The Underside of Joy

Seré Prince Halverson. Dutton, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-95259-6
Fleeing a failed marriage, Ella Beene arrives in Elbow, Calif., where she meets Joe and his two children, abandoned four months ago by Paige, who suffered from postpartum depression. After a quick marriage, Ella’s new life turns upside down after only three years when Joe drowns, leaving her a business deeply in debt and an ex-wife back in town intent on regaining custody of the children that Ella has come to love. A difficult custody battle results in Paige taking her children to Las Vegas. Ella follows, to be closer to the children, and the two women sustain a heated conflict until a terrible accident involving Zach, the youngest, makes them realize that they each care for these children deeply. Halverson paints a lovely picture of smalltown life and intimate family drama, creating sympathy for Ella, which is easy, but also for Paige, whose own troubled past complicates a figure that would ordinarily be demonized. Nuanced characters and a lack of cliché make for a winning debut. Agent: Weed Literary. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/14/2011
Release date: 01/12/2012
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