Saturday, February 18, 2012
Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson
Tillie Harris's life is in disarray—her husband is away on business, the boxes in her new home aren't unpacked, and the telephone isn't even connected yet. Though she's not due for another month, sudden labor pains force Tillie to reach out to her estranged father for help, a choice that means facing the painful memories she's been running from since she was a little girl.
Though this book opens with Tillie in labor in 1991, the vast majority of the story takes place in 1975, the year Tillie turned eight and the year her mother was consumed by depression. Tillie doesn't understand the trouble her mother is having though the reader will easily recognize the signs; Tillie just wants her family to be happy. With a dad in the military focused on the development of smart bombs, and a mom who doesn't get out of bed for days on end, Tillie and her brother Phil are left to fend for themselves often enough for the neighbors on base to have concerns.
When the family moves to DC so Tillie's father can work at the Pentagon, Tillie stays behind for two weeks before rejoining a family that no longer includes her mother. As Tillie wrestles with making friends and a new school, her father refuses to discuss her mother and remakes their home into a sterile military barracks with chores and schedules designed to remove chaos from their lives. The story has some surprising twists but ultimately the ending seems inevitable.
I found this book a powerful read- I picked it up just to read a few pages over lunch and found myself unable to put it down. Tillie's story is heartbreaking and you can feel her pain as she fumbles through a life where everything she knows seems somehow wrong. 1975 marked the end of innocence for Tillie and Phil, and scarred their entire lives. I also came to feel back for Tillie's father, a man clearly out of his depth who tried (and failed) to keep his family intact in the face of mental illness. Well-written and emotionally gripping, this book is a must read.