The Underside of Joy

The Underside of Joy

by Sere Prince Halverson


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525952596
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date: 01/12/2012
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.38(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.09(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

Marisa de los Santos

"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


“Halverson’s debut novel marks her as a strong new voice in women’s fiction…this would make an excellent book-club choice.”

Sarah Weinman

“Seré Prince Halverson’s emotionally rich debut novel . . . weaves complex subplots with deceptive ease. . . . The strength of this novel is in its empathy for all its characters—and for two women who want what’s best for the children they both love with equal claim on motherhood.”

From the Publisher

"Halverson’s gloriously down-to-earth novel is so pitch perfect that as readers reluctantly reach the last page, wanting more, they will have to take it on faith that this really is her first fiction."
-Library Journal (starred review)

People Style Watch

“[An] exquisite debut… moving and hopeful.”

Caroline Leavitt

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, author of Pictures of You)

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The Underside of Joy 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 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!
justablondemoment on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thanks to LT's Early Review program for this book.I'm twisted on this book and hung between a 3 and a 4 star rating. Being both a bio-parent and a step-parent I was able to see both sides to a story. However, it is the bio-parent in me that just can not forgive Paige for her abandonment. I couldn't get passed that as it is nothing I could ever do under ANY circumstance. And even though it was the story it fell in the way of my enjoyment as I just was just so angry for what children go thru and especially with the courts and there idea of what is right.This was what ironically made it such a good book. Very well written and I would read another from this author so in the end I went with a 4 star for this one.
kdkelly92 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was so looking forward to reading this book, and really enjoyed it. Ella Beene, unexpectedly widowed and left with her husband¿s two young children, was a very sympathetic character. I wanted to hate the children¿s mother, Paige, right from the start, for deserting her babies and husband. But, as the story went on, you find there are always more sides to the story than first seen. Overall, I found the book very well written. My only complaint was the very tidy, almost too tidy ending.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is just so real, at least for the most part. It is wonderfully written, alternately heart warming and heartbreaking. Tackles the timely subject of stepmothers and blended families, and how to be fair to all involved. Deals with grief, the secrets in a relationship and how past events can influence our present actions. Loved all the characters. If I have one little complaint, I thought the ending was a little to cliche, to pat, but it didn't keep me from enjoying the book.
Pat.Egan.Fordyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel stirred so many emotions in me! Fear, sadness, happiness, and terror. It's a story of a young woman who has suffered through five miscarriages, and the disintegration of her marriage. She takes off to find a new life. She somehow ends up in a tiny town called Elbow, California and and starts again. Ella tells her story of falling in love with newly divorced Joe Carpozzi, and all of his large Italian family. But most importantly to her, are his two beautiful children Annie, and Zach. Raising and loving Joe's children, who quickly call her Mommy, she has what she considers a beautiful life, until tragedy strikes. Joe's death is merely the beginning of her downward spiral. Through it all she has to put the children first, sometimes with the anger of the family. Lies become an almost daily discovery, breaking down her confidence.This is a story of a mothers love, both biological, and a stepmother's. Ella raised Zach from infancy, he knows no other mother. Annie, who to me seemed precocious at times, just wants life to be the same as when Daddy was there. I have picked this novel for my Book Club meeting, and can't wait for the discussions we have about it. It is a heartrending story, but worth every emotion spent.
Nebraska_Girl1971 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I will begin by saying that I really enjoyed reading this book; and working in the court system, I can say that this type of situation happens more than one thinks. Ella is happily married and living the live she has always wanted as a wife and a ¿mother¿ to 2 young children (ages 3 and 6) whose biological mother left them when the youngest was 2 months old and has not been heard from since. Then tragedy strikes and her husband is suddenly killed in an accident. After his death, biological mother appears to reclaim her children. This book is about deceit and secrets along with the potential of love and forgiveness.
Florinda on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sere Prince Halverson¿s debut novel, The Underside of Joy, explores a family where the lack of a legal relationship between stepparent and stepchildren contributes to an already complicated situation. Having arrived on the scene just a few months after Joe Capozzi¿s wife left him and their two small children--one just a baby--Ella Beene falls very easily into their lives, and a near-instant family is born. Three years later, that family is almost as instantly broken when Joe is suddenly swept into the ocean and drowned. Ella¿s struggles with her own grief, and that of the daughter and son who feel like her own, are complicated by the unexpected discoveries she¿s making about things Joe never told her...especially the ones about the family business that¿s barely surviving and the children¿s mother who wants to re-establish her relationship with them. Paige Capozzi left her kids while in the depths of major postpartum depression, fearful for their safety with her; she¿s recovered now and rebuilding her life, and wants them back in it. The fact that her children have just lost their father and have little recollection of her as their mother isn¿t going to deter her from pursuing that goal.One dead parent and a custody conflict would be enough domestic drama on their own, but Halverson adds in a history of family secrets and Things Not Discussed to raise the stakes. Some of the Things Not Discussed were between Ella and Joe, and as she starts digging into them after his death, she¿s forced to recognize her own complacency and willingness not to know. Willful denial plays at least as much of a role in this family¿s lives as does deliberate secret-keeping, and things don¿t begin to change until Ella pushes herself past her own denial and begins to dig for the truth.There is a lot of story packed into The Underside of Joy, but little of it feels extraneous. Having said that, there were a few plot points that felt a bit contrived and Lifetime-movie-ish to me, most notably one dramatic episode near the end of the novel; I was invested enough in this family¿s story by then that I found it unnecessary. Halverson is both a mother and a stepmother, and although she chooses to narrate the story through stepmother Ella¿s first-person perspective, she deals with the complex nuances of the relationships here with great empathy and effectiveness, and I was very impressed by that. The Underside of Joy looks at the blended-family relationship under fairly extreme conditions, but within that framework, it explores some broader truths, both factual and emotional.
erinclark on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first part of this story had me in tears, literally. Ella has just lost her husband to a sleeper wave off the coast of Bodega Bay in Northern CA. They had only been together for three years, so technically they are still newlyweds. Heartbreaking. To make matters worse Ella had not adopted Joes children from a former marriage and when the birth mother, Paige, shows up at the funeral she makes it clear she is there to get her children back. The following ensues a custody battle that no newly made widow should ever have to go through. Family secrets are brought to the front as Ella wrestles with the situation. But all is not black and white and there are always two side to any story or dispute. I thought this was very well written and the descriptions of the landscape of Sonoma County where I have lived for over 25 years were very well done. It was a kick for me to see the author use names of towns and cities I have lived in and driven through every day for many years, especially because 'West Sonoma County' is not that well known in other parts of the world but for Alfred Hitchcocks thriller "The Birds". I loved seeing my local newspaper 'The Press Democrat', Memorial Hospital (the hospital where my daughter was born), Freestone Bakery - a great place for unusual and elegant breads and others, all mentioned. That was a private bonus for me.Well done with well drawn characters. Highly Recommended.
abcarroll on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ella is living a happy life, with her husband and step-children, until one day a horrific accident changes all of their lives forever. Soon, Ella learns all too well that happiness and joy always have a flip-side. I really enjoyed this book.
blueshelled on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
We want to believe that once we¿ve found joy in our lives, all of the hardships have been worth it and nothing will spoil that wonder we have gained. As such, we take pains to keep our lives unblemished and pure and for some people, that means hiding the wrongs they have committed or the mistakes they have made in order to keep their lives as joyful and pain-free as possible. They never understand, after the fact, how it could have gone wrong or what they missed or how they have hurt their loved ones.It is in the midst of this joy that we find Ella. She has been through one bad marriage and has found her way to Joe and the children she could never have. They have settled in Elbow, in Northern California, surrounded by the forests and water. Joe has a hobby of photography and chooses to go out and take pictures of the waves one particularly windy morning. He does not return. The aftermath of his loss is where we find The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson.On the day of Joe¿s funeral, his ex-wife, long gone, has returned. Ella has already lost Joe and now she is faced with the possibility of losing everything she has left. The business he ran is failing, his children are learning to appreciate his ex-wife (and their biological mother) and Ella is slowly estranging from Joe¿s family. Will she have anything left as her own when it is finished? What will she learn about herself and the nature of all encompassing love? Will she be able to forgive Joe his trespasses against all of them as he kept his secrets and his weaknesses from her to keep them in their own personal romance?The Underside of Joy is, at heart, a love story. However, it in non-traditional in the sense that we already know that Ella and Joe found each other. What happens when they lose each other is where the real learning and bonding takes place. Did Ella ever really love Joe? Did she ever really know Joe? And can she learn to be alright with herself and who she is without him? The story is melded beautifully with some lovely twists and turns. Ella is completely fallible and she recognizes this in herself and strives to change it. So frequently authors make their heroines unaware of their weaknesses and Halverson allows Ella to grow through hers in many ways and cling to them without letting go, as well. She is a fragile heroine, at best, and a conflicted one, at worst. In other words, she is like most of us.Plot-wise, the story was solid. I appreciated the polished setting and the author¿s ability to move me in and out of the small town of Elbow and keep me feeling like I was a true part of this story without Hemingwaying me to sleep. It is a rare occasion that I feel like I am a part of the book, sitting on the edge of the page looking at the characters and silent like a ghost. I was truly there in many instances. When Ella found out about Joe, I reeled with her, though I already knew what was happening. When Paige steps in to take her children back, I fought with Ella, and yet I yearned for Paige to have what she lost. The true test of a story is whether or not it can make you believe even when you know something different. This novel passed the test.It is a thoughtful read and I enjoyed taking my time with this one, though it is a feasible one sitting novel if you have a rainy day, a cup of tea, and some fresh cookies. I can absolutely see settling down on the couch and devouring this novel in a day and enjoying it greatly. I hope you can, too.Note: I received this book for free in order to review it. Thank you for allowing me to share my opinions, good or bad.
melaniehope on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the author's debut novel and I certainly hope she continues writing. I loved the story, the writing style, the characters....I highly recommend this book!The story begins almost immediately with the death of Ella's husband Joe. Ella has been married to Joe for 3 years and in that time has become a stepmother to his two young children. In fact, Ella is really the only mother the children have known, since their birth mother abandoned them 3 years earlier.But suddenly, Paige, the children's birth mother, returns after Joe's death and wants custody of the her two children. She claims she left for their own good, and attempted to contact Joe through out the years.Ella denies that Paige ever tried to contact Joe. But as she hears more of Paige's story, she begins to try and understand why Paige left, why Joe never talked about their relationship and what keeping secrets can do to a child.Ella loves these children as though they are her own. I felt Ella's pain and despair. This book was written so well and towards the end of the story, I could not put it down and stayed up late just to find out how it all would end.The story takes place in the Redwood forests of California in a family oriented small community. I loved the setting, the story idea and the character of Ella and her Italian family members.I can't wait to see what this author comes out with next! I reviewed this book as part of the Librarything EarlyReviewers.
KristiB41 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a quick read for me because it was such a good story. Love, loss, fear and, even though it dealt with a situation I am not familiar (step parenting,) it was a wonderful story with a great ending.
cyncie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting read about a stepmother caught up in interfamily dramatics after the sudden death of her spouse, old secrets being revealed, a poignant custody fight, and unexpected resolutions.
DebbieLE on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really, really enjoyed this book! It was well written and an easy read. The subject matter was not easy but the writing pulled you in and made this book extremely readable. I loved Ella. She was real. I could see myself doing a lot of the things that she does which made me relate to her even though I have not had the same experiences. This is a story about family in it's many forms, about loss, about not being perfect, and about forgiveness. Do yourself a favor and read this book! I don't think you'll be disappointed!
smileydq on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set in the richly described small town of Elbow, California, this novel tracks a family through grief and joy, exploring the complex bonds of family and the true meaning of motherhood. Halverson's prose is descriptive and emotionally charged, but never overly dramatic or forced. Her characters are real people with real faults and feelings, and she writes them in such a way that you feel each moment, good and bad, alongside them. I strongly felt the author's desire to show empathy both for Paige and for Ella, though the story is told from Ella's perspective. As the two women navigate the very rocky and always dirty minefield of child custody following the loss of Ella's husband Joe, the reader feels for both women - there is nothing easy or obvious in that minefield. The lush natural setting of vineyards and river imbue this novel with a warm and homey atmosphere, the ideal setting for a family story. I highly recommend this novel, it will make you question your ideas on family, on love and on grief - once I started reading I couldn't put it down, though I was dreading what might happen next. I give The Underside of Joy five stars.
kibosa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book - characters, writing style, plot - everything. Ella was very believable as a loving stepmother and grieving wife. The backstory of the Italian-Americans during WWII was worked into the story nicely. Ella's fight for her children was emotionally, but I would have liked her to have handled the disclosure of the letters differently - not tell family members/friends they were found. And not to disclose to the court their existence. She could have been more generous in the visitation agreement, rather than risk losing the children.
seekingflight on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was really drawn into this story of Ella, who loses her husband, Joe, and shortly afterwards risks losing her step-children, when Joe¿s ex-wife Paige comes back onto the scene with a claim for custody. I liked the way the story was told, so that you could come to see the situation from the perspective of the many different characters involved: Ella, Paige, and Joe¿s Italian family, who have their own silences about their own history. The contrast between the seemingly self-assured Paige and the grieving Ella ¿ who is desperate to hold it together enough to prove that she would be equally as good for the children as their natural mother ¿ was sympathetically drawn, and I thought there were interesting parallels between the silences in Joe¿s family, and the silences between Joe and Paige. Ultimately, I felt sympathy for both Ella and Paige, and sadness at the way the custody case pitted them against each other. I¿m not sure that I was entirely happy with the resolution of the story, but I don¿t think there would have been a way to end this (for me) that was both realistic and satisfactory ¿
kiwifortyniner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After a string of 3-5 star reads I am going to give this book a 4 becuase I enjoyed the story and felt empathy for the characters and it was a book I became really engrossed in. Ella is happily married to Joe and lives with him and his children by his first wife Paige. Paige walked off and left the family when the children were very young and later Ella met Joe and has been living with him for three years. But one day Joe is killed in a tragic accident and life changes in an instant. For Ella, all she has left is the children whom she loves dearly , and the family business, and this she now discovers is in dire straits financially. She is just formulating a plan to try and rescue the business when Paige turns up again determined to win custody of the children. We then discover that Paige left because she was suffering from severe post natal depression after the birth of each of the children and the second time was worse than the first. She left because she felt she could not cope but with medical help has got her life back together and has a good job. She swears that she wrote letters to Jo and the children after she left but Ella cannot find these letters, and the court awards custody to her. But before she is able to sign the papers the letters unexpectedly turn up and they paint Paiges story in a completely different light. So what is Ella to do. She feels she has to give the letters to the court, but then she will probably lose custody of the children, and Joe's Italian extened family are dead set against her revealing the letters. I started off feeling much sympathy for Ella in her situation and wanted her to have custody, but after I discoverd Paige's story I felt some sympathy for her too, but she was more intractable and unprepared to give any ground away to Ella. I wanted things to work out between all parties but my only complaint about the book would be that maybe the ending was a little too tidy, and finished off a little too quickly but the book ends with the title words ...It is the underside of joy- there is pain underneath or behind all our joy and things are never perfect.
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