The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson: Goodreads Review
This was another novel I got from Net Galley.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ella is perfectly happy living her small town life with her seemingly perfect husband and 2 young stepkids. That is until her husband drowns. While she is in the midst of grieving for her husband, she realizes there were some things he was hiding from her. Very important things that she cannot afford to lose after she’s already lost him–the store they ran, which has been open over 60 years, and most importantly, the two kids…whose birth mother is suddenly back in the picture after three years.
The two children were abandoned by their mother after the birth of 3 year old Zach. Ella came into the picture shortly after that, and for the past 3 years she has been the only mother the two kids have known. After her husband Joe’s funeral, the kids’ birth mother, Paige, shows up and seeks custody of them.
Ella, with the help of her loving band of friends and family, has to buckle down and turn her life around while she struggles to keep her stepkids and the store. There are plenty of rough moments and breakdowns along the way, but it all ends in a way that seems to work for everyone.
I was intrigued when I read the plot synopsis of this book on NetGalley. But the major conflict of the story, Paige showing up to get custody of the kids, doesn’t happen until halfway through the story. The first half is just Ella dealing with the sudden loss of Joe and trying to help the 6 and 3 year old kids cope as well. The plot moved quite slowly until the appearance of Paige, then it seemed to move in double time.
I liked the other characters in the story, but I felt they were somewhat stereotyped. A big, loud Italian mother in law? A tough, macho Italian father in law who refuses to talk about anything dealing with emotions? The gay best friend who is an awesome cook and wine connoiseur? Blah. I know Paige was supposed to be the villain of the story, but at least her background was somewhat interesting.
I’m still not sure how I felt about Ella. I couldn’t decide if she had a harder time with the loss of the kids than that of her husband, or if she lost it because the kids were the only things keeping her grounded after his loss. She seemed a little too naive to me at times, especially for someone of her age who had already been through a divorce.
Overall, I could feel both Paige’s and Ella’s pain because I am a mother, and I would hate to be in either one of their situations. But, this story was a bit too Lifetime movie for me. The writing was very flowery and descriptive, and sometimes I skipped over whole long paragraphs because they were simply (over)detailing the scenes. The book was just mediocre to me…I saw what was coming. I finished the book, and mostly it left me with a sense that this story has been done before.