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The Underside of Joy

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  2,641 ratings  ·  486 reviews
Set against the backdrop of redwood forests and shimmering vineyards, Seré Prince Halverson's compelling debut tells the story of two women, bound by an unspeakable loss, who each claims to be the mother of the same two children.

To Ella Beene, happiness means living in the northern California river town of Elbow with her husband, Joe, and his two young children. Yet one su
Hardcover, 307 pages
Published January 12th 2012 by Dutton Adult (first published 2012)
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Laura Kay Bolin
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
1 Kings 3:16-28, the Bible tells of a story of two women fighting over who was the the mother of one living child. The case was brought before King Solomon, who said he would cut the baby in two, so both women would have the child. One of the women yelled out, "Please, my Lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!" After the woman yelled this out he handed her the baby proclaiming, she was indeed the child's mother (NIV).

The Underside of Joy is a heart-wrenching story of two mothers fightin
Feb 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Underside Of Joy 
Sere Prince Halverson

My Thoughts...

I started crying on page 14...I wish I could tell you why but when you read it you will understand why it's best that you find out for yourself.

This  very sad event is what is the heart of this story which is not so much a story of sadness but a story of hope.  But you have to live through all of the sadness to experience what is on the other side.

Oh...there is sadness but there is also so much more.  Characters are shared, explained, cha
Book Club read #31 July 11 2020

3.5 stars
Questioning who should have custody, an absent birth mother or the woman who raises the toddlers, is one of my hot buttons. I was going to try to read this slowly because it's for book club which doesn't meet for another few weeks, but once I started I could not stop. I had never heard of this book or author before. The writing was very much to my liking -- easy to follow and fully formed characters. It's classified as Women's Fiction or chick lit which I
Nov 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I am so glad I was able to get a preview copy of this book. The Underside of Joy is beautifully written. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. And now I can’t stop thinking about and missing the characters. It’s about grief and love and marriage and motherhood and step-motherhood (really aren’t they the same?). It’s about family and all the ways we’re shaped by past generations and how our choices and actions shape future generations.
Ella is a woman who can’t have any kids
Jan 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing

There are not enough words to describe how much I enjoyed this book. I am a Stepmother, a fairly new Stepmother, but a Stepmother nonetheless. I have a Stepmother and my own Mother is a Stepmother. I can not say how GREAT it was to read about a Stepmother in a positive situation with kids who adore her as much as she adores them. Ella's scenario is not one I am ever likely to be in, but if I were, you bet your bottom dollar that I would fight to the death
Shelleyrae at Book'd Out
The Underside of Joy is a touching story of happiness and sorrow, motherhood and family. After fleeing her broken marriage, Ella stumbles upon her soul mate in the tiny town of Elbow, California. Dazzled by Joe's good looks and the gorgeous children in his arms, Ella can hardly believe her luck and after a whirlwind courtship she is happily ensconced in family life. Then one morning, just three years later, Joe doesn't come home and Ella's perfect world comes crashing down. At his funeral Joe's ...more
Nov 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Read this book! It's an honest portrayal of motherhood and family, touching without verging into the melodramatic, and so much fun to read. Once I started I could not put it down until I found out what happened to Ella, Paige, Annie, and Zach.
Warning: this book will make you want to drop everything and book the next flight to northern California--or maybe drive your car to the nearest great Italian restaurant. Really evocative images mixed with great characters and an absolutely compelling story
Jan 30, 2012 rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this book. It was recommended in several different places, and the summary hooked me in. The subject matter chosen was infinitely complex, and profound. It had so much potential to reveal so much about human nature.

What I got was a novel that became so predictable by the middle that it was almost boring to continue to read it. I already knew what they were all going to do and what was going to happen next; I just had to keep slogging through the rest of the obvious words trying
Laurie Richards
Aug 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I was privileged to read an ARC copy of "The Underside of Joy," due for release next January. This is a loving account of how a step-mother works through the tragic aftermath of her husband's death and the re-emergence of her step-children's mother who seeks to claim her place in the youngsters' lives. Ms. Halverson gives us an excellent and true depiction of the warring emotions in all the family members, and the ending both satisfies and inspires. It doesn't often happen for me that my eyes te ...more
Sep 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I won this book thorugh Goodreads. I couldn't put this book down. I thoroughly enjoyed the way the book showed that there are 2 or more sides to every story.
Feb 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was extremely well written, almost to a fault. I read it in nearly one sitting, having started it at 7 in the evening and pausing for a little sleep at 4am, only to awaken four hours later to finish the last few chapters.
Compelling, authentic, real. There was never an exchange between characters that didn't feel true. As a Mom and a stepMom, I knew going in that I would know if the story ever deviated from genuine emotion and experience. It really never did. The protagonist may have handle
Moon Love
Dec 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is Sere Prince Halverson's debut book and simply put, it is beautiful.

Ella Beane and Joe Capozzi, Jr. have been married for three years. They met and had a whirlwind courtship and were married in a few months after meeting each other. When Joe and Ella met, both were having/running away from their pasts/problems. Ella had just left a marriage broken by her inability to carry a child to term, and Joe was dealing with the fallout of his wife Paige leaving without warning and trying to raise h
Chelo Diaz-Ludden
Aug 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I just read an ARC (advanced reader's copy) of this book and loved every moment.
When Ella loses her husband she assumes she'll raise the step-children she loves as her own. Then their 'real' mother shows up to claim them and so begins a tug of war between two women for custody of the children they both love. Just as in real life, there are no easy answers and therein lies the beauty of the book. But it is easy to fall in love with the characters. The setting will also draw you in; northern Calif
Dec 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Just a perfect book. It is beautifully written and wonderfully plotted. The characters are very real and the story moves at a rapid pace.
Julie Kibler
Jan 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Loved. This. Book.

Updated: Dec 3, 2012:
I read this novel shortly after the hardcover released and fell in love with the story and the characters. My heart was broken and pieced back together by the situation Halverson explores in THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY, and I was quite speechless when I wrote my very brief review. The paperback released last week and I wanted to add more thoughts here. As both a parent and child of blended families, I found so much to think about in the story. I was moved to joy,
Ellen Wiseman
Oct 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
From the very first page, when I read "The most genuine happiness cannot be so pure, so deep, or so blind." I was pulled into this wonderful novel. With skillful prose and compelling characters, Seré Prince Halverson kept me spellbound to the very last page. Through the beautiful, tragic, emotionally-complex story of Ella Bean and her family, the author masterfully explores the true meaning of love and genuine happiness. This book packs an emotional punch that stays with you long after you've cl ...more
Nov 03, 2013 rated it did not like it
This was the underside of joy, all right.
The premise of this was actually quite strong, which made the lousy execution all the more devastating. Ella (Ella Beene, actually. Yeah.) is a woman who, after several years with the wrong man and an inability to have children, finds love the second time around with a man who, conveniently, comes with two ready made little kids and an ex wife who walked out, depressed, refusing to take care of her children. Joe, the husband, dies one day rather suddenly,
Louise Graham
Mar 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow .. what a story! This was a book I just couldn’t put down. You are gripped and pulled in straight away as the tragedy unfolds and then every page is packed full of struggles, family secrets, despair, with the odd glimpse of hope but all wrapped up in that word Love.

Written so beautifully with characters you will love and long for happiness to come to their door. Gorgeous children and with family relationships that will melt your heart. I believe that this is a debut novel for the Author who
Feb 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Two mothers and two children that mean the world to them both in many different ways. For Ella Beene life became complete the day she met Joe and his two children Annie & Zack, but after his sudden & tragic death all of life’s joy seems to slip away from her. For Paige her life ended when she walked away from Joe and her two children only three years prior and the news of his death becomes a reason to live again and to make up for the moments missed. In the months that follow a struggle between ...more
Paula  Phillips
Feb 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
They say happiness is something that you are born with , it is in your DNA. As "The Underside of Joy" teaches us that happiness is something that we experience but in a way I do believe that it is in our outlook on life and in our DNA whether we have a postive or negative outlook on life and depending what our perosnality and life outlook is , thats the measure of how much happiness one can experience. Ella Beanne , passed through a small town called Elbow three years ago and never contemplated ...more
Oct 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a very well writen novel with underlying message that in order to fully feel joy, one must also know pain. It is also a beautiful tribute to a mother's love in spite of a past not conducive for love. Above all, through the journey, mothering does not have to include giving birth to love a child.

The story is told through the point of view of Ella, a stepmother who stepped into theshoes and life of another wife and mother who left her own when post partum depression became too much to bea
Jul 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
What makes a woman a mother? Is it biology or an overwhelming love for her children? When young Ella Beene is suddenly widowed and left with two step-children, she resolves to make their lives the best she can. But when the biological mother enters the scene, things get complicated. She decides to live in truth for herself and the kids, and generations of secrets must come to light to make that happen. This is a book that runs the gamut of emotions; love , regret, jealousy, redemption and finall ...more
it was probably unwise of me to read a novel about a blissfully happy woman married to her dream man, stepmother to his two delightful young children, living the good life in a charming little cottage in northern california, whose life is upended one day when her husband suddenly drowns. especially while i am pregnant. i already have a pathological fear of my partner dying in a freak accident; this book did me no favors in that department.

& i guess halverson read a few books about how your prota
Laura Kay Bolin
Jan 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing

1 Kings 3:16-28, the Bible tells of a story of two women fighting over who was the the mother of one living child. The case was brought before King Solomon, who said he would cut the baby in two, so both women would have the child. One of the women yelled out, "Please, my Lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!" After the woman yelled this out he handed her the baby proclaiming, she was indeed the child's mother (NIV).

The Underside of Joy is a hear
Dec 21, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: r-other
Review first published on my blog:

The Underside of Joy is a book of a family - the one we are born with and the one we choose. Ella Beene has stumbled into and found a loving family - Joe and his children Zach and Annie and the whole clan that surrounds them. She is a mother to Zach and Annie whose birth mother left when they were very young. However, at the beginning of the book, Joe is an accident and dies. The birth mother comes returns, and a custody
Susan Johnson
Mar 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Being a stepparent is not easy. Everyone watches your every move to make sure that you don't make a mistake. Birth parents are allowed mistakes but stepparents aren't. And nobody really understands the depths of your love for these children- that there are times when you forget you didn't give birth to them. I know. I raised four stepkids as the primary caretaker. If the absent mother had tried to waltz in and take custody of my kids, I would have NEVER reacted the way Ella Beene did. It just go ...more
Erin Cashman
Jan 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Underside of Joy

I highly recommend The Underside of Joy. It is a wonderful story about finding hope when the unthinkable happens. The novel tells the story of Ella Beane, whose world is ripped apart when the love of her life, her husband Joe, dies, and the birth mother of her two children, Paige, returns to claim them. Ella is a very likeable character, strong and vulnerable at the same time. I was swept up in her story from the very first page.

In this beautifully woven novel, Ella must unc
Oct 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
What starts as a light ride turns into an emotional roller-coaster. The pain is so palpable and the emotions had me running for a tissue. The story is poignant and motherhood is portrayed in a very beautiful way. The unpredictability of life and the struggle to carry on is tough enough but when you are on the verge of losing everything that you count as your life as you know it is heart wrenching. My kudos to the author for delivering such a treat.
Lori Spielman
Oct 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Underside of Joy is beautiful book about the complications of family, the power of love, and the strength in forgiveness. Sere Prince Halverson weaves a tale that is at once heartbreaking and heartwarming. She writes with honesty and grace--and adds a dash of humor for good measure. I loved this novel.
Apr 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
I would classify this as 'women's fiction' and it taps in on the emotions of a stepmother as well as the birth mother after the tragic death of the father (not a spoiler). Annie, the daughtetr, was a little too smarty pants for me, but toward the end she mellowed out. In the end we learn that it really does take a village to raise kids.
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Seré Prince Halverson is the author of the international bestseller, THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY, published in 2012 and translated into 18 languages, and ALL THE WINTERS AFTER, published in February, 2016--novels that explore grief, forgiveness, nature, and the intimate layers of family.

She and her husband have four grown children and live in Northern California in a house in the woods.

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