The Underside of Joy: A Novel

The Underside of Joy: A Novel

by Sere Prince Halverson


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The Underside of Joy: A Novel by Sere Prince Halverson

“[An] exquisite debut . . . moving and hopeful.” –People Style Watch

To Ella Beene, happiness means living in the Northern California river town of Elbow, California, with her husband Joe and his two young children. But one summer day Joe drowns, leaving Ella alone with Annie and Zach—until his ex-wife, Paige, shows up at the funeral. For three years, Ella believed that Paige had selfishly abandoned her family. Yet—as the custody fight between mother and stepmother ensues—Ella realizes there may be more to the story than Joe ever revealed.

The Underside of Joy is not a fairy-tale version of step-motherhood, pitting good against evil, but a captivating story of two women who both claim to be the mother of the same two children.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780452298736
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/27/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,267,430
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About 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.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Engrossing and keenly affecting.” –Dallas Morning News

Reading Group Guide

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.


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.

  • 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?
  • Customer Reviews

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    The Underside of Joy 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
    mellow More than 1 year ago
    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.
    DanaB11 More than 1 year ago
    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.
    mslisa2u More than 1 year ago
    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.
    512texan More than 1 year ago
    A BEA Editor's Buzz pick, I loved this book. The story is heart wrenchingly beautiful. I highly recommend!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Quick easy read
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Smiles. Gtg bye.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I am a girl14 and i am looking for some nook sex reply to unicormluvr
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Takes his hand out shoving his toungue in lapping up cu.m
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    " cant you tied me " loocks at her tied wrists
    Beverly_D More than 1 year ago
    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.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I was expecting more of a storyline to this book. Not enough of an emotional book for me. To predictable.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    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.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    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.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    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.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    csingh More than 1 year ago
    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 his two young children. When one day Joe breaks his own rule, to never turn your back on the ocean, Ella's world comes crashing down. With Joe gone, Ella is basically the sole care taker of the kids, but she has Joe's family, his parents and brother David, along with her friend Lucy to provide her with advice and support. She works to keep Joe's family business open and from being drowned in debt. On top of all this and her grief at losing Joe, Paige, the children's beautiful biological mother comes back into the picture and it seems she is hostile towards Ella and has a hidden agenda. But Ella is dealing with everything and doesn't have time to let Paige's machinations get to her. Until she receives a subpoena because Paige has filed for physical custody of the kids. I've given away too much of the story, but you have to understand Ella really loves these kids. She's keeping Joe's business and his family's history going, and she's raising these children as her own. When Paige walked out on them, Annie was 3 and Zach was only a few months old. They call her Mommy. So when Ella finds something that can change the course of the custodial hearing she's torn. Does she submit the evidence or does she keep quiet. Ms.Halverson has done an amazing job at writing this book and her characters. They're all complex, and definitely now black and white. The shades of grey make you relate and empathize to each and every character, even Paige. I was reading his book while in public and had to try really hard to keep my tears in control in different parts of the book. Ms.Halverson's descriptions are so apt, that I could picture myself on the beach, in the morgue with Ella, looking at Joe's body, the description of the Capozzi family's shop, etc. It was just evocative and stirring overall. I must say I am blown away by this book and by Sere Prince Halverson. She has a gift for writing and I look forward to reading her future books.
    auntee9 More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed this book. It kept my interest throughout and brought up a lot of other topics. The step-mother was pretty clueless and living in a la-la land. A lived-happily-ever-after book.
    anovelreview_blogspot_com More than 1 year ago
    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 fighting over 'their' children. Ella Beene and Joe Capozzi have made a wonder and caring home for Annie and Zach. Filled with love and surrounded by Joe's big Italian family. One looking in from the outside would never guess that Ella is the stepmother, because in every single way she is their real...and only mother. Paige Capozzi, the children's biological mother couldn't handle the stress of motherhood. Soon after having Zach, she just checked out. As far as everyone knew she hadn't even bothered to send the kids cards or called to see how they were doing. Joe divorced her shortly after he met Ella, who openly welcomed motherhood. And for three years Joe and Ella seemed to have it all. It all ended one summer morning in '99. Suddenly, Joe is gone and Ella is on her own with the kids, helping them to deal with their grief. When out of nowhere, Paige turns up. She is ready to take her children back and is ready to fight for them as their biological mother. Ella's world is turned even more upside than she thought possible, as Paige begins making outrageous claims about Joe. Two women fighting over the children they believe to be theirs. The Underside of Joy will have you asking yourself...what makes a mother, but wait to make judgement because you might not have the whole story. The Underside of Joy is Seré Prince Halverson debut novel. This one had be grabbing for the kleenex over and over and over again! But don't worry you won't be crying long, because you won't hardly be able to put it down! I absolutely LOVED this book! I mean it really plays with the heartstrings. I'm not a stepmother, but I know without a doubt if I was I would be just as much a mama bear as I would be with my biological children making me relate to Ella...and if someone was with my biological children no matter who she was or how wonderful she was to my children, well she wouldn't be me and I would fight like crazy for them, so I could relate on some level to Paige! What a story! And what I've written about today is only the first layer of this amazing story! That's right there is so much more, so much deeper. Ella really walks through some serious stuff to find her way to the end. I have only good things about this book, it was amazing! This is a book I know I will be sharing with the women in my life!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago