By Lisa Jewell
When Karen had left him fifteen years ago he’d filled his house with people from all walks of life, people with stories to tell and journeys to share, but instead of learning from them he’d used them to insulate himself from the world. And now that he was finally unpeeling all the layers and revealing himself, it was very disappointing to see that he wasn’t an eccentric struggling artist with a fondness for unusual people, that he was just plain old Toby Dobbs, the tallest boy at school, the disappointment to his father, the man whose own wife hadn’t wanted to live with him for more than a month.
I wanted to try a Lisa Jewel because of the good reviews and because I was intrigued that she started off writing chick-lit type books but has more recently become known for her psychological thrillers. I chose a chick-lit type because that is a genre I am more comfortable and familiar with. I chose 31 Dream Street, (aka Roomates Wanted) because the story intrigued me. It had lots of diverse characters coming together and seemed to have more to offer than a more romance-oriented novel.
Toby, the main character of the ensemble owns a beautiful unusual old house which would be worth around 1.000,000 pounds with some refurbishment and redecorating. It was a gift from his absent and uncaring father. Toby starts off as a loser with a capital L. Through the years he has rented rooms for rock bottom rates or sometimes no rates to various people who needed a helping hand. In order to sell the house and jump-start his life, he needs to get rid of his current tenants. But he is so soft-hearted, he will not just kick them out until they have gotten their lives in order and have someplace to go. Thus, he takes the advice of his appealing next-door neighbor whom he gets to know: find about about them and do what you can to help them settle elsewhere.
Along with Toby, we get to know his 4 tenants and eventually uncover the pasts and secrets which are holding them back. We also get to know Toby and Leah, his next-door neighbor and eventual friend, both of whom also need some guidance and rehabilitation in their own lives. Throughout the book it is a matter of two steps forward, one step back, or vice versa, for all but one, who is all steps back, until the very conclusion.
Lisa Jewell is an excellent writer. The narrative voice drew me into the story. Her descriptions and dialogue were sharp and evocative. The success of the story rested on whether the characterization of the players hit home. They did. The characters were involving and interesting. Unfortunately, they usually were not very likable except for Leah. My emotions were not engaged. With some, I went back and forth as to whether I cared for them at all depending on their actions. Toby especially was bothersome. Even though his looks, outlook for the future, love life, and general well-being go through many positive changes, he continues to be a wet noodle. His reaction to a bad setback in his house renovation, his reaction to his unintended make-over, his lack of resolve overall, but especially with Leah. He was a constant disappointment after seeming to finally grow up over and over. It was Leah was the catalyst for positive change throughout. I also regretted the lack of closure with his father. His father standing him up at the end was a message in itself, but I didn’t want a message. Especially considering the long setup. I wanted drama, emotion, and maybe an epiphany.
The fates of the tenants had positive outcomes, but three were bitter-sweet, and the one totally positive fate seemed contrived and unearned. Actually one of the bittersweet ones did too. Toby and Leah’s fate was nothing short of idyllic, which left me with a positive impression of the book.
September 17, 2021