The Underside of Joy: A Novel [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 summer day Joe breaks his own rule-never turn your back on the ocean-and a...

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The Underside of Joy: A Novel

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Overview

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 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 close-knit 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.

Weaving a rich fictional tapestry abundantly alive with the glorious natural beauty of the novel's setting, Halverson is a captivating guide through the flora and fauna of human emotion-grief and anger, shame and forgiveness, happiness and its shadow complement . . . the underside of joy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The writing in The Underside of Joy is as purely beautiful as the story is emotionally complex. When Ella Beene is wrenched from a state of unexamined happiness into confusion and grief, she finds that her only hope of emerging whole is to face searing and long-buried truths. Ella embarks on a difficult journey, both morally and materially, one that requires her to risk losing everything she most loves. I cheered (sometimes through tears) her every step." -Marisa de los Santos

"An exquisite debut...moving and hopeful." -People Style Watch

"Searingly smart and exquisitely written, Halverson's knockout debut limns family, marriage and a custody battle in a way that gets under your skin and leaves you changed. To say I loved this book would be an understatement." -Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You

“A book club favorite.” –Associated Press

“Engrossing and keenly affecting.” –Dallas Morning News

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101554333
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/12/2012
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 263,762
  • File size: 362 KB

Meet the Author

SERÉ PRINCE HALVERSON lives in northern California and worked as a freelance copywriter for twenty years while she wrote fiction. She and her husband have four grown children. She is a mom and a stepmom, and grew up with a mom and a stepmom. This is her debut novel.
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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
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 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 close-knit 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.

Weaving a rich fictional tapestry abundantly alive with the glorious natural beauty of the novel's setting, Halverson is a captivating guide through the flora and fauna of human emotion-grief and anger, shame and forgiveness, happiness and its shadow complement . . . the underside of joy.

ABOUT SERÉ PRINCE HALVERSON

Seré Prince Halverson lives in Northern California and worked as a freelance copywriter for twenty years while she wrote fiction. She and her husband have four grown children. She is a mom and a stepmom, and grew up with a mom and a stepmom. This is her debut novel.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Discuss the theme of avoidance in this book. Why does Ella eventually resolve to break away from that tradition?
  • What were your first impressions of Paige? How did they change as the story progressed?
  • Would you be able to forgive a significant other for keeping secrets from you, as Joe did from Ella?
  • What would you do if you were put into a situation where everyone was encouraging you to hide the truth? Would you react as Ella did? Do you feel she made the right choice?
  • “Internment comes from fear” (p. 273). How are the characters in this book imprisoned by fear?
  • Were you aware that the U.S. imprisoned Italians and Germans in addition to the Japanese during World War II? How did this book shed light on this little known part of history?
  • How did this event affect Joe. Sr. and Marcella’s attitudes and behaviors toward Paige? Toward Ella?
  • The author speaks about terroir, or how the history of a place permeates grapes in wine and, as Ella points out, people. Which people in the book have a specific terroir? What is the terroir of the people in your life?
  • Describe how the author uses both visual and sensory descriptions in her book. Did they help you see why Ella loved Elbow and Sonoma County?
  • How did the people in Ella’s life see her through her grief over Joe’s death and the custody battle over her children?
  • Were you inspired by Ella’s journey in this book? Why or why not?
  • How is “drowning” used as a significant theme in the novel, both literally and figuratively?
  • In what ways are Ella and Paige different? In what ways are they the same? If you were Annie or Zach, who would you want to live with?
  • Why do you think Joe kept Paige’s paisley robe and letters?
  • For a custody case such as this, do you think the law is fair? If you were the judge, what would you have done?
  • Were you satisfied with the end of the book? Why or why not?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 33 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(21)

4 Star

(5)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(0)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 6, 2012

    Loved This Book

    I loved every moment of this book.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 California charms even as its 'underside' is revealed. Read this book and be prepared for a journey into the lives of characters you'll root for, laugh and cry with, and finally, carry with you long after you close the book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 10, 2012

    A Wonderful Read

    This is one of those books that you can't wait to see what happens next! The author's powerful writing grabs you in to the story right from the start and takes you on an emotional journey that will make you laugh, cry, and get down right mad at times! Thoroughly enjoyed this book and the author's writing style. I believe this is Ms. Halverson's debut book -- definitely one of my new favorite authors, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 6, 2012

    Brilliant Debut by a Promising Writer

    The Underside of Joy was chosen as a BEA Editor's Buzz pick and after reading Seré Prince Halverson's debut novel, you can see why.

    I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak and the book grabbed me from the first page. My once voracious reading habit has dulled in the past few years (thanks to graduate school) and I can't remember a book that I just couldn't put down. While at work the next day, I wondered what was going to happen to Ella Beene, Paige and the kids. I finished the book in two days.

    The story is unique, the writing sublime, and I felt like I was really in touch with the characters. Halverson truly explored both sides of this complex story without taking sides affording the reader to make their own decision.

    A brilliant debut.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 31, 2011

    Well Deserved Buzz!

    A BEA Editor's Buzz pick, I loved this book. The story is heart wrenchingly beautiful. I highly recommend!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2015

    Loved it!

    Quick easy read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    Ble

    Hi.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    Rachel

    Smiles. Gtg bye.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    Kali

    Hello

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    Mitch

    Bye

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2014

    To any guy or girls

    I am a girl14 and i am looking for some nook sex reply to unicormluvr

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    To mitch

    Why did u leave?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014

    Luke

    Amber?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2014

    John

    Takes his hand out shoving his toungue in lapping up cu.m

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    Candy

    " cant you tied me " loocks at her tied wrists

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  • Posted July 1, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Mesmerizing, poignant, happy, heartbreaking. Told through the p

    Mesmerizing, poignant, happy, heartbreaking.
    Told through the point of view of Ella Beene, she is a fully realized character
    who makes mistakes, but never stops trying to do the right thing, even when
    she is not SURE what the right thing is.

    The writing itself is beautiful, and the plot twists and turns in ways I didn't
    expect, but what I loved is that there were no villains. A character would do
    something that I thought was horrible, and I would be so angry with him
    (or her) and then it would be revealed WHY s/he did that thing, and s/he had
    my total sympathy. Just another human being trying to do the best s/he could.

    This could be triggering to anyone who's lost a spouse, or a child, via death
    or divorce, or it could be empowering.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2012

    Good book but expected more

    I was expecting more of a storyline to this book. Not enough of an emotional book for me. To predictable.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2012

    This story was well-told. What could have been a heavy-handed m

    This story was well-told. What could have been a heavy-handed melodrama is lightened with humor and fairness. The depictions in the family dynamic are spot on and very real. The descriptions of the town of Elbow and its environs make you want to pack up your Birkies and go.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 13, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    What a treat my book club had when Ms. Halverson joined us at ou

    What a treat my book club had when Ms. Halverson joined us at our March meeting to discuss this book. This is the second time we've had an author at the meeting and I love those books (fortunately, they were 5-star books to me even before meeting the author) more because I get to find out the background and other tidbits that weren't in the book. This would include things like what was in the author's head when she came up with the characters, their names, the setting, events, etc. When I read a book that pulls me in, I am sad when it's over because I want to know more, I'm usually not ready to give up being a part of their lives ... this was one of those books.

    Very cool for me reading this book is that the location is literally a hop, skip, and jump from my house. The town of Elbow is fictional, but based on very real places and the other towns mentioned are real and around here. The subject matter is pretty heavy, so don't think you're getting a light and fluffy book. Even with the heavy subject matter, Ms. Halvorson has such a nice writing style that I didn't feel bogged down by what was going on with the characters, just concern and hoping things would work out in the end.

    Even without the author at your meeting, this is a great book for a book club. There is a lot to discuss and different characters to take "sides" with that will open up even more avenues of discussion. I definitely recommend this book. And if you're ever near Freestone, the cheese bread from the bakery (you can't miss it) is absolutely amazing!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2012

    The Underside of Joy looks at the role of the step-mother in fo


    The Underside of Joy looks at the role of the step-mother in forming a cohesive family and the threat that ensures when that bond is threatened. I admit that it forced me to walk in a different pair of shoes throughout the novel and I found a great deal of sympathy with both the biological mother and step-mother as they tried to bridge the gulf between them. Seré Prince Halverson has an easy style of writing that lets the words glide across the pages. A good read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2012

    The Underside of Joy I highly recommend The Underside of Joy. It

    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 uncover the truth, as horrific and heartbreaking as it is at times, and chose between what she believes is best not only for her and her beloved step-children, but what is right. Through her skillfully crafted prose and compelling cast of characters, author Seré Prince Halverson's examines how family deals with tragedy and loss, hurt and betrayal, secrets and lies.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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