Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson

Opening with Tillie going into premature labor while her husband is out of town and she is surrounded by boxes in their new home, Tillie has no choice but to call her long estranged father to help her get to the hospital. As she labors in the hospital bed with him at her side, her resentment towards him bubbles up as she remembers the year that so damaged their family.

You never know what goes on behind the closed doors of your neighbors' homes and this is never more true than in the case of Tillie's family. Her mother is depressed, clearly mentally ill, and has ceased functioning almost entirely, staying in her room in bed every day. Her father is determined to hide the family's problems by instituting the most orderly and regimented existence this military man can create. And yet things are so bad that the neighbors have started to notice. So the family's move across country is not unwelcome, except to eight year old Tillie, who is being left behind while her father, mother, and brother go on ahead to make arrangements. Only once Tillie arrives in Washington, her mother is gone and no one speaks about her. And so a very different family life unspools in Washington, one in which the shadow of her mother's absence hangs over Tillie even as she continues to rebel against her father and his strict and unvarying view of life.

While I was willing to go along with most of the book, I had to stop reading for a while in the middle of the story at a certain unlikely, no, completely unbelievable (to me anyway) plot twist. This momentous discovery made me want to fling the book across the room against a wall. And I don't generally react so negatively. On the other hand, Henderson did a good job incorporating the times in which the book is set into her narrative. In particular, Tillie's encounter with racism and classism via a friend is compelling and realistic with Tillie being so dreamy and oblivious that it takes rather a lot for her to notice that with which other people live on a daily basis. The writing was well done and the rest of the twined plot was fine but the one unbelievable situation changed entirely how I felt about the book. And I suppose that is a risk an author takes but as we selected this as one of the Great Group Reads for National Reading Group Month, you can guess that my feelings were in the minority on the panel. And I do certainly agree that it would be a good book for discussion with family dysfunction, mental illness, shame and stigma, and the toll of secrets as important topics. Most reviewers seem to love the book; perhaps I'm just a curmudgeon and you should read it yourself before you decide.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. I won a copy of this book during BBAW but haven't read it yet. Your review definitely makes me curious, especially considering the negative reaction you had to the plot twist.


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