story. It was just a good read for me not a great one. 3 stars
Profile Image for Cindy.
271 reviews15 followers
May 9, 2015
Huh? I kept waiting for something to happen. It never did.
Based on the book's description, I was expecting to learn more about the thirteen children growing up together in the house on Yarrow Street. I was expecting to learn about the progression of the neighborhood's fall. I was expecting to read about how each of the kids' pasts haunts--and shapes--their family's future. I was expecting to read a striking examination of the price we pay for our dreams and futures & the ways in which our families bring us home. None of this materialized.

The book is set in the present, with flashbacks, even though it opens with the eldest child being age 14. It also ends abruptly during a flashback. The flashbacks reveal little about the characters, and are quite repetitive.

The house & the neighborhood are presented as they stood in the beginning & at the end. There's nothing about how they got from then to now. Actually, that's sort of true about the people, too. We do learn a little about some of people's pasts, but not nearly enough and not in a coherent manner.

And what brought the family together? Birthday parties? Dancing & partying? It wasn't the fact that the matriarch was sick, nor that she was dieing of cancer. The eldest (Cha-Cha) didn't even want the others to know that she had cancer. It wasn't love & compassion; there didn't seem to be much of that going on.

Making it worse, there are changes in scenes/people/time-frame with no transition, leaving me wondering what I missed, or where are we, or who is it talking about? For example, Cha-Cha and Lonnie were talking to each other during the big party. Lonnie says that the first thing he likes to do when he gets in town is to go see the house on Yarrow Street. The very next sentence, he's talking about people from the old neighborhood & how they got killed. Cha-Cha says he'd just like to ride & not talk about who's dead. What? Ride? It turns out that Cha-Cha & Lonnie were suddenly not at the party, but actually driving to Yarrow Street.

And none of the big issues are resolved. What will become of the house on Yarrow Street? Is Cha-Cha actually seeing haints or is it just his imagination? Will Lelah kick her gambling addiction? Will the family have an opportunity to say a last goodbye to their mother?

The book was quite a letdown from the potential suggested by its description.

Profile Image for Phyllis | Mocha Drop.
361 reviews2 followers
April 8, 2015
The Turner House is a solid family-oriented debut novel which focuses on Francis and Viola’s marriage and their thirteen children. Alternating passages and flashback sequences provide glimpses into the family’s origins in rural Arkansas and detail the hardships and challenges as they migrate to Detroit in hopes of a brighter and more promising future for themselves and their brood. The story primarily focuses on the father’s (Francis), the eldest son’s (Charles), and the youngest daughter’s (Lalah) struggles adjusting to their familial roles, their spousal issues, their children, and their own private hauntings amid the societal demands worsened by added pressure stemming from intra-family drama, strained work and interpersonal relationships.

The author does a great job of describing the socio-economic changes of a bustling WWII-era Detroit to its modern-day decline via Francis’s viewpoint - it’s almost as if the city itself is a separate character. For Francis, and many others, the motor city was a source of wonder, hope, and disappointment. Initially, his limited education combined with institutionalized racism restricted job opportunities and forced segregated housing. Nonetheless, his perseverance and hard work allowed him to purchase a home for his growing family and we see through his eyes how the gradual decline of the city is reflected in the deterioration of the home and neighborhood.

This is a novel about family, love, and overcoming obstacles, facing fears and playing the hand life has dealt. Recommended to those who like family-themed novels and/or those dealing with the Great Migration.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews159k followers
February 23, 2016
I was really happy to start out my 2016 reading with a Book Riot favorite. The Turner family has lived in their home on the eastern side of Detroit for 50 years. When it becomes clear ailing matriarch Viola is unable to live in the house herself anymore, the 13 Turner children must come together to decide what to do with their family home. Complicating factors in the housing crisis, which has left the house worth just a fraction of its mortgage. I loved the way Turner captured the dynamics between siblings, as well as the particular challenges of life for a family in one of America’s crumbling cities. It’s an excellent debut, and I’m so excited to read more from Flournoy. -– Kim Ukura

from The Best Books We Read In January: http://bookriot.com/2016/02/01/riot-r...
Profile Image for Taryn.
1,211 reviews190 followers
April 24, 2015
As a teacher I was often annoyed when a so-called expert in the field harped on the topic of assigning “relevant” literature. Sure, it makes sense to motivate kids who are reluctant readers by offering them books about people like them, with challenges they'll recognize from their own lives. It's a great starting point. But you don't have to look like or talk like or live like the characters in a book to relate to them. We're united by a common humanity, it's good to get outside your bubble every now and then, yada yada.

In my reading life, I've been able to relate to all kinds of characters, and not exclusively the bookish, wide-hipped brunette ones. So I'm a little grumpy over the fact that for whatever reason, The Turner House and I didn't click how I hoped we would. I can come up with excuses for why that might be—I don't have scads of siblings, I've never set foot in Detroit, I'm not African-American—but why should any of that matter, really? I related hard to almost every character in Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You (still one of my favorite reads of this year) and I've never been in an interracial marriage, tragically lost a sister, or been a man.

I'm not sure where the disconnect was for me, but on paper, The Turner House has it all: family drama, personal lives in shambles, an inter-generational story arc. Francis and Viola Turner raised their thirteen children in a tiny house on Yarrow Street on the east side of Detroit. The book alternates between the present-day stories of the children, in particular the oldest (Cha-Cha) and the youngest (Lelah), and the older tale of how Francis and Viola got together and managed to stay married through some pretty significant challenges.

My favorite sections, and the ones I was most invested in, were the ones about Francis and Viola. Their love story felt suspenseful to me even though I knew it was going to work out (hey, you don't end up with thirteen kids if you divorce after the first one). I'm always curious to see how people ended up where they are, and Flournoy does a great job demonstrating how the Turners' experiences led them to be the kind of parents they were. I was less engaged in Cha-Cha's and Lelah's stories, even though they were decidedly more modern.

I typically really enjoy family dramas, so it's entirely possible my expectations for The Turner House were a bit too high. Flournoy's writing is smooth and rich, but I never warmed to the characters the way I wanted to. Still, it's a solid debut novel, and if you enjoy big, sprawling family sagas, you'll probably want to add it to your list.

With regards to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for the review copy.

More book recommendations by me at www.readingwithhippos.com
Profile Image for Aaron Robertson.
4 reviews9 followers
September 10, 2015
I read this book for various reasons. I'm lucky enough to have an opportunity to interview the author in a month's time, and I have yearned to read more novels about Detroit. The book opens with two epigraphs; one from Zora Neale Hurston's landmark anthropological work 'Mules and Men', the other from Detroit's own beloved Philip Levine. They set the tone for a novel about how the past, both when repressed and come to light, can haunt (literally and figuratively) the members of a family. As much as this book is about the Turner family - 13 siblings and their parents (and children, grandchildren, etc.) - a family bound in equal measure by obligation and love, it is also about the evolving landscapes of personal and physical landscapes. Flournoy writes about the Detroit that people know, to a certain extent, but her vision extends beyond the city proper into its surrounding (and similarly complex) suburbs - rife as they are with implications of white flight or rooted ethnic communities. We see the sad ugliness of abandoned homes and yards choked with weeds. We see the engineered beauty of downtown and the blandness of Windsor, Ontario across the Detroit River. At the same time, Flournoy is writing about how brothers and sisters come to see one another differently when the eponymous house is in danger of being taken from the family. To what lengths will people go to preserve an old, crumbling house and why even bother? We spend the most time with Cha-Cha
(Charles) and Lelah, the oldest and youngest siblings. Flournoy is a funny author, and though this novel is full of conflict and harsh truths, it is also moving in its depiction of a family that endures even under the heaviest burdens.
Profile Image for Colleen .
390 reviews188 followers
July 5, 2019
What a great read. A Detroit family as told through the eyes of a few characters and what shaped them to who they are today. A great character study and background history of race and the housing market in Detroit. This book really made me think and wonder about all of our quirks. The young author has a nice way of writing too.

Thank you to Goodreads giveaways for a book to review in an honest way. :)

It didn't seem like a long time to Cha-Cha. Fifty years, a wife, two children, one grandchild; they were not here one day, then all here the next.

A matriarch, even one who demurred at that title and its pressures as often as Viola did, is a hard thing to lose.

His Ming held a crystallized image of his mother from a specific epoch in his own life, and it was hard for him to reconcile it with current reality.

"These here is all my memories," she'd said. "You don't put your memories on the side of the road like that. Might as well put yourself out there."

If you can get used to being alone, sitting quiet for a long time with just you, then you can do anything.

What's the difference between a haint and a regular ghost anyway? Is a haint just Southern ghost? A black-folks ghost?

There was always a period of anticipation before the medication hit Viola's bloodstream, when the pain felt more akin to pleasure, because she knew it would soon be gone.

A woman without no options is waitin for a man to come by and ruin her.

Maybe she don't want goodbyes. Trust me, you start to feel a lot more dead when other people find out you're dying.

Profile Image for JenniferD.
1,006 reviews359 followers
October 24, 2015
2.5-stars. This book had wonderful potential, but it just never really came together for me in the end. I think the novel is a great outing for a first book, and I will definitely pickup Flournoy's next one. My favourite parts were when the focus was on the city of Detroit. It's such a tough place that deserves to thrive again. I am glad Flournoy shines a light by setting her story here. The characters were where I felt things floundered about. I don't need tidy endings, and I am fine with ambiguity. Many of the threads, though, were left very loose and it created a feeling of dissatisfaction for me throughout the reading. Curious to see how this novel fares when the National Book Award is announced.
Profile Image for Linda Robinson.
Author 4 books139 followers
September 23, 2015
From the homey title to the last paragraph, Flournoy's debut novel wraps us up in literary arms and brings us into the lives of the Turners; Viola and Francis, their 13 children and the house on Yarrow Street. Isabel Wilkerson's excellent book - The Warmth of Other Suns - is a nonfiction primer for the Turners' story. This is a big, loving, secret-holding family. Flournoy's writing skills bring us into the hallway in the opening chapter, dodging Lonnie, fearing what we think we see while denying the visual. Flournoy quickly establishes birth order characteristics that flavor the familial stew. Cha-Cha, the eldest, gets his sibling creds in that hallway, as does the much younger Lonnie. Flournoy effortlessly moves us between 1944 when the house on Yarrow Street becomes home, and 2008, when the house on Yarrow Street is abandoned, upside-downed, forlorn. Detroit is the front porch of the family saga; stepping into Detroit in the 40s, and walking back to the dilapidated and despondent neighborhood in 2008. Flournoy's powerful writing lets us see the inner workings of a large family: for those of us who came up with lots of people in a small house, it's personal. For those of us who were born in Detroit after the war, it's eye-opening. I may be kinder to the youngers in my own crew after reading this book. The heart of it! Huge.
Profile Image for Amy.
920 reviews55 followers
March 23, 2016
10-20min increments while driving were not enough to satisfy with this book... but it means I managed to spend an entire month with the Turner family and the amazing narrator (Adenrele Ojo) who provided their voices. Not nearly enough.
Cha Cha favored short, earnest prayer and he often wondered what took others so long. It had something to do with excess supplication he suspected. He never presented a long list of specific requests to God. Had always felt uncomfortable with the presumptuousness of "Ask and you shall receive." This might have been a result of pride, or his own niggling ambition. But mostly Cha Cha's prayers were a series of 'thank-you's' and 'I'm sorrys'.
"I'm sorry I told Chuckie's first wife Yvette she was a cheating whore. Thank you for my health insurance."
This book achieved so much while appearing so benign (in cover art, premise and style). this is why it's a 5-star read for me. I didn't expect much from it - planned to skip it in fact due to the premise (dying matriarch, big family, lots of familial dynamics, yawn) because I had other books to get to but GR friends convinced me I should check it out. I think Flourney manages to challenge the "Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" belief. Because this is the story about a fairly happy family. Oh there are unhappinesses... Or there wouldn't be a story. But mostly there is love, connection, loyalty, shared history... And it is fascinating.

The book loosely follows various members of Viola and Francis Turner's children (13 children, themselves grandparents) in Detroit a few weeks during the peak of the housing crisis prior to Obama's nomination. It also flashes back on Frances Turner as a young black man in Detroit 60-years prior attempting to make a life for himself away from Arkansas.
This tale is so unassuming, at times understated and yet it accomplishes so much. I fell in love with the family members, their interactions, their frustrations and old grudges, the benefits and detriments of a large family and their relationship with the city - which mirrors some of the Turner relationships; beloved, sometimes bruised, giving and taking. This is an open-eyed look at a faltering Detroit that is still living city rather than a dead or dying one and much like the matriarch, surrounded by an ongoing legacy.

The Turners are so real that I felt I knew them well. They are a black family that isn't often portrayed just as this is a Detroit that isn't often portrayed. The stereotypes are missing, "The Struggle" is missing... this could be a story about any large family in America. And yet it doesn't ignore the events and prejudice that impacts their lives, it just isn't ABOUT that. Which makes it all the better for ensuring readers think about those issues and empathize with the family regardless of race. In this manner it reminds me of Their Eyes Were Watching God which is an amazing story of a woman coming into her own in the early 20th century who loves and loses and struggles and flourishes and who is black. (I almost said 'and just happens to be black' but I don't think that's the right phrase... because it is definitely part of her identity and makes an impact to the story. But the story is about her rather than her label.)

I'm not going to do the author justice on how much she manages to cover in a relatively short period of time and with a multiple point of view story. The dialogue is probably the best I've seen in any of the Tournament of Books contestants this year - it sounds like real conversations you might have with a partner or a sister or a mother or one's grown child. They sparkle and they resonate. The internal details are beautifully done as well but it is the moments of interaction that really swept me away.

I didn't really understand the 'haint' storyline which starts and nearly ends the book so I'll be focusing on figuring that out on the reread but it didn't take anything away from my love for the story so I suspect insight will only bring more love.
Profile Image for Stephany Wilkes.
Author 1 book32 followers
May 19, 2016
Finally, at long last, a Great American Novel written about an America I actually recognize: Detroit.

There is so much to recommend this book: its range and depth of characters, all of whom are complex, presented with empathy, hero and anti-hero; its can't-put-it-down pacing; the evident mastery of craft. Flournoy really knows how to turn a phrase.

It is important, to me, that Flournoy puts people -- especially Black people, the majority of the city -- back into the story of what has happened in Detroit, not only because it humanizes the experience of what it is to live in such a place, but because Detroit is a landscape so often described as empty, as devoid of people. This rhetoric makes Black people literally and deliberately invisible. Flournoy's narrative goes far beyond the usual and deeply explores what it means to experience the landscape of Detroit, to deal with what has happened, and how that landscape is tied to the characters' fates.

The presence of casinos matters, and changes things. Predatory lending matters, and changes things. The human decisions associated with the landscape are agonizing ones, though most writing on Detroit implies they are not: "People just left." Or, more irritatingly, "They *lost* their homes." Flournoy humanizes what most writers do not.

Flournoy astutely includes authentic Detroit elements, the half that doesn't usually get told. It's hard to believe she's not a life-long native. She neatly presents the massive difference in experience between growing up in Detroit in the 1950s and 1960s, vs. the 1970s and 1980s. It shows just how quickly Detroit changed, but I particularly liked the way Flournoy showed this through the ages of the 13 Turner children and their outcomes. The rapid disappearance of the Black middle class within a single family, with the decline of the the usual paths to that (city jobs, military service) is one mirrored in my own family, and so many. It was so refreshing to see those stories here.

I love that Flournoy integrated Southern culture, a huge part of Metro Detroit's culture even today, both white and black, suburban and not (there's a reason Taylor is referred to as "Taylor Tucky"). Detroit always struck me as a very Southern Gothic place, despite its northerly geography, and was always rich in talk of haints and hoodoo (one of the things I most miss hearing about, as I often did in Detroit coffee shops in the 1990s). Flournoy's presentation of these aspects of Southern culture is so authentic and well executed: believable, subtle, matter of fact in the way it's discussed between characters. I also liked the way she pulled this thread through multiple generations in different locations. Beautifully done.

And then, there are Flournoy's "locals only" level nods to things that are so true, so recognizable if you've lived in this area. You may not believe that scrappers can make off with a garage so quickly, but that just means you don't know scrappers. You'd believe differently if you had family and friends come home (on more than one occasion, even) to houses on the east side, pull up in the driveway, and think "My house looks different, but I can't put my finger on it" until it hits them: "Oh, my God, my gutters and downspouts are gone! Someone took them all off the house while I was at work for eight or nine hours, in broad daylight."

Flournoy has done for Detroit what Eugenides did for Grosse Pointe with the Virgin Suicides: perfectly captured the culture of a place and the place itself.
Profile Image for Beverly.
1,640 reviews350 followers
April 13, 2015
This was a 3.5 star book for me.

Flournoy’s beautifully written debut novel portrays family relationships with insight and fairness and while specific to the African-American Turner family in a specific time and place yet is universal in its appeal and subject matter. The house in the title has been in the Turner family for 50 years and was home to parents Francis and Viola and their 13 children and some of their grandchildren. The home sits in Detroit’s East Side in a community that has seen better days, whose mortgage is much more than the value of the home, and is currently unoccupied – so what to do with the house is the question put forth to the children, grandchildren, and matriarch Viola.
While the storylines concentrates the most on Francis (father), Charles (Cha-Cha – the eldest) and Lelah (the youngest), other siblings and Viola make appearances and have their say. Through the parents we see the trials and tribulations of moving to the North for a “better” life, and through Charles and Lelah we see the changing times of Detroit. Intense family scenes are balanced with moments of quiet reflection so the reader often feels like a quiet observer.
This is a social novel with good and bad times fueled by sibling rivalry, familial resentment and marital strife. I enjoyed how Flournoy retained empathy for her characters as she shred the pretensions and hypocrisies of the times her African-American characters live in. While it is often not difficult to figure out a lot of the actions, it is a measure of the author’s skills that this seems perfect and does not distract from my reading pleasure. Chockfull of characters whose stories are waiting to be told, I wondered if there was going to be a sequel and/or if I would see the characters in another book.
Fans of family sagas will savor this lyrically perceptive tale. And book clubs would be wise to select The Turner House as one of their discussion books.
Profile Image for Bailey.
434 reviews115 followers
March 5, 2016
This is a beautifully-written, transcendent novel that should be marked as one of the greats of 2015. It was nominated for many awards, and worthy of all of them, and I hope people remember it and continue to read it. It took me a while to get to it, but everyone is right: this is a winding literary novel that is worth your time.

I think I might have liked it even more had I not read it as part of the reading list for the 2016 Tournament of Books, but that's because most of those are Books About the State of Humanity and at some point it gets to feel a little stale.

That said, I loved this book.
Profile Image for Stacy.
24 reviews
February 11, 2017
I finish this novel at the end of last year but felt I needed some time to write a review. I loved this book! A great debut novel rich in Black history, Detroit history, and family complexity. I feel this book is so special to me because it shows the Black family as no different from any other family. I can't be believe it's a debut. Ms. Flournoy is so talented and a year younger than me. Wow. Can't wait to read her next novel! Highly recommended. 4.5
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