Debbie's Reviews > Up from the Blue

Up from the Blue by Susan  Henderson
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Oct 12, 10

bookshelves: highlyrecommend

Set in the 70s, during the era of bussing and all that entailed, UP FROM THE BLUE tells the story of family dysfunction stemming from a mother afflicted with severe manic depression. We start with the girl now grown up and about to have her own child, then we travel back in time to her as a child struggling to understand what is wrong with her mother. The story moves at a fast pace, with well timed twists and turns. Compelling but not disingenuous. It is real and raw.

To me, this is a story about fear, it’s path to prejudice, and how the transcendent power of love conquers it. The character with the courage to love unconditionally is Tillie, a very flawed 8 year old with a huge engine of inner rage rumbling inside her. Tillie’s mother is an embarrassment. She is sick, bizarrely different, and a potential threat to her husband who has a very political Pentagon job. Tillie is well aware of her mother’s issues, so much so, she keeps to herself, debates whether or not to invite friends over. But despite this awareness, Tillie allows herself to fall in love with her mother, because she allows herself to go beyond the sickness and see a unique take her mother brings to life. Tillie’s love is powerful and frustrating. It is the heartbeat of the novel. But it is not enough, because it cannot conquer everyone else’s fear which prevents the mother from seeking help.

The writer brilliantly chooses to tell this story against the backdrop of bussing, subtly comparing racial prejudice to prejudice towards the mentally ill. Stigmatism--which comes of course from the fear of the unknown-- has the same effect on the person of color stepping into a white school in the 70s, as it does on the mentally ill woman forced to live in a military world, where structure and conformity are demanded. As Bus 14 brings in the African Americans, everyone stands back and gawks, as if monsters from another planet have arrived. They are there, but they are not there, reminding us of Tillie’s mother--she is there, but she is not there. One African American girl is so frightened of being the only girl of color in her class, she is allowed time to herself in an office. Again reminding us of Tillie’s mother, so frightened of the world of sameness, she hides from everyone. And Tillie’s reach beyond the fear and prejudice to connect with the girl at school again reminds us of Tillie reach beyond fear and prejudice to see all the good in her mother.

This is a tragic story but it is not depressing, because it has grace and hope. If it were simply another book about family dysfunction, it wouldn’t have staying power. But it does have staying power because of what the story says beyond the words.

About her relationship with her mother, Tillie says once “It wasn’t perfect, but I never needed perfect.”

And that is just perfect.


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Tricia Dower Excellent review, Debbie. This is the book I read. You interpret and describe it so well.


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