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 summer day Joe breaks his own rule--never turn your back on the ocean--and a sleeper wave strikes him down, drowning not only the man but his many secrets.
For three years, Ella has been the only mother the kids have known and has believed that their biological mother, Paige, abandoned them. But when Paige shows up at the funeral, intent on reclaiming the children, Ella soon realizes there may be more to Paige and Joe's story. "Ella's the best thing that's happened to this family," say her Italian-American in-laws, for generations the proprietors of a local market. But their devotion quickly falters when the custody fight between mother and stepmother urgently and powerfully collides with Ella's quest for truth.
The Underside of Joy is not a fairy-tale version of stepmotherhood pitting good Ella against evil Paige, but an exploration of the complex relationship of two mothers. Their conflict uncovers a map of scars--both physical and emotional--to the families' deeply buried tragedies, including Italian internment camps during World War II and postpartum psychosis.
Publication Date: 12th January 2012
My Review: 7 out of 10
This is a truly beautifully sad story touching on some very deep emptions. For me, this was a story that I had to sit up and pay attention to rather than one I could relax to. The range of emptions that the characters went through, I have to admit that I went through those same emptions to when following their story (sadness, happiness, despair, anger etc etc). With all that emption, I found this was a very exhausting read. Alongside the emotional characters there are some very emotional issues dealt with in this story such as the death of Joe, the father, husband and ex-husband.
There were times in this story that I sided with one or other of the characters, especially with Ella and Paige. At certain points in the story, I have to admit that I did side with one or the other character and that made for really interesting reading. I have to say that what made this story stand out for me is the character of Ella and they way that she stood up for what was right. That, in a character and in real life, is a trait that I admire.