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.
Disclosure: My copy of Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson provided by TLC Book Tours and the Publisher in return for a fair and honest review.
© 2010, Darlene of Peeking Between the Pages. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Peeking Between the Pages or Darlene’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.
Darlene, this book sounds really great. Thanks for reviewing it!
Sandy Nawrot says
I just read a review of this book over at Zibilee's, and I think it sounds like one of those books you really owe yourself to read no matter how difficult. If I remember correctly, the little girl had some behavioral issues because of her home life, and I think it is important to understand where she was coming from. Excellent review!
Just the fact that you would read it again is high praise! Adding it to my TBR list. Nice review, Dar.
Alice Teh says
That's a lot going on in Tillie's life. I would like to read it one day. Love that cover with a freckled face. Must be Tillie…
Poor Tillie! Books like this make me realise I am not that bad a mum, even if my kids do shout and moan at me.
That book sounds amazing! It sounds like a great exploration of relationships.
I am so glad that you loved this book! It was very hard for me to read though, and I felt so sorry for Tilly because everyone kept treating her like such a pest, when all she was really looking for was love and acceptance. I can't imagine how bizarre it must have been to live Tillie's life, and it was amazing to me that she didn't end up doing something drastic. Great review, Dar! It was a really important book, and your review reflects that.
Tribute Books Mama says
Sounds good, thanks! for sharing.
If it is weird to enjoy sad books than I am there with you. Emotional stories are the best, great review.
I hadn't heard of this one so thank you, adding to Wishlist now.
I too hadnt heard of this one so thanks for sharing this review.
Sounds like a great read. I love when a book stays with the reader long after the last page is read.
I like the sounds of this one. I don't shy away from those hard reads…great review!
Heather J. @ TLC Books says
It's interesting that you say the book doesn't jump back and forth in time – it seems like that is a common technique in many novels today, and it doesn't always work well for me. Good to know that this one is linear (for the most part).
Thanks for being on the tour. I'm happy to see that this is one of those books that will stick with you.
S. Krishna says
I have read multiple reviews about how this is a powerful book. I'll make sure to keep that in mind when I choose to read it – I would hate to react negatively to a book because I was in the mood for something light, and it turned out not to be!
Tribute Books Mama says
Thanks! for sharing.