Up from the Blue

Up from the Blue

by Susan Henderson


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 “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 Litpark.com 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061984037
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/21/2010
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 604,112
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

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, LitPark.com.

What People are Saying About This

Mark Childress

“A remarkable debut, not just for the uncanny accuracy and charm of eight-year-old Tillie’s narrative voice, but for the way the characters reveal unexpected angles of themselves that somehow make them realer than real. Up from the Blue lingers in the mind.”

Jessica Anya Blau

“Up From the Blue is a heart-wrenching, tender story with a mystery that kept my pulse racing. What a joy to discover Tillie Harris, the most memorable, charming and plucky narrator in fiction since Scout Finch.”

Jamie Ford

“Up from the Blue deftly portrays a family with contradictions we can all relate to—it’s beautiful and maddening, hopeful and condemning, simple, yet like a knot that takes a lifetime to untangle. You will love it completely, even as it hurts you…it’s a heartbreaking, rewarding story that still haunts me.”

Danielle Trussoni

“Susan Henderson’s debut novel Up From the Blue is elegant and engrossing….Tillie Harris is both tender and tough, charming and filled with wonder by the difficulties she must overcome. Henderson is a talent to watch.”

Josh Kilmer-Purcell

“A rare literary page-turner full of shocking discoveries and twists. Susan Henderson has created a remarkable narrator—as memorable for her feistiness as for her tenderness. Up From the Blue is going to be one of this year’s major debuts.”

Caroline Leavitt

“Haunting and unsettling, Up From the Blue’s real alchemy is the way it uncovers the stories that alternately save us and keep us from our real truths. Incandescently written, this is a stunning debut with heart.”

Julianna Baggott

“Up from the Blue is a beautiful, haunting, spirited debut, charged with secrets and deep longing. Susan Henderson has written a moving love story, a portrait of that deep lasting love between mother and daughter.”

Sara Gruen

“A haunting tale of the terrible ways in which we fail each other; of the whys, the what ifs, and the what nows. This is not a book you’ll soon forget.”

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Up from the Blue 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
khager on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.)
bremmd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
knittingmomof3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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
LiteraryFeline on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
ForeignCircus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
zibilee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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
pdebolt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
julie10reads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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??
ImBookingIt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
JessicaStalker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
bonitajean on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
BrianaHoven on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Maggie Ginsberg More than 1 year ago
Besides creating a lovely and lyrical book with a satisfying arc, Susan Henderson has pulled off the nearly impossible task of writing a novel from the perspective of an 8-year-old girl. Tillie is a terrific character, and a believable one. I found this book after reading (and adoring) Henderson's new book, The Flicker of Old Dreams. Up From the Blue was actually published in 2010, and is such an impressive debut. Anxiously awaiting whatever she writes next.
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Bookwyrm55 More than 1 year ago
Too often we fall into the easy habit of reading books that take us to a better place, a world not quite as real, painful, or uncomfortable as the one we walk through in our everyday lives. In Up From the Blue, the author has not provided such an escape. Instead, she has stripped away the veneer we call normalcy and revealed the depths of pain, confusion, frustration and hunger that are so often hidden from view. On the surface, a family, or a person, can seem to be one thing, while being something else entirely. This is a truth Henderson handles with style. Children perceive their own families, and those of others, in ways that they are trained to - set against a backdrop of what they have been told, shown, and trained to believe. The relationships between Tilly, her mother, father, brother and her friends cut deep, but at the same time reveal how tenuous and shallow such things can be. There are happy moments, and trenches of deep, dark sadness in this novel. It will probably not make you feel better, in the traditional sense, but then again - the honesty may awaken things you don't expect. For me, it was memories of a childhood in the 60s when families were fortresses against the world, and also against escape from within... A remarkable novel by a talented author. Will be watching for more. -DNW 
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