Beautiful and maddening, hopeful and condemning, simple, yet like a knot that takes a lifetime to untangle. A heartbreaking, rewarding story that still haunts me. That’s how author Jamie Ford describes Up From the Blue, the debut novel by Susan Henderson.
Novels aren’t usually a genre I do book reviews for but this one is an exception. And I think you would agree once you meet Tillie.
When Tillie Harris goes into premature labor, she has no one to turn to but her estranged father. Their relationship has been strained since Tillie was eight years old and her mother mysteriously vanished. Up From the Blue follows young Tillie’s startling discoveries about what happened to her mother, as well as grown Tillie’s struggle with a relationship that’s stuck in the past.
Woven into 317 pages Henderson tells a story that made me envy her writing skill and gave me the same haunting feelings shared by Ford. Up From the Blue turns the spotlight on the stigma of mental illness and the heartbreaking outcome of one family’s shame.
Fiction Becomes Reality
Authors who write fiction know that, at some point in their writing, the characters become so real that it’s as if they’re truly leading the adventure.
Henderson says, “In the course of this novel, Tillie led me right to the issues that gnaw at me: the desperation to fix things that might not be fixable, the fear that the people you love may not love you the way you hope, the battle between following your bliss and being there for others, the failures we make against those we love, how we live with those failures, and the jagged path to forgiveness.
Writing this book healed something deeply in me. I learned a lot about love and acceptance of (and even a kind of a glory in) people’s shortcomings. And what I hope is that this story will heal something in my readers, too.”
I Never Needed Perfect
Spoiler Alert: There is sobering truth in Henderson’s concluding paragraphs. Tillie says,
The power of suicide, the thing that makes it particularly poisonous, is that it lets one person have the last say without giving others a chance to respond. My mother left us with her fear that she’s pass down the parts about herself that she hated. And I know, in many ways, I look like the very mess she worried she’d create with my knotted hair, quick temper and easy tears. Some night’s I’m startled awake with the ways we are similar – how on certain days I, too, could sit and stare at nothing, could fill my pockets with something heavy and sink underwater. But what I desperately want to tell my mother, if she’d given me a chance to respond, is this: It wasn’t perfect, but I never needed perfect.
My story of that year always ends with our walk because that’s when there was hope. That’s when we could still choose any ending.
It wasn’t perfect but I never needed perfect. That’s what every child wants their parents to know about family.
APPLICATION: Please come back a leave a comment once you’ve read this book. It’s available on Amazon.ca as a hardcover or on Kindle. I have not been rewarded for posting this review other than from the people who are enriched by the book as much as I am.
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