Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review: Up from the Blue

Summary:  Tillie Harris's life is in disarray—her husband is away on business, the boxes in her new home aren't unpacked, and the telephone isn't even connected yet. Though she's not due for another month, sudden labor pains force Tillie to reach out to her estranged father for help, a choice that means facing the painful memories she's been running from since she was a little girl. 

An extraordinary debut from a talented new voice, Up from the Blue untangles the year in Tillie's life that changed everything: 1975, the year her mother disappeared.-- Harper

I have been wanting to read UP FROM THE BLUE by Susan Henderson for months now, but it wasn't until Book Club Girl scheduled a BlogTalk Radio Show with the author that I moved up this book to the top of my TBR pile. UP FROM THE BLUE sounded exactly like the type of book that I would enjoy and the description just drew me in. Plus, Ms. Henderson is an award winning author so I had a feeling that the writing would be something special. Needless to say, I was excited about the novel, but I will admit that my expectations were set at a pretty high level.

I really enjoyed (and appreciated) UP FROM THE BLUE! I thought the first half of the novel was outstanding and I didn't want to put the book down. From the very first chapter when a pregnant Tillie found herself having contractions with no one to turn to except her estranged father, I was pretty much hooked. I could sense that there was tension and resentment between Tillie and her father, and I couldn't wait to learn why. It was only a few pages (just enough to get my curiosity flowing) until the author took me back to Tillie's childhood and I started to discover all of her family's secrets. I just loved how the novel was set up and went back and forth between Tillie's present day life (even though it was really 1991) and her childhood.

The second half of the book was still very good, but I didn't have quite the same love fest that I had with the first half. I still found the story and the characters to be extremely interesting and I was caught up in their complex and tragic lives; however, I kind of had to suspend some belief in the direction that the story went. I won't give away any spoilers, but there is a rather shocking event that occurs and I think it made for a good story, but I'm not sure I think it was feasible. In addition, I thought that in some ways Tillie was wise beyond her young years. Some of her insights and comments into her family's behavior were very sophisticated and I was almost blown away by her eventual understanding of the events. I'm willing to let both of my issues with this novel slide because I did enjoy the drama of the book. I'm just saying that I had to "let go" my natural inclination for reality checks.
I found Tillie's character to be extremely well developed and I thought she was such a fantastic choice to tell this family's story. Most of the book took place when Tillie was around eight to ten years old, and I really loved learning about Tillie's family through her young eyes. Because Tillie's father and brother weren't receptive to discussion about the disappearance of Tillie's mother, poor little Tillie found herself trying to make sense of a story that just didn't make sense. Tillie was far from perfect and extremely complex (and not always likable), but my heart just broke for her over and over again. I do believe that Ms. Henderson created a memorable character in Tillie that will stick with readers for a long time after they finish the novel.

There is no doubt that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, but what really stood out for me was Ms. Henderson's writing. I thought her prose was beautiful and I appreciated how the story (and the family's secrets) eventually unfolded. I also loved how she delved into some very difficult topics such as mental illness and the effects it has one not only the individual involved but also their loved ones. In addition, I thought it was interesting that Ms. Henderson chose to explore Tillie's friendship with an African American girl. By setting the book back in the late 60s, she managed to bring up some issues of racism as well as the integration of the schools. I definitely think Ms. Henderson is an author to watch and I look forward to more of her novels.

UP FROM THE BLUE would make an excellent book club pick. As I read this novel, I kept thinking about all of the issues to discuss, and I knew a few of my members would have a fun time dissecting some of the characters' actions. Of course, there is a reading guide available with some wonderful questions. Some of the topics that you will want to explore include family dynamics, mental illness, sibling relationships, parent child relationships, secrets, racism, communication, sacrifice, friendship, and forgiveness. You might also want to discuss some of the symbolism in the novel like the ruby cup and the woman in the golden gown as well as the meaning of the title. I have to warn you, though, that there are some spoilers in the discussion questions!

Book Club Girl's show with Ms. Henderson is tonight, Tuesday, Oct 26th at 7 pm ET! You can set your reminder for the show here and return to the same link to listen and participate this evening. I'll probably be running between soccer and dance, but I hope to catch the recorded version of the show.

Overall, I thought UP FROM THE BLUE was a terrific read and I highly recommend it to those of you who enjoy books about dysfunctional families. I found both the story and the characters to be riveting, and I thought the writing was exceptional.

I received a copy of UP FROM THE BLUE from the publisher at the 2010 BEA.


Sandy Nawrot said...

Great review, and is probably the third or fourth one I've read. My takeaway is that it is a very tough read, which goes without saying if the topic is about the effect of mental illness on young children. If nothing else, it sounds like you get the opportunity to understand the misbehavior of a child living under these circumstances.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, it sounds like there's a lot going on in this book. I have a feeling I'll like it a lot. Great review!

Anonymous said...

I also received this book through Book Club Girl and I really enjoyed it. I agree with your review about Tillie being 'beyond her years' in many ways but I understand how it was needed to make the story progress. I found myself sympathetic towards her farther trying to deal with the situations as a military man in the 70 and not having the emotional tools to deal with everything.

Overall, I thought it was such a well written book and I found it hard to put down/

Beth F said...

I'm still deciding whether I want to read this. I bet I'd like it but it also sounds like a tough go.