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We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg

We Are All Welcome Here (2006)

by Elizabeth Berg

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Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
The first book I ever read by Elizabeth Berg was something I read in one sitting, and was blown away by. That was Range of Motion, and it was a long time ago, and I don't think I've loved any of her books quite so much since. But she's still on my List, because even when I don't love a book of hers I still enjoy her ability, her writing; one of my GR friends used a phrase I want very much to steal, but instead I'll just say something about the beauty and depth of her use of words. And so there was no question about whether I'd buy this when I had the chance.

But… I have to say I sighed a bit when I realized that the voice of the book is that of Diana Dunn, a precocious, rather amoral, self-centered 13-year-old girl. The basic groundwork for the story is that Diana's mother, stricken by polio just before giving birth, is a quadriplegic. And since they can't afford to have someone in to help them full time, they have someone during the day … and, since Diana was very young (VERY young), no one at all at night.

And that messed with my mind in many different directions.

I of all people understand not having the money to manage 24-hour care – and finding that the amount the state considers enough is very much not. I also understand misappropriating some of the funds to use for groceries and whatnot. I do. (I haven't, but I understand.) But … I'm sorry, Diana's mother is paralyzed. From the neck down. Requiring full-time electronic assistance to breathe. This isn't merely "disabled". This isn't something that can be surpassed or overcome with willpower or a burst of adrenaline. All of the million what-ifs went through my head – What if, obviously, there was a fire? Would Diana get out, or die with her mother?

What if Diana got sick?

Or fell?

Cut herself badly?

What if someone broke in at night?

I think this was the aspect of the whole thing that bothered me the most. She was a child. Even the most accountable and selfless child can't fend for herself under every circumstance – this wasn't an Arthur Ransome novel. And Diana did not strike me as the most accountable, for the most part. I'll come back to the issue of selflessness. If there was any possibility of a chance that she could have a life approximating that of an average child, she should have had that chance. If there's any possible alternative, a child should never be forced to shoulder the kind of responsibility described in this book.

I'm quite sure my takeaway from this book was not meant to be that nearly everyone in it was extraordinarily selfish – and that the one person who was consistently selfless was ridden over and taken advantage of and given the fuzzy end of the lollipop every bit as consistently. I'm sure I'm supposed to look at this as a heroic struggle against blahbitty blah. Wait, there's a quote to prove it: "…valuable lessons about love, honor and the real meaning of family…" I didn't get any of that. Honor? Really? That's rather rich. And "the real meaning of family" … I suppose by the end Diana gets it, but it's kind of too late by then in many ways.

The book just … made me angry. Diana was pretty much introduced in the midst of plotting harm against her mother's carer, Peacie – which plot she then proceeded to act upon. It wasn't her fault that she waited too long and wasn't able to actually do damage – she meant to. From there she proceeded to whine her way through the book, complaining about – oh, everything, from having to put herself out to go get groceries to not being able to buy Lay's potato chips, and escalating to outright theft and the most heinous piece of spying I've come across in a while. I disliked Diana through nearly every line of the book, and in that moment of eavesdropping and peeping-Tomishness I hated her as much as any character I've seen in a book in months. Maybe years. (I hated her friend Suralee, too, but in the end not as much, I think, despite everything.) Diana's selfishness and nastiness was a constant irritant, and pretty much all of the other characters did things that annoyed me deeply as well, leaving me in a fairly continual slow burn against all of them. I mean, you win a nice amount of money, and the first things you decide to buy are a typewriter and a bleeding canopy bed? What about an icebox to replace the ancient and malfunctioning one that took up just about the entirety of one chapter? (Dell turned out to be a horrific piece of work, but I still disliked Diana more.) (I did really like LaRue, at least.) And then the book climaxed with a piece of deus-ex-machina that made me roll my eyes so hard I think I hurt myself. It was terrible.

And, of course, a portion of the anger this book engendered in me was for The System. That's what makes it impossible for a mother and daughter to afford the coverage of care they need and still manage to buy groceries. But their social worker was portrayed as earnest, honestly trying to help – and the three of them in that house made almost a game out of pulling the wool very thoroughly over her eyes.

Now, the book is based on a true story; a woman wrote to Elizabeth Berg asking her to write her mother's story. Berg warned her that she would fictionalize it, using only elements of the real story – basically, I think the whole background. Which leaves me with two big questions. Is the woman who sent that letter to Berg happy with how incredibly awful Diana (basically the letter-writer) is in the book? And was that shockingly stupid climax remotely, unbelievably true? I wish Berg had made that clear; if anything like what happened in the book actually happened to the woman who wrote her, my dislike would be at least slightly abated.

I listened to this in CD format, read by the author. I was uncertain about how well it would be read, but hoped that, having written the book, Berg would be 100% accurate with emphasis and intonation – who would know better than Elizabeth Berg how her book should be read? As it turned out, she wasn't 100% accurate; there were definitely instances of the wrong word being stressed in a sentence, and so on – but it was overall very good.

I think, though, that I might have learned that one amazing book does not necessarily mean I'll love everything a writer writes. ( )
  Stewartry | Mar 27, 2017 |
3 stars ( )
  JennysBookBag.com | Sep 28, 2016 |
Poignant, insightful, and heartwarming is the way in which I describe the author's books. When a friend recommended I read Elizabeth Berg's books, I decided to do so, especially since our reading likes are so similar. I am left wondering why I didn't read any of these wonderful stories before.

Written from the perspective of 14 year old Diana Dunn, she experiences normal teen-age angst and growing pains. Still, this particular teen is not an ordinary girl who is living a "normal" life. Diana was the first baby born in the 1950's to a woman who delivered her while in an iron lung suffering from polio.

When her father told her mother that he would find an adoptive home for Diana, in quite frank terms, her mother told him that was not an option. Paralzyed, unable to walk, her mother has a sharp brain, quick wit, and a loving spirit. Continuing to live on a respirator, most everyday functions are handled by Diana and a few others.

Living in poverty in the south, the host of characters is marvelously likable. While resenting the burden of assisting in the care of her mother, and feeling hedged in by the incredibly delightful black care giver, Peachy, Diana looks back in thankfulness for the guidance and love these two incredible women showed her.

Part of Diana's education occurs during the Civil Rights era. Opening her eyes to no longer accepting the everyday differences and slights that occurred in the south in the treatment of blacks, Diana witnesses how different her mother is than other whites in the south at this historical time. Diana very much admires Peachy's boyfriend LaRue who, with the aid of relative, Little Bit, learned to write and read. Inspired to help gain voter rights, LaRue assists Little Bit in the summer of the freedom buses and the beatings sustained by LaRue, Little Bit and many other blacks fighting for what is rightfully theirs.

Highly recommended. Four Stars ( )
  Whisper1 | Sep 10, 2016 |
A quick, fun read. ( )
  karconner | Jul 5, 2016 |
Diana Dunn is 14 years old and her mother gave birth to her from an iron lung after acquiring polio in the 50s. She still tries to raise her daughter with the help of Peacie, an amazing caregiver . Their story is one of poverty in the south and a strong mother and daughter connection. Diana has to care for her mother while other kids get to play. Helping out is a black woman named Peacie a black woman who has cared for Diana since she was an infant. Peacie has a boyfriend LaRue and together they help this small family daily. But LaRrue is envolved in the civil rights movement and this causes them to move from Pupelo Mississipi. Just when it seems that Diana and her mother Paige will have to go into care, in steps Elvis.
Great book, heartwarming and filled with love and wisdoms especially from Peacie. Based on a real life woman who did so much while living with polio on a respirator. ( )
  Smits | Mar 4, 2016 |
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There's the wind and the rain
And the mercy of the fallen . . .
There's the weak and the strong
And the many stars that guide us
We have some of them inside us

--Dar Williams,
"The Mercy of the Fallen"
For Pat Raming and Marianne Raming Burke
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Oftentimes on summer evenings, I would sit outside with my mother and look at constellations.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812971000, Paperback)

Elizabeth Berg, bestselling author of The Art of Mending and The Year of Pleasures, has a rare talent for revealing her characters’ hearts and minds in a manner that makes us empathize completely. Her new novel, We Are All Welcome Here, features three women, each struggling against overwhelming odds for her own kind of freedom.

It is the summer of 1964. In Tupelo, Mississippi, the town of Elvis’s birth, tensions are mounting over civil-rights demonstrations occurring ever more frequently–and violently–across the state. But in Paige Dunn’s small, ramshackle house, there are more immediate concerns. Challenged by the effects of the polio she contracted during her last month of pregnancy, Paige is nonetheless determined to live as normal a life as possible and to raise her daughter, Diana, in the way she sees fit–with the support of her tough-talking black caregiver, Peacie.

Diana is trying in her own fashion to live a normal life. As a fourteen-year-old, she wants to make money for clothes and magazines, to slough off the authority of her mother and Peacie, to figure out the puzzle that is boys, and to escape the oppressiveness she sees everywhere in her small town. What she can never escape, however, is the way her life is markedly different from others’. Nor can she escape her ongoing responsibility to assist in caring for her mother. Paige Dunn is attractive, charming, intelligent, and lively, but her needs are great–and relentless.

As the summer unfolds, hate and adversity will visit this modest home. Despite the difficulties thrust upon them, each of the women will find her own path to independence, understanding, and peace. And Diana’s mother, so mightily compromised, will end up giving her daughter an extraordinary gift few parents could match.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:59 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

It is the summer of 1964. In Tupelo, Mississippi, the town of Elvis's birth, tensions are mounting over civil-rights demonstrations occurring ever more frequently--and violently--across the state. But in Paige Dunn's small, ramshackle house, there are more immediate concerns. Challenged by the effects of the polio she contracted during her last month of pregnancy, Paige is nonetheless determined to live as normal a life as possible and to raise her daughter, Diana, in the way she sees fit--with the support of her tough-talking black caregiver, Peacie.… (more)

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