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Up from the Blue: A Novel

Up from the Blue: A Novel

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Up from the Blue: A Novel

4/5 (42 valutazioni)
400 pagine
5 ore
Sep 21, 2010


 “Elegant and engrossing….Henderson is a talent to watch.”

—Danielle Trussoni, author of Angelology


“This is not a book you’ll soon forget.”

—Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants

The gripping debut novel from founder and Pushcart Prize-nominee Susan Henderson, Up From the Blue is a dazzling tour de force that unfolds against the backdrop of 1970s America—a tumultuous era of desegregation, school busing, and the early rise of modern-day feminism. The story of an imaginative young girl struggling to make sense of her mother’s mysterious disappearance, Up From the Blue is enthralling fiction that delves into complex family relationships, in the vein of Jennifer McMahon, Katrina Kittle, and Laura Kasischke.

Sep 21, 2010

Informazioni sull'autore

Susan Henderson is a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. She is the author of two novels, The Flicker of Old Dreams and Up from the Blue, both published by HarperCollins. Susan lives in Kings Park, New York and blogs at the writer support group,

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  • He’s telling me I’m right. That I did feel contractions all morning. This has happened before—people trying to talk me out of my instincts, like they did when my mother disappeared—and then, like now, it would be easier if I were wrong.

  • Our neighbors didn’t know exactly what the trouble was inside our home. I don’t think any of us understood, either. We were still of the belief that it would pass, that my dad could solve everything, that all of us would survive.

  • I can’t talk without crying, mascara dripping onto my enormous belly. The doctor puts his hand up like a cop stopping traffic. And it’s this sweaty, talking-too-fast state I’ve worked myself into that makes people tune out.

  • And I’m sent home, the doctor irritated with me again.  This was actually one of the bonuses of moving—a chance to start fresh with a doctor who will listen and not dismiss my complaints.

  • Well, it’s drying out now because you forgot to cover it.”  He was right there and could cover it himself if he didn’t have to prove a point all the time.

Anteprima del libro

Up from the Blue - Susan Henderson





Susan Henderson

To David, who knows everything about me, and

he’s still here

Table of Contents


Title Page

MAY 29, 1991, 8:47 AM

1 The House with the Blue Door

2 Bear

3 The Sooner the Day Ends

4 Teacups and Violins

5 Things Beginning with the Letter D

6 Knots

7 National Airport

8 Sassafras

9 Bells

10 Hope’s Pink Bathroom

11 School Steps

12 The Ways You’re Wrong

13 Christmas Lights

14 Careful

MAY 29, 1991, 9:31 AM

15 Fever

16 Poem about the Moon

17 Chair Legs

18 Great Tap Root

19 Good Lies to Tell

20 Spare Key

21 Silver Dollars

MAY 29, 1991, 2:30 PM

22 The Ghost of Momma

23 A Note on the Fridge

24 Porcelain

25 Wading into the Potomac

26 Hush Now

27 Apple

28 Riding Bus 14

29 The Mall

30 What’s Lost Is Found

31 Rubies

32 Locked Doors

33 Tumbling

34 Coin Trick

35 The Skipping Brick

MAY 29, 1991, 7:03 PM




The Flicker of Old Dreams: Copyright




About the Publisher

MAY 29, 1991, 8:47 AM

IT STARTS LIKE A tingling at the top of my abdomen. And then, as if I’m wearing control top pantyhose—which I’m not, I’ve never been that girlie—it begins to shrink in around me, tighter and tighter, until my belly feels rock hard. Nervous, I pace our new apartment, hoping to simply walk it off. It’s not a contraction. I won’t allow it—not now. The baby isn’t due for six more weeks.

When my belly relaxes again, the tingle fading, I dig through the moving boxes trying to find my address book and a telephone to plug in. I’m not even sure if we hooked up the service or not. I try to breathe slowly. The boxes are packed randomly, my husband’s idea to keep it simple and take the stress out of moving. It’s all going to the same place, he had said. He knows I have issues with too many orders and too many rules. Unfortunately, I also have issues with chaos.

I peel the tape off one box and find oven mitts, books, and shoes. Another has cups, a tape dispenser, and a notebook of unfinished poems that were better in my head than they are on paper. My hair, far past my waist, drips into the next carton filled with a lampshade and stuffed animals from the baby shower. No phone. No address book. My breath comes faster as I scan the stacks of boxes lining this room I’ve only known for two days, and when I consider the time and the amount of lifting it would require to go through them all, I realize I could be in trouble.

I can’t reach Simon because he’s still midflight to Paris, where he’s helping to choose art pieces and oversee their shipment for the modern art museum that just hired him. He didn’t want to travel this late in the pregnancy, but he’s lucky to have this job. Majoring in art history is a lot like acquiring an expensive degree in unemployment, and now more than ever he wants to bring stability to our family.

I slam the cardboard flap closed on another box. And now I’m scared. I shouldn’t have been going up and down the stairs so much. If something hurts this baby, it’s all my fault.

Next door is a row house that looks like ours, Queen Anne style, brick—though ours is red with a round bay window and the other is white with a square bay window. I see glimpses of my neighbor moving from room to room, tidying up, sipping her coffee or tea. She looks about my age, and is the perfect image of how I planned to spend my day—slowly unpacking and cleaning, and later scoping out local restaurants to find a way to reclaim this town I thought I’d never live in again.

There’s another tightening in my belly. Out of options, I open the door to the bustle of traffic and fast-walking men and women with briefcases. I hold the rail and walk quickly down our steps and up the neighbor’s, knocking normally at first and then more frantically.

As I listen to her footsteps approaching, I’m stunned by my reflection in the glass on either side of her door. I was wrong to think I resembled this woman I’d seen through the window in any way.

Can I help you? she asks. She looks as if she dressed from an L.L. Bean catalog, professionally relaxed, makeup and hair done, but lightly. We may both be in our midtwenties, but with my wet, stringy hair, gray maternity jumper, and untied, red high-tops, once again, I look like the kid without a mother.

I just moved in next door, and … I think I need a doctor. Can I use your phone?

Of course. Of course.

We move quickly through her immaculate house, past knickknacks and tapestries from Africa, Russia, China. This neighborhood is filled with young diplomats. The only reason we could afford something here is because we got a fixer-upper we have no immediate plans to fix up. I follow the woman into the kitchen, where she points to the telephone hanging on the wall.

I’ll be in the next room if you need me, she says. I wonder if she’s told me her name. I simply nod, take the receiver in my hand, and freeze. I don’t have anyone to call. I don’t know the name of the local hospital. I haven’t memorized my former doctor’s number and haven’t yet found a new one. I was going to get to all of that.

I’m aware that the woman who owns this house is listening for me to do something, and because I’m afraid, I dial the number of my childhood home, wishing I could talk to my mother, but of course she doesn’t answer.

Hello? General Harris speaking.

I haven’t heard my father’s voice in two or three years, maybe a call a few Christmases ago, and at first I say nothing. Then, because my belly is tightening again and I’m standing in a stranger’s house I say, I’m scared.


I never officially cut him off. There was no big falling out. Life just got busy, and the less we were in touch, the more peaceful I felt. I didn’t even tell him I got married.

Tillie, is that you? Talk to me.

I’m in Dupont Circle. And I need a doctor.

You’re in D.C.? What’s wrong?

I’ll tell the doctor what’s wrong. I just need to get to a hospital, and I don’t know which one or how to get there.

This is what he’s good at, ignoring the emotions of the moment and solving a problem. After four or five minutes of him trying to give me directions I’m too panicked to follow, he decides to call me a cab that will take me to G.W. Hospital.

Where are you? he asks.

And I don’t remember that either. I haven’t memorized the new address yet, and when I ask the woman of this house where I am, I’m keenly aware that I’m giving her a very bad, though fairly accurate, first impression.

As I hang up the telephone, the neat, closed box that held my past is smashed open and oozing into the present. I had felt it coming though. This whole year it seemed that the world was conspiring to bring us together: First, it was the television coverage of Desert Storm this winter that flaunted my father’s satellite-guided bombs dropping on targets with the accuracy of a video game. Then it was Simon finding the rare opening for an assistant curator at an art museum here in D.C. Now this.

Still holding the phone to my ear I stand motionless, hoping to feel that little upside down foot kick my rib cage. I press in different spots to see if the baby will push back. Nothing.

I don’t want to have a full-on panic attack in a stranger’s house, but I’m definitely on my way. When I spot a pan of brownies on the stove top, I take just a pinch, hoping the sugar will get the baby moving. I turn to the wall, pretending I’m still on the phone, and say, M-hmm, eating one bite at first, and then going ahead and eating the entire brownie.

Okay. And thank you, I say to no one, then hang up. I only nod my thanks to my neighbor, afraid there might be brownie on my teeth.

Waiting on her front steps, I work my fingers through my wet hair, letting the loose strands float away in the breeze. I don’t dare turn around to see if she’s watching me from her doorway. Instead, I think how good the sidewalk will be for hopscotch, what a nice climbing tree we have in the front yard, what a normal childhood we can offer this baby, if he or she will just hold on.

There’s the pain again—at first a wave of bad cramps, not just in my belly but in my back this time. And now the tightening.

My neighbor opens the screen door and asks, Can I help? Want me to wait with you?

I shake my head and raise my hand as if to say, I’m fine, everything’s cool, grateful to see the Red Top Cab pulling into view.

G.W. emergency room, I say, just as Dad told me to. As we drive away, I realize I have no wallet, no ID, and no cash. Head in my hands, I spend the rest of the trip with a view of the never-vacuumed floor.

When the cab pulls up to the hospital, I pat the seat beside me as if I’ve only now realized I’ve forgotten my purse. I figure he’ll be sympathetic to a distressed pregnant woman, but he drives off fast and pissed. I walk through the sliding glass doors and into the chaos of sick people. I have to pee, but I get in the registration line first, as people in front of me cough and complain and one applies pressure to a bloody wound. I’m terrified of another pain, of what waiting too long might mean for the baby, and wander up to the front of the line.

Wait your turn, a patient says.

It’s not about me, I tell him. Me, I’d stay at the end of the line, but my baby needs to be seen right away.

You’re no more important than anyone else, another patient says. Get in back.

I feel a hand on my arm. Instinctively I shrug it off, whipping my head around with a kind of growl, and there’s my father. His hair’s been gray since I was born, but now his skin seems to match it. He stands there facing me, the only one in the ER wearing a suit, his shoulders rounded from all the years hunched over his weapons research. I back up, folding my arms over my chest so he can’t do anything weird and uncharacteristic like hugging me.

He stares first at my belly, then at my wet hair—something familiar—and finally at my wedding ring. I register his look of surprise, possibly because I never sent him an invitation, but my gut says it’s surprise that someone would have me.

You didn’t have to come, I tell him, trying to discover what looks so odd about his face.

What’s the matter? he asks, maneuvering me to the back of the line, his hand stiff against my shoulder.

Dad, just leave me alone.

But you called me.

I needed a ride. I didn’t ask you to be here.

And now, of course, I realize what looks odd about him is that he shaved his mustache, leaving this pale, swollen patch above his lip and exposing facial expressions I’ve never seen in him: uncertainty, nervousness, grief. When I find myself at the front of the line again, I shoo Dad away while the woman behind the desk takes down my information.


Tillie Harris. I spell it.


I don’t have it with me, I say, combing my hair with my fingers.


Um. I need to skip that one, sorry.

Insurance card.

That, too.

It’ll be fee for service, then.

I’m good for it. You don’t have to worry about me not paying.

No change in her expression, she continues down the sheet of questions. Date of birth. Social security.

Finally, numbers I know.

Next of kin.

My husband. Simon Williams. I kept my last name.

She could care less. His work phone?

I should know it.

Medical complaint?

I’m having pains across my abdomen, like something’s gripping me.


Thirty-four weeks.

She looks at me for the first time, and I start to tear up. Something’s wrong, I say quietly, my voice cracking. I’m scared.

Name and number of your regular obstetrician?

Another number I don’t know, but I give the name and city.

I see the triage nurse next, who looks over the paper full of non-answers. I tell her about my pain and when it started and how long it lasted. She takes my vitals, tells me my blood pressure’s elevated.

Empty your bladder first, she says. And then I’d like you to take this paper cup and fill it up at the water fountain. Try to drink the whole thing while you wait for your name to be called.

I’m slow to stand up, afraid to move toward the bathroom, where I may discover I’m bleeding, or find a blue arm slipping out between my legs.

When my father reaches out to help me up, I hurry to do it on my own. My wet hair has soaked the back of my dress, and I know this bothers him. Worries him. He takes out his handkerchief, and the slightest touch of it against my back makes me stomp my foot. A child having a tantrum. And this, more than anything else, is why I’ve stayed away from my father. Because when I’m around him, I am eight again, trapped in that year that scarred us all.

I find a seat in the waiting room, where patients cough and argue, and a TV hanging from the ceiling plays a soap opera at too high a volume. Dad takes the only other chair that’s free—too far away to offer his unsolicited advice, but close enough to show his irritation at the way I’ve shredded the rim of my paper cup.

When I close my eyes, I see our old house on the air force base in Albuquerque, New Mexico—planes constantly overhead, their vibrations strong enough to start cracks in the sidewalk. I can practically taste the red dust that was always in the air, staining our walkway and our shoes. It was the spring of 1975, near the end of the school year. I’d just had a birthday, always the last one in my class, but that year, every single child I invited had an excuse for why they couldn’t come. Peeking from behind the curtain of our old house, I see Momma, just her shadow.

Our neighbors didn’t know exactly what the trouble was inside our home. I don’t think any of us understood, either. We were still of the belief that it would pass, that my dad could solve everything, that all of us would survive.


The House with the Blue Door

IWAS BARRED FROM SCHOOL for the day because I’d been biting again. Whenever I pressed my teeth into one of my classmates, my teacher stopped the lesson and called, Tillie, Tillie. There was always a struggle as she tried to wrestle the hand or arm from my mouth, but I held on—fighting until the last string of spit released—because I liked to leave a mark.

Although I had nowhere to go, I got up early and sat on the front steps in my nightgown, knees together, bare feet arched to keep my legs off the cold concrete. American flags rose up the poles and flapped against the Sandia Mountains, pale gray in the distance, as lights popped on inside the little square houses of our neighborhood, each the same size with their well-mowed lawns and rectangular flower beds under the front windows.

Soon, the men from each home walked tall and purposefully out their doors, one after another, in their crisp blue uniforms or camouflage jumpsuits, all with the same haircuts, the same pair of glasses. Some, like my father, had more decorations on their uniforms. But from this distance I noticed the sameness.

There was a sense of music to the slamming car doors and starting engines, a distinct sense of order as each man backed out of his driveway. Looking from one open garage to the next, I could see that we all had bikes, silver metal trash cans, reel mowers, and rakes. Our home was like all of the others on our street. The only difference was our front door. My mother had painted it turquoise blue.

The children were the next to leave with their lunch boxes and textbooks—girls in plaid and flowered dresses that fell just above the knee, boys in jeans and short-sleeved, checkered button-ups. When I recognized another second grader, her pigtails tied in yarn, I waited for her to see me there with my face decorated in yellow smiley stickers.

At first, she seemed to pass without noticing me, but at the last moment she turned her head over her shoulder and shrieked, You have rabies!

I smirked until the stickers pinched my skin. I get to stay home, I said.

And then came Mary Beth, wearing a huge Band-Aid with my teeth marks underneath it. During yesterday’s class, while she cried and held her arm, I had to stand in the corner of our classroom with my nose to the wall. I found the exact smudge where I’d put my nose the other times, and I listened to Mary Beth’s whimpering, the whispers of her friends, and the stern voices of teachers. But there were giggles, too, because even with my nose to the wall, I could still turn my feet inward like pigeons’ toes or shake my behind.

My dad says you should keep your teeth to yourself, she said, suddenly gripping the hand of the girl in pigtails.

So what? I said, standing as they ran together toward the school. "My dad’s the boss of your dad."

Finally, my brother rushed out of the garage door, trying to close his Scooby Doo lunch box without dropping his textbooks. He stopped beside me to see why it wouldn’t latch, opening the lid and shifting the jar of green olives and the two hot dog buns inside.

You have to slam it, I said.

He did, and it bent the lid but closed shut.

Did you check on Momma? I asked.

Phil shook his head.

Our mother had not left her bedroom in four days. The last time she’d come out was suppertime the night Dad left for his business trip. She said she felt too tired to cook and handed us a box of chocolate donuts before shutting her door. She was so tired these days, I wasn’t surprised when we didn’t see her the next morning. Phil made sure we left for school on time. And when we still hadn’t seen her leave the bedroom by suppertime the next evening, we opened the door just a crack. The room smelled strong and sweet, like rotting flowers, and Phil shut the door again, saying we should wait for Dad.

My brother gripped the handle of his lunch box, sitting too straight, the way Dad taught him, as students continued to stream past our house on their way to school.

I pulled a piece of hair from underneath one of the smiley stickers. Do you think we should tell someone?

His head shook slowly back and forth. Dad will be home tonight, he said. We should just wait. He kept his eye on the passing students, and when he spotted a fifth grader from his class, he jogged to catch up, the jar of olives banging back and forth inside his lunch box.

• • •

My father’s business trip came up suddenly, just after the local newspaper did a feature on him. Copies of the paper, with photos of the men who’d flown from Washington to meet him, were posted at the PX and in the lobby where he worked. I understood almost nothing of what he did, only that he designed missiles. When I visited his office at the weapons lab, with its long blackboard full of formulas and diagrams, he always saved an area for me in the right-hand corner, where I was allowed to draw with chalk.

The children had all passed our house and started down the hill to school, my brother walking in a perfect line on the right side of the sidewalk, eyes down in case he found something to put in his pocket. Our side of the street was the last to get sun, and even this close to summer vacation the steps froze the backs of my legs right through my nightgown. When I could no longer see the back of Phil’s perfectly combed hair, I went inside, entering the house through the garage. I stepped over dirty dishes, crumpled napkins, empty bread bags, t-shirts, apple cores, and pieces of board games, stopping outside my mother’s bedroom.

Some days she sang and twirled through the house in sleeves like angel wings, wearing frosted eye shadow and matching nail polish. I remembered the day I sat on the kitchen floor as she poured a can of mushroom soup over chicken. It was the only meal she cooked. She fried it up, shouting at the oil that popped out of the pan. I laughed and began singing military songs real loud:

Off we go into the wild blue yonder,

Climbing high into the sun;

Here they come zooming to meet our thunder

At ’em boys, give ’er the gun!

I swung my head back and forth, letting my braids hit the lower cupboards so my ponytail holders went click click. Momma banged her spoon against the frying pan, and I thought we sounded like a marching band. Then, just like that, it stopped. I’d seen it happen before, how she could change moods so quickly, how anything could cause it—a plane flying overhead, an oven mitt that was missing right when she needed it, me asking one too many questions. That day, she closed her eyes and squeezed the handle on the pan. I can’t do this anymore, she said. I can’t. I just can’t. And she left the grease-spattered room, left the chicken soaking in oil and soup.

I pressed my nose and lips against her door, felt the wood dampen with my breath while I gradually turned the handle. The blinds were drawn, the smell overpowering, as I felt my way through the sticky air to her bed. She lay there pale and beautiful, as if drowned and washed back ashore, her face blank. She’d covered the bed in books, five of them spread out across Dad’s side. She once told me she liked to read the first chapters and then dream the rest. Perhaps she was dreaming right then.

In the quiet, I heard the gurgle of steam moving through the pipes, and the swoosh swoosh of blood in my ears. My fingers touched the sheet, and I considered saying her name, but suddenly feared she’d open her eyes, blue as robins’ eggs, the fat black pupil tracking me. And which mother would she be?

Backing out of the room, I slowly pulled the handle until there was a near-silent click, and then continued going backward all the way to the kitchen, where my shoulder slammed into the doorframe.

We’d eaten most of the snack food. Phil tried to cook spaghetti one day, but didn’t realize he was supposed to boil the water before he added the spaghetti to the pot. It came out stuck in one large clump, like a tube—too crunchy to eat, and even worse when he tried to recook it. Scouring the counters, refrigerator, and the very backs of the cupboards I could reach, I found Chiclets gum, pickles, and crumbs at the bottom of a Charles Chips tin. I left a trail of crumbs showing the path I took to the living room, and, later, I would pretend this was not on purpose.

I made a game of trying to touch everything in the living room without waking her: fabrics from her sewing kit, pine cones from a basket, every record in the hi-fi.

The front window rattled as a plane roared overhead, and I stopped to listen, remembering how Momma had once thrown a plate against the kitchen cabinet, angry that the noise had interrupted her. Once it passed, I waited to hear if she was awake, but there was only quiet. And bored of touching everything, I climbed onto the sofa and bounced up and down, surprised to see a woman approaching our blue door. Her blond hair stayed perfectly stiff as she walked closer, and behind her a child pushed a baby carriage filled with dolls and carried a shiny red pocketbook.

We rarely had visitors. Usually when the doorbell rang Momma would instruct us to hide in another room, telling us she didn’t want to play with the other mommies and she didn’t want to buy their products, either.

When the doorbell rang, I stopped jumping and pressed my forehead against the glass, enjoying our staring contest. She rang the bell again, and I sang ding-dong right back at her. When I remembered my face full of stickers, I smiled until I broke into a laugh. Ding-dong, I sang again, and she held her daughter close like she knew I was a biter.

I was never able to explain to my teachers how I could be sorry for biting but come right back to school and do it again. The feel of my teeth sinking into something so soft was only part of it. There was something comforting about that first yelp when I went deep, something about the crying, and the teacher shouting my name as she pulled us apart, asking, Why, Tillie? Why did you do it? I liked how everything happened the same way each time, right up to me walking home with a note pinned to my shirt that proved the things I thought had happened were the very same things my teacher thought had happened. Everything made sense.

The woman rang the bell again, and after a long wait, she led her daughter and the carriage full of dolls back toward the sidewalk, looking over her shoulder all the way. She didn’t know that I couldn’t have opened our blue door even if I’d wanted to. Momma had painted it shut.


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  • (4/5)
    I don't know what better review you can give to a book than I couldn't put it down. I read this in two days and only because I had to sleep or I would have finished it the day I started. While I finished it quickly I certainly didn't rush through it because I wanted to savor every word. Susan Henderson's debut novel was is an impressive start to her writing career as far as I'm concerned.She tells the story of Tillie Harris and the year that changed her life forever. While moving into her new home Tillie goes into premature labor. With her husband out of town Tillie is forced to call her estranged father for help. In all the panic and anxiety we flashback to 1975, the year Tillie's already complicated falls completely apart.Eight year old Tillie is erratic, impulsive, and desperately trying to keep her emotionally fragile mother from spinning out of control. Her father deals with this with military fashion, telling his wife to pull herself together while trying to keep order inside the house and appearances outside the house. Tillie's stoic older brother shuts out all the chaos and becomes the perfect little soldier. Through Tillie's young eyes things are black and white, there are heroes and villains.There are many subtle moments in this book; though we see events from Tillie's perspective Henderson also shows things as they really are. There are no heroes, no villains, only people stumbling through a sad situation. Everyone of these characters had my sympathies. Tillie is temperamental and emotional and heartbreaking in efforts to save her mother.The story doesn't always go where you think it will go. There were times I questioned what was really happening. The changing world of the 70's is shown through Tillie as she makes friends with the little girl bussed into her school. I loved that there were no giant banners on this only Tillie's own experiences highlighting the issue.There's so much going on in this story, there's sadness and loss, happiness and humor, and most of all there's hope and the ability to come through in the end. While there isn't a typical happy ending there is a happy ending. I enjoyed this book tremendously and if this is what we can expect from Susan Henderson I see a big stack of books to add to my "to be read" list.
  • (3/5)
    I loved the author's voice in this story. It was a tough read due to the topic but I felt it was worth the pain. I look forward to reading more by Susan Henderson.
  • (3/5)
    I really wanted to like this book, and I thought I would, because I generally enjoy coming-of-age stories and domestic fiction. The book is well-written and does effectively convey a sense of time and place. In the end, however, the plot seemed hackneyed and the only character I had any real sympathy for was the father. If you want to read about a precocious child with mentally unhinged parents, pick up The Liar's Club or The Glass Castle instead.
  • (3/5)
    This is anovel told by Tillie the daughter about a family ravaged by their mothers mental illness. It shows how devastating the affects of living with a mentally ill family member can be.
  • (3/5)
    I loved the author's voice in this story. It was a tough read due to the topic but I felt it was worth the pain. I look forward to reading more by Susan Henderson.
  • (3/5)
    Tillie is a bright, young, free spirit who loves her mother more than anything. She sees her mother's mood swings as exciting and admires the way she can see beauty in ordinary things. Through Tillie's description we learn that her mother has some sort of mental illness which seems to rapidly get worse as the book goes on. Understandably, Tillie has to face some tough circumstances and her whole world is engulfed in the sickness that has plagued her mother. Tillie's brother is a quiet, well behaved boy. He relates to his father and is seemingly unaffected by his mother's behavior while continually trying to find his place within the family. Meanwhile Tillie's father is a high ranking military officer whose work is important to him. He doesn't know how to handle his wife's illness and manages to do more harm than good when trying to take care of his family's emotional needs.The story begins with Tillie as an adult about to give birth to her first child, the middle is her childhood flashback and then it ends as we meet her baby. Her life comes full circle and I was happy to have learned the story.
  • (3/5)
    Family saga about a young woman--Tillie--who suddenly goes into premature labor. Her husband is away on a business trip and she ends up calling her Dad to come help her get to the hospital--even though she hasn't spoken to him in years. The story then flashes back to scenes from her troubled childhood growing up with a free-spirited but severely depressed mother and a Military "by the book" father. After a family move, the mother disappears for a while--only to be discovered later, but Tillie, living in hiding in the basement. She rejoins the family on the main floor but is her fragile personality can't stand up to the tirades of their father. Tillie's struggles in both the present and the past are heart wrenching and make for a compelling read (or listen), but the ending is ambiguous and it's the kind of story that may leave the reader feeling unsatisfied at the end.
  • (4/5)
    This is a sobering look into a family ravaged by the far-reaching effects of mental illness. It is narrated by eight-year old Tillie, with glimpses into an adult Tillie's world. This is a haunting view of a child's world where there is no "safe harbor" as she and her brother navigate between the volatility of their mother and the rigid demands of their father. Susan Henderson has written a powerful debut novel.
  • (4/5)
    Not an easy read, but so true to life for those of us whose lives have been deeply impacted by depression, as well as the damage it wreaks on family relationships. The scant details of Tillie's adult life invite the reader to fill in with inferences from her childhood, which makes the story more realistic. In real life no one knows all the facts, not even the people in the situation....and this book is definitely about real life. I finished the book wondering what sort of mother Tillie will make....will there be a sequel??
  • (4/5)
    Coming of age
  • (4/5)
    I enjoyed the whole book, it was a great read.
  • (5/5)
    An honest, compassionate, and thought-provoking book. Definitely worth reading and sharing.
  • (5/5)
    From my book review blog Rundpinne....Susan Henderson’s deeply moving and emotional debut novel Up From the Blue will capture the reader’s attention straightaway. Henderson’s use of beautiful prose with a simple and almost lyrical quality weaves together the life of Tillie which is filled with joy, sadness, despair and the loving bond between mothers and daughters. The reader first meets Tillie when she is in labour with her child and then the story flashes back to her childhood where the reader gets a haunting look at Tillie’s childhood through the eyes of her 8-year-old self. Up From the Blue is a fast-paced emotional novel filled with unexpected twists and turns throughout the story and it is quite easy to forget one is reading a work of fiction as Tillie explains her life in raw detail, her emotionally unstable mother and the ordeals the family must go through, the pain and deep sadness, and the feelings of guilt no 8-year-old should ever feel. One cannot help but be moved by Henderson’s narrative and be profoundly changed. The strength and courage of Tillie Harris will make readers sit up and take notice. Her story is one that is deeply emotional and unforgettable. Up From the Blue is a novel I was unable to set down and personally, I look forward to more literary works from Susan Henderson. I would recommend Up From the Blue to all of my readers and anyone in a book discussion group. 2010/JH/Rundpinne
  • (4/5)
    There are two parts to this story–the first is about a woman who’s about to have her first child. Her husband’s out of town and they’ve just moved into a new house (so recently that they haven’t unpacked). It’s not a good time to be alone. It’s near where she grew up, though, so she calls her dad for help–her dad, who she hasn’t talked to in years.The second part (the bigger part) is about Tillie’s childhood. Her dad works hard and her mom is probably bipolar (although not diagnosed). Some days, her mom’s great–they have parties and there’s a lot of fun. But some days–most days, really–she stays in bed.This was an impulse grab at BEA, and I’m so glad I did. I loved everything about this book, from Tillie’s devotion to her mom and her confusion at why her mom couldn’t always take care of her. Tillie reminded me of Ramona, if Ramona grew up in a house where she largely had to raise herself and where she was loved but not necessarily cared for. Tillie was just irrepressible and wouldn’t let anything keep her down. (I LOVED child Tillie, but would have liked to see more about how child Tillie became grownup Tillie.)
  • (5/5)

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    This was a wonderful read. Never wanted to skip one page of this. This was the author's first book, can't wait to read her next one.

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  • (5/5)

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    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.

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  • (5/5)

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    rabck from MyssCyn; Told mostly from the perspective of 8 yo Tillie, the novel explores the toll that mental illness takes on a family. Free spirit Mara, who is likely also bipolar, married a stingent military man. Their son, Phil, is mostly like Dad. But Tillie is artistic and free-spirited also. She loves the way her mother takes care of her, and is too young to realize that eating Twinkies for breakfast, not doing any chores, and having her ruby cup at night which puts her to sleep (because Mom is drugging her) isn't right. So, when the family moves to DC to Dad's new job, Mom disappears and the kids are left to fend for themselves. Tillie finds Mom a year later, in a room in the basement. Tillie assumes it's because Dad locked her away, instead of dealing with her mental illness....but after Mom's suicide, she realizes that Mom locked herself away in the basement because she was afraid. I liked this one sentence thought by Tillie as an adult at the end of the book: "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."

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  • (4/5)

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    I recently caught a rerun of an old Law and Order: Special Victim's Unit episode in which one of the lead detectives must reach out to his estranged mother when his daughter's mental illness comes to light because of legal issues. His mother also suffered from mental illness, only it was never talked about in that way. His mother was odd, sometimes manic and then falling into deep depressions.I couldn't help but draw parallels between that episode and Susan Henderson's novel, Up From the Blue. What it must have been like for a child growing up in a home with a mother suffering from a mental illness, especially at a time when such things were kept secret and not talked about outside of the home. In the TV show, it was the detective who was orderly and regimented, even strict--a result of his upbringing and his hope to instill order into his own family life. In Henderson's novel, the father, an officer in the military takes on that same role. I imagine the time periods of when the detective and Tillie were children were similar.At the start of the novel, Tillie, recognizing the signs of labor, is forced to reach out to her estranged father for help. Her husband is out of the country on business; she is unpacking after having just moved to a town; and she knows no one else. Her father comes to her aid, but at a price. With him comes all the memories Tillie would love to forget, and she is forced to confront the past and deal with her feelings in regards to her father. The novel takes place mostly in the past, when Tillie was 8 years old, with only a few interruptions from the present (1991) to remind us where we started.The author uses subtle markers to remind the reader of the time period Tillie grew up in throughout the novel, including racial tensions and the political climate. This proved an effective way of setting the environment for which Tillie tells her story.I admit that as I started reading, my feeling about the book tended toward how typical it was. Another novel about family dysfunction. A steady diet of such novels can be overwhelming (one of the reasons I like to mix up my reading so much--variety keeps me from growing tired of a topic or genre). As I continued to read, I remained skeptical, but somewhere in there, I lost that skepticism and the book really took off for me. By the end, tears streaming down my face, I was hooked. It turned out to be a little different than I expected.I liked young Tillie from the beginning. She's a free spirit if ever there was one. As a Marine Corps brat, I know what life can be like in the home of a military person. In Tillie's case, appearances were everything given her father's important position and high rank. Her father was very strict and demanded order. Tillie rebelled against that. Instead of writing a science paper, she'd write poems. Tillie's older brother was much more apt to please and to do as he was told. I appreciated the way the author did not make this story just about Tillie, despite it being told from her viewpoint. Although Tillie was not completely aware of the impact events in their life were having on everyone else, it is clear to the reader. It was easy to understand Tillie's confusion and upset with her father once the entire story came out. At the same time, it was impossible not to also see his side of it, even if I don't agree with all of the choices he made or the reasons he made them.At first I wished for a bit more resolution in the end. While certain aspects of the story were wrapped up satisfactorily, one particular piece left me wanting. That is until I really had a chance to think about it. Now I don't think any other ending would have fit--not realistically.As inundated as you may be with books about family dysfunction, Up From the Blue is definitely worth a look.

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  • (4/5)

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    This is quite a story as told through the eyes of an 8 year old girl. The family is caught in the mental illness of the mother. She cannot give the love and support to her children that they need, so this becomes a very dysfunctional family. It is sad to read of the experiences the father, son and daughter must face because the mother is mentally ill. It does make one wonder what kind of mother the little girl will become as she gives birth to a daughter by the end of the book.

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  • (4/5)

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    4.5 stars for me.I found this book an incredibly gripping, emotional ride. I wonder whether those that don't have some experience with depression or other mental illness in their lives will feel the same impact.This book was all about the characters, who became very real to me. Tillie's mom lives in her own world. Her children fit into that world-- sometimes. Tillie's dad is a military man. He has no patience for his wife, and only slightly more for his children, as he believes that life should always be orderly.Tillie's brother takes after his dad, but has just enough of his mother in him to make it difficult to live up to his father's exacting standards. Tillie takes after her mother, but unlike her mother, she still wants-- needs-- to be part of the outside world as well.And then they move, and Tillie's mother is nowhere to be found. And no one is supposed to talk about it.My heart hurt for young Tillie as she struggled with a very difficult family dynamic, and with difficulties with her peers. I also had a lot of sympathy for her mother, although I think many readers may not, particularly as the book progresses. Tillie's father and brother were also interesting characters, even if they weren't as compelling as the women the book focused on.I was very impressed when the book went down several paths I didn't foresee (I'm not going to talk about them so as not to spoil them for potential readers). My perceptions of the characters changed significantly over the course of the book, but the characters stayed true to themselves. Tillie and her brother changed as they grew up. They were certainly influenced by their parents, and by the world outside, but they also had to be the people they were.My changes in my views of the parents came more from learning more about them than from changes in the characters.This story was amazingly well told, I'm glad I read it.

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  • (4/5)

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    Tillie has just gone into early labor. With her husband away on business, a new home to be organized and no working telephone, Tillie is ill-prepared for the turns her life is taking. When she phones her estranged father for help, she begins to travel backward in her mind to the summer of her seventh year, when life was just as unpredictable as it is today. Tillie reminisces about her time living on a military base with her no-nonsense father, straitlaced brother and emotionally unstable mother. Though Tillie tries not to be difficult and demanding, she finds it increasingly hard to do so amidst her mother's deteriorating mental condition, and her father's iron sternness. As Tillie winds her way from the past to the present, a shocking picture of her family dynamic is revealed, and no matter how hard she tries to avoid it, she begins to discover the secrets of her family that have been buried for so long. Both harrowing and revelatory, Up From the Blue shares the journey of a fragile and damaged little girl, who is trying desperately to understand her world and to maintain some semblance of order in her life and heart.This book was a tough customer, and not for the reasons you might expect. There are a lot of books out there right now that deal with the repercussions of having a mentally ill parent, and frankly, I would like to read them all. There's just something about this subject that fascinates me and I think part of it is the myriad ways that a child can interpret and internalizes these situations. For these and many other reasons, I was really excited to start this book and see what the author had in store for me. What I found was a story that was incredibly painful to read and think about, and one that brought out a lot of conflicting emotions out in me.Reading about things from Tilly's perspective was at times too much to bear. As a seven-year-old, Tilly sees the world in black and white and it's very hard for her to understand her mother's mental blips and frailties. She takes a lot of blame on herself and finds herself constantly wondering which of her actions is the cause of her mother's strange behavior. Added to this is the fact that she feels responsible for her mother in some ways and seeks to defend her from her father's stern and lengthy reprisals. Tilly is caught in the middle of a lot of things that she can't possibly understand, and because of that she's very confused most of the time. She has strong feelings of loyalty to her mother and often tries to find excuses for her mother's bizarre and alienating behavior. I was saddened reading about Tilly's life. It was obvious she was struggling very deeply with what was going on, but the adults in her life failed to see this and react to it, leaving Tilly twisting in the winds of shame and abandonment.I also thought it was heartbreaking that most of the ancillary adults in Tilly's life repeatedly called her a pest and a nuisance and seemed to feel that Tilly exacerbated her family's problems. As a reader, I could see that Tilly's manifestations of troublesome behavior were a direct offshoot of her mother's disability and her father's mismanagement of it. Sadly, those who dealt with her preferred to focus on her negative behavior in unhelpful and castigating ways. This caused Tilly to feel misunderstood and actually made her behavior worse. It was clear that this was a self-perpetuating cycle, and one that was never fully resolved in the book. It was angering but it did help me to be more in touch with and understanding of Tilly's character and to wish that she had someone in her life to love her unconditionally. Her mother simply wasn't capable and her father and brother were unwilling.The book's dual narrative leaned more heavily towards the past, but what was presented in the more recent sections was also raw and painful to read about. It appeared that Tilly was never able to pull out of the tailspin of her past, and the strained relationship she had with her father proved that her childhood crippled her in ways that were hard to understand. Though it seemed her father wanted to be there for in this new and uncharted stage of her life, it was clear that his previous actions as a father and husband left both Tillie and her brother scarred. It wasn't as if Tillie was holding a grudge but more like she was unable to process the things that had happened to her, leaving her incapable of forming a continuing relationship with her father.The sections that related the life of Mara, Tillie's mother, were more difficult to pinpoint. It was never clear which mental disorder she suffered from, and because of the sense that the symptoms morphed and shifted, it was hard to me to figure out just what kind of help she needed. It was obvious she could be incredibly selfish and immature at times, which both angered her husband and drew the children's confidences away from her, but her disease was a shadowy enigma in the story that I never fully understood. Though this was a bit troublesome to me, the overall message of the story remained clear and inarguable.Though this book was an incredibly painful read, I think there was a magnificent direction and candor in the plot and that the story of Tillie was explored in a way that a lot of readers will understand and sympathize with. It wasn't a book with a unified and happy ending, but so few of these stories really do end in that fashion. This a book I had a hard time peeling myself away from and one that made me think very hard about the plight of children whose parents deal with mental illness. A very focused and introspective read. Recommended.

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  • (3/5)
    Opening with Tillie going into premature labor while her husband is out of town and she is surrounded by boxes in their new home, Tillie has no choice but to call her long estranged father to help her get to the hospital. As she labors in the hospital bed with him at her side, her resentment towards him bubbles up as she remembers the year that so damaged their family.You never know what goes on behind the closed doors of your neighbors' homes and this is never more true than in the case of Tillie's family. Her mother is depressed, clearly mentally ill, and has ceased functioning almost entirely, staying in her room in bed every day. Her father is determined to hide the family's problems by instituting the most orderly and regimented existence this military man can create. And yet things are so bad that the neighbors have started to notice. So the family's move across country is not unwelcome, except to eight year old Tillie, who is being left behind while her father, mother, and brother go on ahead to make arrangements. Only once Tillie arrives in Washington, her mother is gone and no one speaks about her. And so a very different family life unspools in Washington, one in which the shadow of her mother's absence hangs over Tillie even as she continues to rebel against her father and his strict and unvarying view of life.While I was willing to go along with most of the book, I had to stop reading for a while in the middle of the story at a certain unlikely, no, completely unbelievable (to me anyway) plot twist. This momentous discovery made me want to fling the book across the room against a wall. And I don't generally react so negatively. On the other hand, Henderson did a good job incorporating the times in which the book is set into her narrative. In particular, Tillie's encounter with racism and classism via a friend is compelling and realistic with Tillie being so dreamy and oblivious that it takes rather a lot for her to notice that with which other people live on a daily basis. The writing was well done and the rest of the twined plot was fine but the one unbelievable situation changed entirely how I felt about the book. And I suppose that is a risk an author takes but as we selected this as one of the Great Group Reads for National Reading Group Month, you can guess that my feelings were in the minority on the panel. And I do certainly agree that it would be a good book for discussion with family dysfunction, mental illness, shame and stigma, and the toll of secrets as important topics. Most reviewers seem to love the book; perhaps I'm just a curmudgeon and you should read it yourself before you decide.