Marian Keyes’ 2020 novel Grown Ups is a comical page-turner that undermines the idea of adulthood through the story of a charmingly dysfunctional family.

The cover of Grown Ups.
Marian Keyes’ Grown Ups

Does anybody ever really grow up? This is the question Irish author Marian Keyes seems to be asking the readers of Sunday Times Best Selling novel, Grown Ups. With a writing style that is tender and funny, Keyes explores how perhaps no one ever truly feels like an adult in their heart. And it’s with these childish hearts that the novel’s protagonists navigate adult problems.

As spouses and parents approaching middle age, the characters’ responsibilities are ample, but so are their youthful desires. And as a family, these desires became entangled in a glamorous, humorous mess.

With this novel, Keyes explores the irony of performativity and secrets amongst family members, who are supposed to love each other no matter what. Keyes’ fictional family, the Caseys, are a humourous and relatable portrayal of the trouble in keeping secrets from those closest to us.

Summary

Grown Ups begins with a quote by Madeline L’Engle

Grown Ups is centered around the Caseys; three brothers and their wives and children. The book begins at a disastrous family dinner where all are present and then jumps back to six months earlier before the event. Each chapter of the book goes on to provide context as to how the blow-up came to be.

The book switches between the perspectives of the adults in the family, all of whom are keeping secrets from each other, and it’s these secrets that come to light at dinner. It turns out that between the brothers, couples, and in-laws, there is lying, infidelity, addiction, and secret bank accounts. 

This middle-class family’s story does not happen in a vacuum, though. Their privilege is not lost on Keyes, and she uses characters outside of the family to keep the Caseys’ problems in perspective for the reader, such as Perla, a Syrian refugee who befriends the family. One of the brothers, Johnny Casey, is also indecisive about whether or not to open an Airbnb in a city flat he owns, which provokes frequent debate in the family about Ireland’s housing crisis. This subtle social commentary by Keyes makes Grown Ups more than just a juicy family drama.

Characters

A large family on the beach looking at the sunset.
The Caseys are a big family with big secrets
Photo by Tyler Nix from Unsplash

Jessie Casey: Businesswoman and mother of five, she’s the reason everyone gets together so often. Through the elaborate holidays she plans (and funds) for the family, she secures the two things she values most: family time and friends.  

Nell Casey: The young artist felt lucky to meet someone like Liam, that’s why she married him after just a couple of months. But the more time she spends with him, the more she begins to wonder if he’s been showing her his true colors. 

Cara Casey: Loves her kids, job, and husband, Ed, that’s why she needs to protect all three from an unhealthy secret habit of hers.

Johnny Casey: Top salesman and almost-bachelor, he’s Jessie’s second husband. He succeeded his late best friend, who was married to Jessie first, and he licks this wound in secret ways. 

Liam Casey: A retired professional runner who is nostalgic about his past. Maybe that’s why he married someone much younger than him, but that may not be the best foundation for a marriage. 

Ed Casey: Well-meaning, quiet, and so happy with his life that he would be shocked to find out not everything is as it seems.

Themes

“His future was unknown, but whatever it was, he didn’t feel equipped for it.

Like, what did actual grown ups do with their lives?”

Grown Ups

Adulthood: Through characters who can’t bring themselves to act like grown-ups, the novel explores if adulthood is something that is really achieved or simply perceived. 

Feminism: The women who marry into the Casey family are undoubtedly the protagonists of this novel. Keyes places their interests and problems at the forefront, and subtly celebrates the unique ways they each overcome these hardships.

Relationships: Keyes puts almost every character’s marriage, friendship, or parent-child dynamic to the test. The novel explores what allows relationships to either thrive or fall apart. 

Class: The book holds a mirror to the Western middle class, innocently poking fun at those with “first-world problems”.


Grown Ups is a warm and funny page-turner that allows for easy and comforting escapism. The Caseys are glamourous yet relatable characters, which represent family life the way so many people understand it: a dynamic that’s somehow tiring and comforting all at once. Don’t let the size of the book deter you; the story flows with ease, making it the perfect read for a holiday or long travels that call for distraction.

Have you read Grown Ups? Let us know your thoughts on the novel in the comments.