In researching another book, author Lisa Grunwald came across an educational practice from the early part of the 20th Century that inspired her novel, The Irresistible Henry House. Here's the idea: Orphanages provided babies to home economics programs at major universities in the United States. The babies lived in a practice house where young, female college students learned the fine art of keeping house and raising babies. After about a year, the babies were adopted by real families. As surprising as it seems, this appears to have been a fairly common practice.
Henry House is one such baby. However, due to unusual circumstances, Henry isn't adopted after his first year in the practice house but rather stays on and is raised by the overbearing matriarch Martha and many more practice moms. This novel follows Henry through his childhood, past the practice house and into a school for special needs, and beyond as he gets his first job as an animator for Disney studios. I guess having all those moms might make it difficult to manage relationships later in life. But Henry turns out to pretty much be a jerk and is only able to learn to love when another practice baby, now grown, breaks his heart.
I liked the first and last thirds of this book however the middle section left me wanting more, largely because the protagonist refuses to speak during the central portion of the story. Grunwald's writing is bright and crisp which helps give the story immense charm even when your hating the main character. The book is meticulously well-researched making scenes like those set in the golden age of Disney animation sparkle.
The Irresistible Henry House is an enjoyable read about a moment in history that was magical if not strange. The book left me wondering what things our society is doing right now that will seem plain crazy in another 60 or 70 years.