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Jennie Hansen
Thursday, February 24 2011

LDS Fiction: The Upside of Down by Rebecca Talley

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Natalie Drake has plans for her life.  She dreams of a large family, sons who go on missions, firm testimonies all around, and with all of her offspring marrying in the temple.  She feels certain her faith is invincible.  Starting with two miscarriages and a slim change of carrying a child to term, Rebecca Talley begins Natalie's story in The Up Side of Down.

Natalie and her husband each have a realistic dream of a blonde daughter with large blue eyes which haunts them and leaves them convinced they will have children, at least the one they saw in separate dreams.  They feel their prayers are answered when Natalie finally gets pregnant and carries the baby to term.  Only this baby has dark hair as do five more children who all arrive against the odds, and they console themselves that the blonde angel will likely be a grandchild. 

With six children between three and eighteen, Natalie has her hands full, but then the Bishop calls her to be Relief Society president, and her critical, anti-Mormon, manipulating mother decides to move to their community.  That should be enough for anyone to handle, but her oldest daughter Andrea begins dating a non-member and is rapidly moving toward a serious relationship with him, in spite of all the warnings.  Natalie faces another huge challenge; she is well past forty and learns she is pregnant again. 

Giving birth to a Downs Syndrome baby shatters Natalie and doubts concerning God and her faith creep in.  This wasn't part of her plan nor the answer to the many prayers she'd said during her pregnancy. She'd been so sure everything would be alright. How could she stand by and see her child miss out on the everyday give and take of life, or worse, be subjected to ridicule and snide remarks from unfeeling people?  And wouldn't her mother have plenty to say about having a baby at her age?  She doesn't doubt her mother, who expected perfection from Natalie, will reject this grandchild because she isn't perfect, and blame Natalie because of the lack of perfection.

Having her oldest daughter marry outside of the temple isn't part of Natalie's plan either.  Where does parental guidance leave off and agency begin?

The beginning of this book is a little slow as Talley establishes the pressures and demands placed on the mother of a large family, but it is not boring.  The many disasters her two youngest children cause, the forgetfulness of her next child, the complications of the older children's schedules, and the heavy demands and long hours of her husband's job go on a little too long, and as I read the book I didn't know whether to admire Natalie's fortitude in dealing with those issues and her rude, arrogant mother or dismiss her for being weak, unorganized, and lacking in self esteem.  By midway I began to like Natalie much more and began to feel sympathy for her in the trials she faced.  I found it annoying that Natalie's husband always knows the right thing to say and do, never loses his temper, can cool any clash, and never seems to face the magnitude of challenges his wife faces. He's just a bit unrealistic.

The tempo of the book increases in the second half and it becomes hard to put down.  Natalie's doubts and her growth in spiritual awareness are handled well, giving the reader insight into the nature of faith, answers to prayer, and the "Thy will be done" dilemma we all face sometime in our lives.  I found the fact that Natalie's daughter dated the non-member young man for months without her parents ever meeting him a little unrealistic for a close-knit LDS family, especially since they were aware their daughter was seeing him. I could relate to many of the trying incidents involving the children (I even had a foster child who did the "painting" trick).  The book is for the greater part believable, emotional responses feel real, and Talley is superb in helping the reader to feel the mixed emotions and sense of being overwhelmed at the prospect of rearing, loving, and protecting a child who is "different."  Having served several years in the presidency of a Primary for special needs children, many of whom were born with that extra chromosome that identified them as Downs syndrome children, I could only agree with her suggestion that there is something especially sweet and innocent about these children.

Men don't often pick up books featuring a sweet, sleeping baby on the cover, but this one is worth making an exception.  Women and teens will have no problem enjoying this tender, sometimes funny, thoughtful story. I certainly enjoyed it.

Talley and her husband are the parents of ten children.  They live in rural Colorado where they keep a large collection of pets.  She is a graduate of BYU and has a bachelors of arts degree in communications.

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THE UP SIDE OF DOWN by Rebecca Talley, published by Bonneville Books, an imprint of Cedar Fort, softcover, 244 pages, $15.99

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