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The Underside of Joy Hardcover – January 12, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult (January 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525952594
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525952596
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #885,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The Underside of Joy" covers the transforming experiences of most of our lives -- marriage, parenthood and death -- with maturity, understanding and grace.... the book offers a lot to think about. I suspect it will be a book club favorite."--M.L. Johnson, Associated Press

"[An] exquisite debut... moving and hopeful"--People Style Watch

"Seré Prince Halverson's debut novel is a faultless exploration of sadness and shame, anger and forgiveness; a story well told about people we would like to know."--Shelf Awareness

"Halverson's gloriously down-to-earth novel is so pitch perfect that as readers reluctantly reach the last page, wanting more, they will have to take it on faith that this really is her first fiction."--Library Journal, Starred Review

"...As she mines the family secrets her characters hold close and how those affect their relationships with one another, Halverson proves she's a wordsmith and a storyteller to keep an eye on."--Bookpage, Fiction Top Pick

"A poignant debut about mothers, secrets and sacrifices...Halverson avoids sentimentality, aiming for higher ground in this lucid and graceful examination of the dangers and blessings of familial bonds."--Kirkus Reviews

"Halverson paints a lovely picture of small-town life and intimate family drama…Nuanced characters and lack of cliché make for a winning debut."--Publishers Weekly

"Halverson’s debut novel marks her as a strong new voice in women’s fiction…this would make an excellent book-club choice."--Booklist

From the Back Cover

"The writing in The Underside of Joy is as purely beautiful as the story is emotionally complex. When Ella Beene is wrenched from a state of unexamined happiness into confusion and grief, she finds that her only hope of emerging whole is to face searing and long-buried truths. Ella embarks on a difficult journey, both morally and materially, one that requires her to risk losing everything she most loves. I cheered (sometimes through tears) her every step."
-- New York Times bestselling author of Falling Together and Love Walked In Marisa de los Santos
"Searingly smart and exquisitely written, Halverson's knockout debut limns family, marriage and a custody battle in a way that gets under your skin and leaves you changed. To say I loved this book would be an understatement."-- New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You Caroline Leavitt 

More About the Author

Seré Prince Halverson is the author of THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY, which was published by Dutton (Penguin) in January 2012 and will be translated into fifteen languages. She worked as a copywriter and creative director for 20 years while she wrote fiction and raised kids. Seré and her husband have four (almost) grown children, and live in Northern California. You can visit her at

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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See all 80 customer reviews
I was swept up in her story from the very first page.
The writing is evocative, the story well paced, and the characters still live for me.
Laurie Richards
I experienced many emotions when reading this book and would highly recommend it!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By J. K. Caldwell VINE VOICE on January 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I read about The Underside of Joy months ago and knew I had to have it, so I was thrilled when it showed up at my door (see note below). This book is not an easy read when it comes to emotions but the way that Ms. Halverson writes the novel is compelling and rich with beauty, both of nature and of the strength of women. To say that Ella is likable is an understatement. From the first words of the novel, I felt a kinship with her that would tether me to her throughout the novel. She quickly stepped into the role of mommy when she met Joe 3 years prior and while asking some questions about his first wife; she never really pressed for details. Ella knew she was gone and had left the children and Joe never looking back. After Joe dies suddenly, Paige shows up demanding to be a part of Annie and Zach's lives. A right some would say, she gave up when she walked out the door and signed over all parental rights to Joe. For me, I went back and forth on Paige's involvement with the kids. It's not cut and dry here as it never is in real life.

Not only is Ella dealing with the resurgence of Paige into her and the children's lives but she also discovers that the family store was in financial ruins. It's amazing that Ella remains as strong as she does during this time. Did she have weak moments? Absolutely. I thought she should have had more. There is one scene where she yells at the kids and remarks later that she's never yelled at them before?! What?! Really?!

There are two pivotal moments in the novel for me and I won't go into specifics but with one I had to restrain myself from screaming "NO!!!" and the other one I held my breath for the outcome. In the end Ella puts her children and their needs first instead of hers. Like Ella, I wonder how things would be different if Joe had lived.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Chels on February 15, 2013
Format: Paperback
One aspect of the story that interested me, because I’m part Italian, was the internment of Italian Americans during WWII. Joe’s paternal and maternal grandfathers…and their families experienced the fear and shame that came with being dragged away from their homes to camps where they were held because they came to America from an Axis power. When my own great-grandparents moved into a nice neighborhood in the 1920s; many of the neighbors said, “There goes the neighborhood.” It’s great that Halverson included that prejudiced bit of history in her story. She is also a master of imagery; I felt that I could see the woods, the river, the picnic places, and the renovations at the store. She made me cringe at the suburban neighborhood with no grass and one lone birch tree in the yard.

Ella’s struggle to find the truth - and to accept it - became a part of me as I read the book. The many secrets kept from her, by the husband she thought she knew so lovingly and perfectly, were frightening. It was hard to read how much Ella had to struggle emotionally and financially. No wonder she headed to the hospital, thinking that she was having a heart attack. It’s alarming but true that doctors automatically hand out anti-depressants, sleeping pills, and anti-psychotic medicines. Then, as in this situation, courts and the public will cite the drug use as a proof for your instability. Paige, who had actually been unstable herself, tries to discredit Ella’s custody of Joe’s children using that argument. This biological mother/stepmother situation seemed almost overly dramatic; however since I have heard of so many unpleasant custody situations, the circumstances are believable and heart-breaking.

As Halverson writes “the most genuine happiness cannot be so pure, so deep, or so blind”.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Gayla M. Collins VINE VOICE on January 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ella Bean is divorced, broken-hearted that she can not bear children, and lost when she drives though Elbow, CA. Fortuitously, she walks into "Capozzi's Market" where she meets Joe, recently divorced, father of a baby boy, Zach and 3 year old girl, Annie. Joe and Ella quickly become a couple and soon marry. The children love Ella as their mommy. Their biological mother Paige abandoned them, claiming she couldn't do "motherhood." Ella's ability to step in with sheer abandon and love the children and Joe's extensive family makes her a hero in all their eyes. UNTIL?

Joe is drowned. His body rises to the top, but all his lies of omission surface much more slowly, kicking the widow Ella down as she begins to get her strength again. Not only is she a grieving widow but Joe has left her with perilous situations to drown in metaphorically.

The prose is well done, nice descriptions, similes; the dialogue worked well for me. Plotline was a little too jumpy and I missed the flow. I was asked to swallow implausible scenarios a few times, but not enough to ruin the story.

I am hoping Halverson would write a sequel as the story wrapped up too quickly and I wanted to get to know certain characters better.

A strong debut novel; I would read Sere Prince Halverson's next effort which speaks well to how much I enjoyed "The Underside of Joy."
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Pippa Lee VINE VOICE on January 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There is something in the way Ella Beene wears her heart on her sleeve that it just does the readers' hearts good. Ella is the red-haired, nature-loving woman, who one day finds herself a family when she makes a stop in the town of Elbow. But three years later and just as unexpectedly, her happy life changes when her husband, Joe, dies in a freak accident, leaving her in charge of his foundering family business and a custody battle for his two young children.

"The Underside of Joy" is a book with an emotional punch. Author Seré Prince Halverson's storytelling is straightforward, crystalline and effective. The story and the characters draw you in and shamelessly tug at your heartstrings--and you won't mind that at all. You will relish as Ella does the small intimate moments with the kids. You will feel the same lurch Ella feels in her stomach as she wonders what Paige (the biological mother) is up to when she, unannounced, shows up at Joe's funeral, three years after she had walked out on him and the children.

What I have enjoyed the most about "The Underside of Joy", however, is Ms. Halverson's empathy for both Ella and Paige. It would have been easy to stereotype the stepmother or the mother but instead, the author reminds readers that love knows no titles and that there are two sides to a story and often, an invisible wall of hurts and wounds (real or imagined) separating both.
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