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Coming Up For Air by Patti Callahan Henry

Coming Up For Air is the first book by Patti Callahan Henry that I've read.  I enjoyed it--great story made even better by great writing and vivid characters.

Ellie's mother is controlling and a force to be reckoned with but in the wake of her sudden death, Ellie becomes unmoored as she realizes she has come to a crossroads in both her life and her marriage.  Ellie admits a heart breaking realization to herself: her marriage is loveless and she can choose to stay and allow it to wither what's left of her heart and soul or she can choose another path; a path that won't end with her becoming a numb, emotionless, steely woman like her mother.

Rusty, Ellie's husband, shows only the kind, charming self to the public, but Ellie knows he has another darker side, prone to cruel words and temper tantrums that he shows to her.  While he's never raised a hand to her, Ellie's come to realize that she mistook his ways of controlling for ways of loving.  And she's tired of it.  One might also describe Rusty's behavior as borderline verbally abusive.

All these years Ellie's lived with the regret of what might have been with her first love, Hutch, had she not allowed her controlling mother to drive a wedge between them to manipulate the end of their love affair under the guise of protecting Ellie.  Hutch comes back into Ellie's life after her mother's death because he wishes to finish some interviews and research he's been doing on her mother's life for a museum display.  He tells Ellie about her mother's mysterious, nebulous, and, until now unknown to her family, involvement with the civil rights movement.

A hidden journal that her mother kept for most of her life is discovered in a locked drawer in her closet when Ellie's packing up her mother's clothes.  In its pages Ellie finds a girl who grew up to be a woman different from the one she knew as her mother--a passionate woman, a woman in love with a mysterious, nameless man also involved with the civil rights movement before a disastrous Freedom Ride spells the beginning of the end of the love affair that shattered her mother's heart.

With the revelation of Ellie's mother's failed love affair and broken heart one wonders how much this experience influences her mother's actions to orchestrate the end of her daughter's love affair.  One also wishes for a more satisfying confrontational resolution to the situation with Rusty, but that would have been out of character for Ellie.  Part romance, part history, party mystery, I recommend you pick up this great read the next time you visit the library.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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