Thursday, October 7, 2010

My take on: Up from the Blue

When Tillie Harris of Up from the Blue by Susan Henderson goes into early labor with her first child she is all alone. Her husband, Simon, is away on business, and the only person Tillie can turn to for support is her stern military father, Roy Harris. Roy is not about emotion and tenderness, like her wild mother Mara, rather he is about being proper and efficient. To find out how this came to be the novel flashes back from May 19, 1991 to 1975. A year when 8-year-old Tillie was at her most impressionable.

To the outside world, Mara is the crazy/odd lady with the bold orange hair and blue painted front door that won't open. Her son, Phil, sees her just like the outside world. Phil would rather be the perfect solder for his father, following rules and order, rather than emotions and chaos. To Roy, Mara is an emotional, messy child, instead of a wife who makes sure the house is clean, that the children have clean clothes and food in their bellies. But Tillie tries not to see any of that. To Tillie, Mara is simply her mother. A mother who was more friend than parent, but that was Ok for Tillie. She and Mara can have late-night talks about literature and life, forming a strong bond. With others, Mara is withdrawn, sullen and unpredictable, but with Tillie she comes to life. Tillie is the only one who doesn't judge Mara. Roy can focus on work. Phil can exist in his own world, building model planes, and avoiding the fights between his parents.

A promotion forces Roy to move the family from a military base in New Mexico, to a job in Washington D.C. A job where he works at the "five-sided donut" or better known as the Pentagon. The move causes a traumatic separation of mother and daughter. Tillie must stay behind, while the rest of the family sets up shop in D.C. Feeling that change can improve the family, Roy insists on a separation between Mara and Tillie. Tillie is become too much like her mother, and Roy can't let that happen. Mara has to shape up or ship out. Probably not the best solution. Roy's wants to box up or ignore problems, which only causes a disservice to his family. When Tillie finally joins the family, Mara is gone and Tillie goes into an emotional tailspin. She makes friends at school, but can't always focus at school. Mara's clothes, knick-knacks, and even her smell are gone from the house. What can Tillie do? Phil is thriving without the chaos. How is that possible?

Mother and daughter are finally reunited, but how and why? You'll just have to read the book to find that one out. Their reunion is a major plot point in the book. The book is told from Tillie's point of view and alternates between 1975 and 1991. In other books, that back and forth has been a point of confusion for me. That isn't the case here. Alternating between time gives you a better perspective for Tillie. When the book opens, you don't have an understanding for Tillie's aversion for her father. Who wouldn't want their parent around, especially when you need them most? Henderson taps into the 8-year-old mind well. Some children, like Tillie, can ignore what's really wrong because children often operate with blinders on. Despite being told from Tillie's view point, you can tap into Mara's psyche as well. At first I thought Mara was just crazy, but as the novel moves along you can see Mara is just one of the many faces of depression. And ignoring depression, doesn't help anyone. At times Up from the Blue is a hard read, but a worthwhile one.

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information on author Susan Henderson visit:


  1. Following you on Friday. I had a hard time reading this book -- and your review tells why. Thanks!

  2. Did you finish? I wasn't sure where it was going at first, but it certainly wasn't meant to be a happy story.