Publication Date: February 1st 2012
Book Source: HarperCollins Australia & NetGalley
Synopsis: Losing a husband is virtually unbearable. Losing your children to the birth mother who abandoned them, whilst you are still grieving, is one heartbreak too far. It must not be allowed to happen ...
Ella counts as her blessings her wonderful husband, two animated kids and an extended family who regard her as one of their own. Yet when her soulmate Joe tragically drowns, her life is turned upside down without warning, and she finds that the luck, which she had thought would last forever, has run out. When Joe’s beautiful ex-wife, who deserted their children three years earlier, arrives at the funeral, Ella fears the worst. And she may well be right to.
Ella discovers she must struggle with her own grief, while battling to remain with the children and the life which she loves. Questioning her own role as a mother, and trying to do what is right, all she is sure of is that she needs her family to make it through each day. Yet when pushed to the limits of love, Ella must decide whether she is, after all, the best mother for her children.
A beautifully told multi-layered story of love, loss, and the meaning of family. I was completely captivated by The Underside Of Joy; I fell in love with the close-knit community of Elbow and its beauty, enveloped by the poignancy and atmospheric writing.
While the focus of the story is on Ella's journey following the unexpected death of her husband Joe and the ensuing battle to retain custody of Annie and Zach, The Underside of Joy also touches on important issues such as infertility, miscarriage, postnatal depression, and the seldom discussed subject of Italian Americans interned during WWII.
There's more to Ella & Joe's story than the fairy tale first shared but there's also more to Paige's story than a mother abandoning her children. You're prepared to dislike Paige but as the truth is revealed you can't help but feel empathy and grudging respect towards her (but if I'm being honest, I still disliked her and was rooting for Ella Beene.)
Ella could be your best friend, the mum next door, she's been embraced by Joe's Italian family, she loves the children, and Annie and Zach adore her; no step-mother cliche's here. She's shattered by grief and deals with the ramifications of unveiled family secrets with sadness, anger, frustration guilt, exhaustion and tears like so many of us would but she also shows a fierce determination to set things right. In other words she's real!
This isn't a black and white story, it's many shades of grey; secrets and self-deception entwine with personal awareness and second chances. The story comes to an end, tied up with a nice bow, yes a little predictable but it satisfied my need for some joy to balance the anguish, and truthfully, I think I would have been devastated if it had ended any other way.
Sere Prince Halverson writes exquisitely; love, grief, anger, frustration, pain and panic ooze from the page. Ella's internal debate weighing truth and honesty against her desired outcome rang so true, I was torn with her. The descriptions are gorgeous; I could almost smell the dirt and the Redwoods, I wanted to grab a picnic basket and fill it with gourmet goodies, I wanted to lay out in my garden, grow veges, have chickens, watch the sunset, dance in the rain.
This was a deeply emotional read illustrating love not blood defines a family, a read requiring tissues and hugs.