"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Friday, January 9, 2009

We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg

In 1951, Paige Dunn is a vibrant young woman, twenty-two years old, nine months pregnant, and happily married. Then she contracts polio. The fact that she was able to deliver a healthy baby girl while in an iron lung is an amazing feat all in itself. Paige is a strong-willed and, despite her husband leaving her, is determined to raise Diana. She hires caregivers, moves into a small, two-bedroom home in Tupelo, Mississippi, and moves on with life. She spends the next three years in that dreaded machine and the rest of her life on a respirator.

The story picks up in 1964. Thirteen-year-old Diana's best friend is neighbor Suralee Holloway. The two put on plays they've written, go into town for an ice cream cone, dream about boys, and collect Sweetnuf box tops.

While the story is told from Diana's point of view, the overpowering presence of Paige and her self-determination take center stage. She may only be able to move her head, but she is a mother first and foremost, guiding and disciplining her growing daughter.

In the background is the Civil Rights Movement. The daytime caregiver, Peacie, and her boyfriend, LaRue, become actively involved. Then there are the social workers who monitor Paige and Diana's caregivers. And of course, there is the shadow of Elvis. You cannot have a story set in the sixties in Tupelo, Mississippi, without mentioning the King.

But ultimately, though this book is sad in places, victories, small and large, are achieved. We Are All Welcome Here is not perfect, but it is highly recommended.

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