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The Underside of Joy by Seré Prince Halverson

The Underside of Joy

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Selected by Sarah Broadhurst

May 2012 Debut of the Month.

Captivating, beautifully written with a real sense of location this is a heart wrenching story of modern motherhood that is a real emotional roller-coaster.

A "Piece of Passion" from the publisher...

Dear Reader: The first time I read Underside of Joy I was lying on my sofa at home feeling very sorry for myself, and not a little annoyed when I heard that a ‘hot’ book had arrived in my inbox. Frankly, I’d rather have been drinking a hot toddy and having a snooze…

Three hours later, I looked up from the manuscript, got on my phone to the office, and started bidding. Underside of Joy is that special. To my great relief we were able to successfully pre-empt in the UK before our competitors got started, and every day we received news that another territory had gone to auction – the US, France, Brazil, Germany, the list was endless, and within a month 14 territories had snapped it up.

So, what is this book that seems to speak to readers so universally? It tells the story of two children, and two mothers. Ella has been mum to her husband Joe’s children, 3 year-old Zach and 6 year-old Annie, for the past three years, believing their ‘natural’ mother, Paige, has abandoned them, and she loves them as fiercely and passionately as any mother. Then the unthinkable happens and Joe is killed in an accident, leaving Ella gasping for air but clinging to her children for dear life.

And then, the moment that stopped me in my tracks, and gave me the goosebumps you only get when you read something special… Little Annie breaks away from the mourners at Joe’s funeral, runs headlong and hurtling towards a statuesque blonde, and calls out the word ‘Mama’.

From that page onwards, Seré has you in her snare, sympathies switching endlessly between Ella and Paige, emotions being wrung out by this tragic, uplifting, complex and unforgettable narrative.

The novel is so moving that, as one publisher in the Netherlands said after reading its pages, “[I] hugged my kids and husband a little tighter, and felt that bit more patient and grateful.” And as you finish reading this journey through the under-side of joy, you are left feeling its polar opposite – pure unadulterated joy. And how many books can deliver you that!

Happy reading.

Sarah Ritherdon, Publishing Director, HarperCollins

A few Lovereading members have been lucky enough to get to read this novel ahead of publication. Scroll down to see what they think...

If you like Seré Prince Halverson you might also like to read books by Heather Gudenkauf, Diana Chamberlain and Jodi Picoult.

Who is Sarah Broadhurst


The Underside of Joy by Seré Prince Halverson

No one can love her children like she does, can they?

With a wonderful husband, two animated kids and an extended family who regard her as one of their own, Ella counts as her blessings. Yet when her soul mate Joe tragically drowns, her life is turned upside down without warning, and she finds that the luck, which she had thought would last forever, has run out. When Joe’s beautiful ex-wife, who three years earlier deserted their children, arrives at the funeral – Ella fears the worst. She is right to. Ella discovers she must struggle with her own grief, whilst battling to remain with the children and the life which she loves. Questioning her own role as a mother, and trying to do what is right, all she is sure of is that she needs her family to make it through each day. Yet when pushed to the limits of love, Ella must decide whether she is, after all, the best mother for her children?


In February 2012 Lovereading asked members and browsers whether they would like to review this title ahead of publication. A few lucky readers were selected to do so and below you can find out what they thought:

'I thought it was a beautifully written debut novel with the author displaying an obvious knowledge of the strong emotions that would have been involved in this type of scenario.' Patricia Whittaker - click here to read the full review.

'Sere is skilled in developing a real sense of location and the portrayal of tranquil small town life only serves to have greater impact when it all seems to be blown apart. This is definitely a book that the reader will want to finish quickly to see how Ella’s journey ends.' Rachel Atkin - click here to read the full review.

'I really enjoyed The Underside of Joy. It is a beautifully written book which had me captivated from the beginning. I do not often read a book in one day; I could not put this down and read the book from cover to cover.' Jane Pepler - click here to read the full review.

'Seré Prince Halverson writes such evocative prose that it’s hard to believe this is a first novel. I hope there is much more to come from this very talented author.' Caroline Henley - click here to read the full review.

'You are gripped and pulled in straight away as the tragedy unfolds and then every page is packed full of struggles, family secrets, despair, with the odd glimpse of hope but all wrapped up in that word Love.' Louise Graham - click here to read the full review.

'The story of Ella’s fight is captivating; it is clear she would do anything for the children...Secrets are revealed and events occur that cause Ella to realise that sometimes there is more to a story than first appears.' Nikki Clark - click here to read the full review.

'I enjoyed reading this book, I felt it dealt with real life in a sensitive yet realistic manner. The book is about family life and choices you have to make which may not always suit everyone especially when the family don't discuss certain emotional events which have taken place. The writing is very descriptive, I could taste the Italian food and the tissues came out more than once! Great book.' Helen Sidebottom

'The Underside of Joyis a heart-warming read that tackles difficult subjects, and then takes you through the twists and turns of the characters pain and emotions as they seek to find a way forward.' Carol Attridge - click here to read the full review.

'This debut novel tells the story of Ella, who is living a perfect life with her beloved husband and two step children. Then tragedy strikes and Ella's life changes forever. Not only does she lose her husband but she faces the possibility of losing her two stepchildren to their natural mother. I couldn't put this book down and was not disappointed. The author writes with some similarity to Jodi Picoult and Diane Chamberlain. Sere Prince Halverson is most definitely an author I will be watching out for in the future!' Brenda Steele

'Halverson has a writing style that draws the reader in and makes them care passionately about all the characters...' J B Johnston - click here to read the full review.

'A new author is always a joy. Will he or she live up to your expectations? The book blurb and cover picture help to set the scene and tone but will the writing draw you in? Will you love the experience?' Helen Gough - click here to read the full review.

'This is a fantastic debut novel by Sere Prince Halverson. It takes the reader on an emotional rollercoaster of a journey as Ella’s life as she knows it is one day suddenly turned upside down.' Elisabeth Thomas - click here to read the full review.

'The Underside of Joy is a brilliant, compelling, moving story of motherhood and step-motherhood, family life, its social history, both natural and extended. How it deals with tragedies, joys and everyday living.' Kath Thornton - click here to read the full review.

'At first glance I thought that the cover and the colour denoted a girly, romancy read but it certainly proved not to be the case. It is romantic, but it is so much more...' Janette Skinner - click here to read the full review.

'This beautifully written debut of love, loss and families captivated me from the start. With credible characters and vivid settings it was a fantastic page turner that even had me shedding a tear (or two).' Nicola Foster - click here to read the full review.

'Once started I felt compelled to read until the deeply satisfying ending... Beautifully written and one for any fan of Jodi Picoult. It was also reminiscent of Kramer v Kramer - who has the most love!' Glynis Elliott - click here to read the full review.

'The Underside of Joy will stop your heart and will leave you breathless. I read this book in one weekend and held my breath from page one right up until I drank in the last word of Ella’s journey.' Lydia Roshanzamir - click here to read the full review.

'The author writes well and engages the reader from the beginning with a sense of foreboding that permeates the writing.' Lynda DeFreitas - click here to read the full review.

'I wholeheartedly recommend this beautifully written book to you and believe that this novel will leave you with a warm feeling and a memory that will linger with you forever.' Joan Hill - click here to read the full review.

‘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.’ Marisa de los Santos

‘Halverson’s prose is graceful, beguiling and resonant with emotion–and she poses some difficult questions regarding the nature of family. A fabulous book club choice!’ Jennie Tuner-Collins, Joseph-Beth Booksellers

About the Author

Seré Prince Halverson lives in Northern California and worked as a freelance copywriter for twenty years while she wrote fiction. She and her husband have four grown-up children. She is a stepmum , and grew up with a stepmum.

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Book Info

Publication date

10th May 2012


Seré Prince Halverson

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Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


384 pages


Family Drama
Debuts of the Month
Reading Groups
Relationship Stories
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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