The Underside of Joy: Book summary and reviews of The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson

The Underside of Joy

A Novel

by Sere Prince Halverson

The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson X
The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2012
    320 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

Set against the backdrop of Redwood forests and shimmering vineyards, Seré Prince Halverson's compelling debut tells the story of two women, bound by an unspeakable loss, who each claims to be the mother of the same two children.

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.

The Underside of Joy is not a fairy-tale version of stepmotherhood pitting good Ella against evil Paige, but an exploration of the complex relationship of two mothers. Their conflict uncovers a map of scars - both physical and emotional - to the families' deeply buried tragedies, including Italian internment camps during World War II and postpartum psychosis.

Weaving a rich fictional tapestry abundantly alive with the glorious natural beauty of the novel's setting, Halverson is a captivating guide through the flora and fauna of human emotion - grief and anger, shame and forgiveness, happiness and its shadow complement... the underside of joy.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Lots of stepmothers out there; nice to have a novel that doesn't make us evil but addresses the complexity of our situation." - Library Journal

"Halverson tells a complex story in agile prose, but her tale is awash in a full-throated emotionalism that aligns her more with Elizabeth Berg than the more nuanced Anita Shreve." - Booklist

"The writing in The Underside of Joy is as purely beautiful as the story is emotionally complex... I cheered (sometimes through tears) her every step." - Marisa de los Santos

"Seré Prince Halverson's emotionally rich debut novel... weaves complex subplots with deceptive ease... The strength of this novel is in its empathy for all its characters - and for two women who want what's best for the children they both love with equal claim on motherhood." - Sarah Weinman, Publishers Marketplace

"Searingly smart and exquisitely written, Halverson's knockout debut limns family, marriage and a custody battle in a way that gets under your skin and leaves you changed. To say I loved this book would be an understatement." - Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You

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Reader Reviews

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Sbhale

Beautifully Written First Novel
I heard about this book and was intrigued. I am blessed to have a wonderful mom and stepmom, and I wanted to see how the author portrayed that relationship. I didn't know much about the plot except the topic. Wow! Halverson's writing is graceful and delicate. The emotions are raw and real. I am not a writer, so I am always amazed when an author is able to bring me to tears about characters I just met. I was invested in Ella and Paige, in the store and Elbow, and of course in Annie and Zach. I already told my book club to grab a box of Kleenex, this is my pick. There is so much to talk about, but I'll bite my tongue until you read it!

Diane S.

The Underside of Joy
This book is just so real, at least for the most part. It is wonderfully written, alternately heart warming and heartbreaking. Tackles the timely subject of stepmothers and blended families, and how to be fair to all involved. Deals with grief, the secrets in a relationship and how past events can influence our present actions. Loved all the characters. If I have one little complaint, I thought the ending was a little to cliche, to pat, but it didn't keep me from enjoying the book.

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Author Information

Sere Prince Halverson

Sere Prince Halverson lives in northern California and worked as a freelance copywriter for twenty years while she wrote fiction. She and her husband have four grown children. She is a mom and a stepmom, and grew up with a mom and a stepmom. This is her debut novel. Visit her online at www.sereprincehalverson.com.

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