Thursday, May 9, 2013

Up From the Blue

Finished Up from the Blue by Susan Henderson. This is the story of Tillie Harris, newly returned to the D.C. area, married, very pregnant and on her own while her husband is away on business. She knows no one and has not unpacked her phone. When what she thinks are labor pains begin six weeks early she knocks on her neighbor's door in a panic, asking to use the phone. With the receiver in her hand she freezes. Who can she call? She calls the one person nearby who she knows. Someone she has not spoken to in years. Her father.

Flashback sixteen years to 1975, the year Tillie turned eight. The year that her family moved from the military base in New Mexico to a posh neighborhood in D.C. The year her mother disappeared. Tillie's father is a rigid, organized man who designs missiles for the military. Tillie's mother is quite the opposite. She is a waifish, will-'o-the wisp of a person with long red hair and a wonderful sense of fun and creativity. Tillie and her mother are like two little girls together, playing much of the day and hiding from the neighbors when they ring the doorbell. Since Tillie does not have any friends, her relationship with her mother is that much more important to her. Her mother has a difficult time keeping up with day-to-day tasks around the house. Soon she begins a decline that has her not leaving her bed for days. Between the move from New Mexico to D.C. she disappears all together. Tillie is stunned and bereft and begins to suspect her father of wrongdoing.

I love stories told from a child's point of view. They highlight the mistakes made by adults so acutely. Parents who keep their children in the dark about major family changes or events, thinking to protect them, do these children a great disservice. Left to rationalize the unexplained they fill the gaps with every frightening or negative scenario their parents hoped to spare them, whether they actually happened or not. This book is a surreal mystery with a poignant backdrop of 70s race relations and school busing issues. It grabbed my attention and held it. I read it quickly and felt deeply for Tillie and her fractured childhood. Highly recommended.

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