Review

We Are All Welcome Here

by Elizabeth Berg



Elizabeth Berg's latest novel, WE ARE ALL WELCOME HERE, is set in
Tupelo, Mississippi, during the Freedom Summer of 1964 --- the town
where Elvis was born and where racial tensions are simmering just
barely below the surface. During this summer we meet Diana Dunn
("Sounds like a movie star!"): 14 years old, young enough to be
enraptured by movie stars and Seventeen magazine's
back-to-school issue, and old enough to be desiring her freedom
from small-town life and from the shadow of her mother, even while
craving her mother's attention. But escaping her mother often seems
impossible.

Struck by polio while pregnant with Diana, Paige Dunn is a
beautiful, smart, and very strong-minded woman who, in spite of
being abandoned by Diana's father and spending three years in an
iron lung, gives birth to a healthy baby girl and is determined to
raise her daughter herself. Although paralyzed from the neck down,
Paige enlists the help of Peacie, a tough-talking but big-hearted
African-American housekeeper, and the three of them get by on hard
work, creative financing, and charity. Diana and her friend Suralee
make pocket money by putting on plays, often enlisting the help of
Peacie's easygoing boyfriend LaRue. But there's rarely enough money
to make ends meet, and certainly not enough to pay for
round-the-clock care for Paige.

The demands on 14-year-old Diana at times feels never-ending. She
chafes at her lack of freedom and with the way some of the
townspeople treat her and her mother, and dreams of escape. But
when LaRue decides to head to Meridian to take an active role in
the Freedom Summer, helping blacks register to vote, the racial
tensions of the times hit home and Diana learns quite a bit about
what freedom really means. She learns to re-evaluate her definition
of family, and that character and compassion have very little to do
with physical ability.

Berg's ability to get inside her adolescent protagonist is
flawless. As with DURABLE GOODS and JOY SCHOOL, she serves up Diana
as a perfect mix of budding independence and childlike need. Berg
also perfectly captures the fascinatingly complex relationships
between girls of that age, and the exchanges between Diana and
Suralee are spot-on. Diana and Paige's tale is based on a true
story, and in Paige, Berg has created a multidimensional woman who
refuses to be defined by her handicap. At times awe-inspiring and
at times selfish, she is a very real and engaging portrait.

Uncharacteristically of Berg's work, the story is, sadly, saddled
with an improbable ending that feels forced. While it leaves a bit
of a sour taste, it is Berg's light and masterful touch with her
characters that her fans will connect and identify with, and WE ARE
ALL WELCOME HERE delivers in this regard. Although far from her
best work, Berg still pens a winning story that will connect with
her many fans.

Reviewed by Lourdes Orive on January 24, 2011

We Are All Welcome Here
by Elizabeth Berg

  • Publication Date: April 17, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0812971000
  • ISBN-13: 9780812971002