Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson is one of those books that stay with you long after you turn the last page and close the cover. I don’t know why but I expected something different when I set out to read this novel – a woman in labor reflecting on her past. What I didn’t expect is that it would fall back in the main character’s life to a time when everything changed for her. I really liked that – the novel didn’t jump back and forth. It stayed in the past with only a few excursions into the future and for me that made it even more powerful.
Tillie is thirty-four weeks pregnant and she and her husband have just moved into a new home. Her husband is away on a business trip and the house is a disaster with boxes all over the place. Tillie desperately needs to get organized but suddenly she’s gripped with sudden labor pains which in her mind can’t be since she’s not due yet. However the pains don’t stop and Tillie is beginning to panic. She has no phone and worse, nobody to call in a new town. She heads over to the neighbor’s house and phones the only person she can think of – her father. She hasn’t spoken to him in a long time and with this call and seeing him she unleashes a barrage of memories that might have been best left buried.
Tillie’s memories take her back to 1975 when she is seven years old and her mother disappears. Tillie lives in an uncertain world with a mentally ill mother who seems extremely self-involved. Her children seem a burden to her, like they are just way more work than she can handle. So, she doesn’t handle them – she keeps them at a great distance instead. She basically sleeps a lot and seems to be in a very deep depression. Tillie and her brother Phil really never knows what to expect when they come home from school.
Tillie doesn’t understand what is happening to her family but she does understand that her family is much different from others. Tillie knows that it’s not normal that she and her brother have to often fend for themselves or that her mother will shut herself in her room for days. She notices how other mothers act with their daughters and she wonders why she doesn’t have that. At the same time Tillie is fiercely protective of her mother. Of course all she wants is her mother to love her and spend time with her. She’s too young to understand what is happening to her mother; she only knows it isn’t normal.
Tillie’s father is a military man and lives a strict military life which he tries to enforce on his children as well. He seems cold and unemotional and does more to push his children away than bring them closer. I have painted him in an awful light but I will say to his credit that he made sure his kids were clothed and fed which is more than their mother could manage. His biggest fault however is in his absolute need for secrecy and keeping up appearances. If you pretend to the outside world that you have the perfect little family, then it will be so. Unfortunately this isn’t how it works and by not acknowledging and trying to deal with problems in an appropriate way he actually does even more damage to his children. The ways in which Tillie’s father chooses to deal with the problems lead to some damaging consequences and leave deep scars on Tillie that she will battle with all her life.
This is a novel I don’t want to say a lot about because there’s a lot to the story but it unfolds piece by piece and by saying too much it would ruin it for someone. I will say though that this is a very powerful and emotional book. You can’t read it and not be affected in some way. It’s not a happy story either – if you shy away from books that make you think and feel deeply, then this may not be a book you will enjoy. However those interested in reading stories about kids with mentally ill parents and the ways it affects them will definitely enjoy (I know it seems weird to say you enjoyed a basically sad book but I did) this novel.
Up From the Blue is a beautifully written novel. The author’s attention to all the details that make up a life were incredible as was her portrayal of a young girl’s feelings when her whole world is falling apart around her. I would absolutely recommend this book and can see myself reading it again sometime in the future. Up From the Blue is Susan Henderson’s first novel and I certainly am anxious to see what she writes next.
I read Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson for her book tour with TLC Book Tours. You can check out what everyone else thought of the book here. You can find Susan on her blog LitPark, on Facebook or on Twitter: @litpark. You can buy Up From the Blue for yourself here in the US and here in Canada.
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