Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book Review: The Upside of Down

Last year I had a regional calling as a Special Needs Mutual Adviser. I’d had that calling for almost three years and I can say hands down I loved being there. I love being around those with “disabilities” because of the spirit of love that is there when they are talking, singing, and enjoying mutual like other kids.

Each year we do a road show and last year, one of the young men with Down Syndrome asked if he could sing the national anthem before the show started. He was given permission and the night of the performance came. He walked onto the stage with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. He didn’t even look nervous. He’d worn a dark suit and he patted down the lapels, making sure he looked his best before he started. As he grabbed the microphone, I put a smile on, knowing that the national anthem is a tough song, but I was prepared to clap for him, no matter what.

He began the song and, honestly, I felt my jaw drop on the floor. His voice was low and rich, completely in tune and beautiful, hitting the high notes and sounding every bit the accomplished singer that he is. His little body vibrated as he closed his eyes and sang his heart out.

In that moment, I could almost see the scene in heaven, this talented man with an incredibly pure voice singing praises there, and getting ready to be born to a body here that had limitations. Yet, even with those physical limitations he hadn’t lost his singing voice and we were all recipients that night of his amazing gift. As the last notes floated away, there was almost dead silence in the cultural hall before we all stood up, clapping madly for the fantastic performance we’d just been privileged to hear. I know I will never forget that moment as long as I live.

With my own experience of being with special needs kids, I wasn’t prepared for how the book The Upside of Down would affect me. It gave me a perspective I'd never had before and is one that I know I will think about for a long time to come.

The book addresses several issues that I think every woman may face at one time or another. Natalie is dealing with receiving a calling to be the Relief Society president, raising a large family, including a teenager who is making decisions that could be alarming to a parent, and a mother who is quite demanding. On top of all of this, Natalie discovers she’s expecting a baby, even though the doctors had told her she wouldn’t be able to have any more children.

Of course Natalie is overwhelmed and the author does a great job of making the characters, especially Natalie, have depth and realism. There are so many incidents in Natalie’s life with motherhood mishaps, well-meaning people who say things without thinking, and Natalie’s own insecurities about how she will do in her calling both as Relief Society president and as a mother.

I felt like I was right there with her during it all. But of course, how Natalie deals with the news she receives about her new baby is the author’s crowning achievement. This book is not preachy. It’s not a woe-is-me tale. It’s about struggle and hope, sacrifice and love, laughter and tears. It’s three-dimensional writing at its best and one I am still thinking about, even though I’ve finished it.

Because the book affected me so much, I asked for the privilege of interviewing the author, Rebecca Talley. Here’s what she had to say.

What prompted you to write this book?

I wanted to write a book about raising a large LDS family--"they" say write what you know and I know having a large family. I enjoyed "Cheaper by the Dozen" and thought it'd be fun to write a similar story with an LDS slant. Besides, my kids have done so many things to me over the years I wanted to share the "joy" of their escapades with others.

The characters in this book seem so real. Were they based on real people or real experiences?

The character of the mother is a combination of my grandparents. Some of the things she said were things I'd been told through the years. The husband is based on my own, and, yes, he really is that nice. The kids all have various characteristics from my own kids. Though it is fiction, I included many real experiences in the story.

If there was one message you hoped that your book would get across to people, what would it be?

That the Lord knows best. We may have a life plan, but if we trust in Him we will see that His plan is far superior to our own. We need to trust the Lord in all we do and continue to build our faith in Him. We cannot take our faith for granted, we must continually feed it so it will grow.

As a mother of ten, when do you find time to write?

I don't have much time to write, especially in the summer, but I try to get in a little writing every day. A very wise and prolific writer once told me that she only writes fifteen minutes a day and she has been published multiple times. Little snatchets of time can produce a book over time and that's what I have to do. Here a little, there a little. And, my family has become much smaller these days. I only have six children at home now :(.

If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it?

I'd pay tithing first, then I'd pay off our mortgage. I'd buy a tractor to plow up the weeds in our fields, a 4WD truck so we could drive up our driveway in the winter, and pay to have a greenhouse built so we could have fresh produce throughout the year. I'd buy a home in UT so I could visit often and be closer to my older kids and I'd take my whole family to Hawaii.

Tell us one thing about yourself that not many people know.

I was inducted into the National Honor Society while I attended BYU.

Thank you so much to Rebecca. To find out more about Rebecca, you can go to her website here.

And if The Up Side of Down wasn’t on your to-read list this summer it should be. Here is the backliner for it:

“Hmmm,” the doctor muttered.

Natalie wrinkled her forehead, almost afraid to ask, and said, “What does that mean?”

“You do know you’re pregnant, right?”

Her breath caught in her throat. “Excuse me?”

“You’re pregnant.”

Her heartbeat thundered in her ears. “I’m what?”

Natalie Drake certainly has her hands full raising a large family, dealing with her difficult mother, and maintaining a relationship with her rebellious teenager. Just when things seem to be going smoothly, she finds out another unexpected surprise—she’s going to have a baby. Faced with so many challenges, Natalie must learn to trust in a plan that isn’t what she imagined and discover that every situation has an upside.

Beloved author Rebecca Talley carefully creates this touching and heartfelt story that is sure to inspire you. With true-to-life characters and situations, The Upside of Down will reignite your faith and remind you of the importance of family.


Rebecca Talley said...

Wow, you gave me tears. I love the experience you shared. I think so many times we think those with "disabilities" don't have talents and don't have anything of worth to share. But they do. What a wonderful experience to hear that young man sing.

The world may see those with limitations as handicapped, but, in reality, it is we who are "normal" who are handicapped. Their challenges will never keep them from the celestial kingdom, but my challenges certainly could.

Thank you for your review. I didn't realize you'd served in that calling. I appreciate your insights and your very kind words!

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

You're welcome, Rebecca. It was a wonderful book!

Debra Erfert said...

This was an amazing review. I read Rebecca's book and I found it wonderful too.

Rebecca Talley said...

Thank you, Debra.

Anna said...

I've heard about this book, but you have intrigued me enough that I want to read it now. :)

Jennifer Wolf said...

Great book review! I've been dying to read this book. I tried to buy it for a friend who was moving to Africa with her children including her son with Downs Syndrome but it wasn't in stores yet. Thanks for the reminder. I'll have to get it for her now.

Jennifer Wolf said...

Oh, and absolutely beautiful story about the national anthem. I worked with a little boy with cerebral palsy as a home health aid when I was seventeen. I used him as inspiration for one of the characters in my book.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks, Jennifer! Oh and I wanted to tell you I'm looking forward to reading your new book! :)