Friday, September 24, 2010

Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson

Tillie Harris goes into labor six weeks early, in her new apartment in a new city where she doesn't know anyone. And her husband is away on business. The only person Tillie can think of to call is her father, who she hasn't spoken to in years. As Tillie is in the emergency room, she thinks back to when she was 8, and how that single year formed her relationship with her father.

The year she was 8 the family moved to Washington, D.C. and her mother completely fell apart. Tillie recalls the helplessness and frustration she felt, as she struggled to understand what was happening around her.

The flash back part of this book (which was most of the book) takes place in '75 and '76. Tillie's mother is clearly severely depressed, although the words "depressed" are never used. Tillie's mother has periods of energy and happiness, but they never last long. When I was finished reading this, I was skeptical, although I had enjoyed the book. The 70s don't feel like a very long time ago to me. Would someone really not get his wife medical help? Would he really think she could just pull it together? Would be so worried about appearances that he wouldn't insist she go to therapy or something? Then I talked to someone who was alive in the 70s (although young) who said that didn't sound farfetched at all. There's still a stigma against depression to this day. Many still don't really view it as an actual illness, something a person can't control and can't make themselves better just by really wanting to be better. He recalled some politicians having difficulty because it got out that they'd been in therapy, and Tillie's father did work for the government. So I guess it wasn't farfetched at all. Which is...well, depressing.

Tillie's mother's depression caused her not be able to function at even the most basic levels. She couldn't get out of bed, she couldn't feed herself. She wouldn't even be able to sit up. As an 8 year-old, Tillie wants to protect her mother. She wants her father to stop yelling at her all the time. It's also hard for Tillie (and for Tillie's older brother) to see their mother like that, because they do think "If my mom really loved me, she'd be able to take care of me. She would be able to get up for me."

It gets a little weird at some points. Spoiler alert, by the way. After the move to D.C., Tillie's mother disappears, and her father won't tell her where she went. Tillie's told that her mother had to go away for a while. It turns out her mother has been living in a room in the basement, so she wouldn't have to go out or interact with people or take care of any one. At first it seems that Tillie's father locked her there, but in fact she wanted to be there.

The flash back parts are interspersed with what's going on in the present with Tillie in labor. Tillie's father is there, and while it turns out we can't hold him responsible (completely) for what happened to Tillie's mother, he's still kind of a jerk. Tillie is a mess, what with her baby being born 6 weeks early and her husband being away and the only person who's there is her father who she hasn't talked to in years, and he tells her he's concerned about her emotional state. You know, because she seems very upset. Cut the girl some slack!

Good book though, I think it gave a very true picture of a child's reactions to all this stuff happening to her that she just can't fully understand. I can see this book being given to some who is dealing with depression in their family, to help them understand that they didn't cause the depression in the person they love, that it's an illness that has the possibility of getting better if they get help. Or maybe not. The ending was pretty sad.

Up From the Blue is now available.

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