Friday, April 9

We Are All Welcome Here - Elizabeth Berg

Diana Dunn's life is at first glance ordinary enough - growing up in Tupelo Mississippi (whose claim to fame is being the birthplace of Mr Elvis Presley) in 1964, her interests are like those of other girls her age. She likes sodas and looking at copies of movie magazines, and she puts on plays with her best friend Suralee. And in other ways her life is very different, because Diana's mother Paige is unique - she not only survived polio and escaped life in an iron lung, she also gave birth to Diana within the lung. And though she was abandoned by her husband, and is a quadriplegic confined to a chair, she's the strongest person Diana knows.
Diana's been brought up in equal parts by her mother and by their housekeeper, Peacie. Diana and Peacie rarely see eye to eye, but Diana adores Peacie's boyfriend, LaRue. And if she's honest, Peacie's better than the other carers her mother has. She's used to waking several times overnight to tend to her mother, as the state provides nowhere near enough to actually pay for twenty-four hour care, but since she was tiny Diana's known that has to be a secret from Susan, their case manager. And everything seems to be going smoothly enough, until the dawning Civil Rights movement combines with a falling out with Suralee, and everything Diana has known and taken for granted starts to fall apart.
I love Berg's books - I find her characters engaging and relatable, and her plots absorbing. We Are All Welcome Here is something of a departure form her usual writing style, as it was inspired by Marianne Raming Burke, whose mother Pat Raming was (like Paige) orphaned, adopted by parents who died when she was young, fostered, contracted polio while pregnant, abandond by her husband, and fought against everyone who said she couldn't raise her daughter.
This is an inspiring story, but perhaps this difference in origin is why I just didn't feel the Berg zing I've come to expect. I do in any case prefer her adult-narrated novels, but that aside I just felt a little disappointed by We Are All Welcome Here and I'm not sure why. Part of it is undoubtedly the narcissism inherent in many books with teen protagonists, and part of it is the somewhat deus ex machina ending, but there was something else that just didn't click for me. I've read a couple of novels lately that have been a little flat and am starting to think it's me rather than them. - Alex

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