Book Review: “The Upstairs House” by Julia Fine

The Upstairs House follows Megan, a new mom and graduate student, as she navigates some strange occurrences after arriving home from the hospital with her new baby. These incidents revolve around seeing Margaret Wise Brown, author of the classic children’s story Goodnight Moon and a major component of Megan’s dissertation. However, Margaret isn’t alone, and this realization leads Megan on a journey she seemed to never expect.

The Upstairs House sets up what appears to be a classic haunting. It all begins with a balloon at the hospital that turns into Megan seeing what she believes is the ghost of Margaret near her home. Megan even begins to believe she is being haunted by the spirit of Michael Strange, Margaret’s mentor and lover. However, everything turns on its head when Megan receives some frightening notifications on her phone from an app she downloaded for expecting women. The notifications are alarming in nature. I had to take a solid five-minute break from the book just to wrap my head around these notifications and their implications. I thought because of this incident, I knew where the book was going. I was incredibly wrong.

By the end, it’s clear what Fine is trying to do. Increasing awareness of the impact of postpartum psychosis is an important way to eliminate the stigma surrounding it. Fine succeeds in her efforts to show that more treatment options for individuals suffering from postpartum psychosis are essential. At first, I was unsure of how the ending played into this theme. I’m not quite sure what I believe the ending to mean is correct, but I do think it’s left up to the reader’s interpretation, depending on what you take from the book. I am not an individual who has given birth, so what I took from the book is likely different from that of someone who has had a child. That said, I believe everyone will take something different away, though it will all be in the same vein.

While I understand the direction the book takes, and appreciate how it plays into the theme and intent of the author, something about the story felt disjointed. The alternating chapters of Megan’s life, Margaret and Michael throughout their lives, and Megan’s written work for her dissertation often set up what felt like two opposing stories that never converged. Everything we learned about Margaret and Michael in their chapters was then reiterated by Megan, either through her own thoughts or her writing. It felt repetitive and did little to add to the story as a whole. I understand why the author included those chapters, but I feel they weren’t necessary to tell Megan’s story.

The Upstairs House is a phenomenally written book. While I don’t necessarily agree with the framing, I do think it is amazing writing that everyone should experience for themselves. The way in which I could picture everything, down to the bubbling turquoise door, was something I have not experienced from a book in a long time. I truly recommend reading this book if you want to read great writing about an unexpected turn of events. 

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, HarperCollins, for review.

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