Book Review: The Underside of Joy

*This review is part of Seré Prince Halverson's blog tour hosted by KMS Public Relations

After her divorce, Ella meets Joe whose marriage also recently fell apart. They marry quickly and Ella raises his young children, Annie and Zach, as her own. Three years later, Joe drowns and not only does Ella have to cope with such a horrible tragedy, but she is now a single parent to Annie and Zach. Or so she thinks. At Joe’s funeral, his ex-wife and Annie’s and Zach’s biological mother, Paige, who has struggled with depression, shows up and wants her children back. Ella is unable to have biological children, which is what contributed to the demise of her first marriage, so she does not want to give up on Annie and Zach. They are her children too, and she is determined to fight for them. But along the way, Ella considers what will be best for Annie and Zach, who are only six and three years old. She discovers secrets about Joe and about Paige, leaving her wondering where she fits in and how any of this will actually work out. Both Ella and Paige learn that the power of a mother’s love can make anything possible. 

The Underside of Joy is a beautifully written, heartfelt novel about the complexities of family and what binds people together. It delves into the definition of a mother, and how love and loyalty are more important than genetics. Ella and Paige are both flawed characters who are grieving in their own ways and for different reasons. Joe’s sudden death sends both of their lives into a tailspin, leaving them desperately trying to piece everything back together for the benefit of Annie and Zach. Initially, they don’t get along, but they have to try for the children’s sake. The story presents a unique family dynamic because Joe is gone, but his wife and ex-wife still have to find a way to accept each other and co-parent their children. Halverson successfully merges the touching stories of two different mothers of the same two children. The Underside of Joy is riveting from the very first page.  

Seré Prince Halverson worked as a copywriter and creative director for twenty years while she wrote fiction and raised kids. The Underside of Joy is her debut novel, which was published by Dutton (Penguin) in January 2012 and translated into a dozen languages. Seré and her husband have four (almost) grown children, and live in Northern California. For more information, please visit her website.