Friday, May 18, 2012

The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson

5 Star

To Ella Beene, happiness means living in the northern California river town of Elbow with her husband, Joe, and his two young children. Yet one summer day Joe breaks his own rule-never turn your back on the ocean-and a sleeper wave strikes him down, drowning not only the man but his many secrets. 

For three years, Ella has been the only mother the kids have known and has believed that their biological mother, Paige, abandoned them. But when Paige shows up at the funeral, intent on reclaiming the children, Ella soon realizes there may be more to Paige and Joe's story. "Ella's the best thing that's happened to this family," say her close-knit Italian-American in-laws, for generations the proprietors of a local market. But their devotion quickly falters when the custody fight between mother and stepmother urgently and powerfully collides with Ella's quest for truth.

 5 Star

I immediately related to the characters in The Underside of Joy and the children in particular were enchanting. Ella Beene was a warm and engaging mother and their loss at the beginning of the story broke my heart completely. But I really enjoyed the fact that this novel opened my mind to the possibility of other people loving children the way parents obviously do.  I was always on Ella’s side until I really started to try and think like the mother- if those were my children and I had had to make the awful decision to leave them (or cause them emotional harm) then I would really want to have them back in my life when it was possible again.  For Paige to approach their stepmother and try and breach the gap was heartbreaking to read and at the same time having Ella trying to keep the children with her and their father’s family was so difficult.

I loved the historical aspect of Joe’s family store, the generations running it in this small American town and was educated by the little bits of information about the Italian-American internment camps during World War II.

Halverson was very careful about giving the reader just enough information to gradually come around to feeling for both women and I really respect the way she laid out the story a little bit at a time.  We weren’t given too much to handle and this allowed the novel to feel serene and soft when there were so many emotions obviously swirling.  The Underside of Joy is a story perfectly told with natural people going through the toughest of times.

Thank you to Dutton for our review copy!

Connect with Sere Prince Halverson here:

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