By Elizabeth Berg
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.rom
From Publishers Weekly
A polio victim and her 13-year-old daughter work miracles from their Tupelo, Miss., home during the summer of 1964 in Berg's latest carefully calibrated domestic drama (after The Year of Pleasures
). Having contracted polio at 22 while pregnant, Paige Dunn delivers her baby from an iron lung, and ends up raising her daughter, Diana, alone after her husband divorces her. Able to move only her head, Paige requires round-the-clock nursing care that social services barely cover. Now 13, Diana has taken over the night shift to save them money, sharing her mother's care with no-nonsense African-American day worker Peacie, who is protective of Paige and unforgiving of Diana's adolescent yearning for freedom. Paige is a paragon of kindness and wisdom, even in the face of less-than-charitable charity by petty small-town residents, while Diana and Peacie consistently lock horns. But when Peacie's boyfriend, LaRue, ventures down the perilous path of helping register black voters during this Freedom Summer and trouble follows him, Diana will gain compassion thanks to her mother's selfless aid to LaRue and Peacie. As the novel (based on a true story) is set in Tupelo, the specter of Elvis Presley naturally intrudes, for an over-the-top, heartrending finale.
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From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–As a student nurse, Paige Dunn once took care of Elvis Presley's mother in Tupelo, MS. She contracted polio while pregnant with her daughter and is paralyzed from the neck down. Deserted by her husband and on welfare, Paige relies on Peacie, her black daytime caregiver, and on her daughter, Diana, now 13, for help at night. The teen is devoted to her beautiful, talented mother, yet at times is resentful that her mother's needs must come before her own. When the girl wins $2500 in a contest, Paige gives most of the money to Peacie for medical care for her boyfriend, who was badly beaten for participating in a civil rights demonstration. When their social worker learns that the money that would have provided for a nighttime caregiver has been used for other expenses, she demands that the situation be remedied. Diana writes to Elvis, enclosing a song her mother had written long ago, he responds with a visit to Paige, and suddenly their life is made infinitely easier. Full of humor, devoid of self-pity, with lively characters that rise above their circumstances, this is the story of an adolescent accepting adult responsibilities, encountering the temptations of boys and booze, and experiencing the tensions between race and class in the 1960s. –Molly Connally, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
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