BookBrowse Reviews Up from the Blue by Susan Henderson

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Up from the Blue

A Novel

by Susan Henderson

Up from the Blue by Susan Henderson
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    Oct 2010, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer Dawson Oakes

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An extraordinary debut from a talented new voice

Up From the Blue is Susan Henderson's debut novel. She has gifted readers with a poignant story of family, resilience and hope. Tillie Harris speaks to us from 1991 but most of the narrative is spent reflecting on the year 1975; a time of banana seat bicycles, the growing feminist movement, school desegregation, and upheaval within the Harris family.

Back in 1975, Tillie's father is in the military, he is rigid (though not uncaring) and regimented by nature. When his wife Mara, Tillie's mother, falls into a deep depression he does not understand what is wrong with her so lobs out words like "lazy", "stubborn" and "helpless".  The family is truly scrambling in an effort to keep the illusion of togetherness while trying to come to grips with Mara's inability to function as a wife and mother.

Mara is an interesting character. Henderson has done a great job creating a women stuck in her life, unable to cope and unable to be understood by those closest to her. Mara struggles to understand her purpose in life while mourning the loss of passion and her own personal identity. I think any woman who has felt overwhelmed by family life will find moments of Mara's life relatable. According to an interview in Psychology Today, Henderson drew on her knowledge as a counselor and the poetry of Ann Sexton and Sylvia Plath, who both battled depression, in order to bring Mara's character to life and to understand how her depression could spiral into something so debilitating.

Tillie, the daughter and main character, is eight-years-old. Some reviewers have drawn comparisons between Up From the Blue and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and in particular to the two protagonists, Tillie and Scout. Both books serve to explore dark and complicated adult issues from the perspective of astute, young female characters, and both stories focus on a moment in time when the child's world is turned upside down. Comparing Henderson's novel to Lee's, while a grand compliment, is not too much of a stretch. There are similarities of tone and character development, but they are wholly different books and Up From the Blue may be best interpreted as honoring Lee's monumental novel.

Less of a stretch, though, is Henderson's metaphorical nods to The Wizard of Oz. Prominently featured in Up From the Blue is Tillie's "ruby cup"; and Henderson has Tillie performing the role of "The Yellow Brick Road" in her school play. These examples of imagery represent Tillie's hope for acceptance, for better times as a family and her longing for a proper feeling of home.

Henderson hopes that "as we accompany Tillie on an emotional journey, which takes her to both the possibility of forgiveness and a future not determined by the bonds of her past", we are reminded how resilient people can be - just like flowers that grow out of a cracks in the sidewalk, always reaching for the sun.

About the Author
Susan Henderson is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the founder of the literary blog LitPark: Where Writers Come to Play. Her work has appeared in Zoetrope, the Pittsburgh Quarterly, North Atlantic Review, Opium, and many other publications. She lives in New York.

This review is from the November 17, 2010 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



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