Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

Rating: 2 stars
Pages: ebook
Genre: General Fiction
Series/Standalone: Series (Mama Ruby)
Publication Date: 1986
Source: Purchased from B&N

Description (GoodReads):

Set in the bayous of the Florida Everglades in a migrant labor camp, "The Upper Room" is a powerful, vibrant, and lyrical story, peopled with richly-drawn and unforgettable characters. Most memorable of all, is the indomitable, astounding, larger-than-life Mama Ruby, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, a woman with healing hands, a voracious appetite, and a switchblade and a crucifix at her bosom.
Mama Ruby may not be all crazy, but she's at least halfway there. She's known for taking things that aren't rightfully hers, like her best friend's stillborn baby -- a tiny girl that she brought back to life and christened Maureen. She's also rumored to have done away with her husband.

With her God-fearing neighbors watching her every step, it's all Mama Ruby can do to stay ahead of the law. One desperate night, she flees to Goons, a dirt-poor migrant settlement in the Everglades -- and strangely, it feels like home. And through everything, she remains downright nuts about the one gift God gave her -- her precious daughter Maureen. But growing up with a mama like Ruby is enough to make any half-sane girl wish for something -- anything -- else. And when Maureen gets the chance to explore the "real" world, you can bet she's going to take it...and run like hell.


From the description The Upper Room sounds like it is going to be an interesting read with a Christian slant.    Which is what I expected from an author whose most famous books are part of a series entitled "God Don't Like Ugly".  The Upper Room is not Christian fiction by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, I don't know what genre to even place it in.

This was not what I was expecting, in a bad way.  I thought I was getting the book in the description the tale of a women stealing a baby she once thought was dead.  It is and it isn't.  It's really hard to put into words what The Upper Room is about because I am/was so confused.  Instead, of a heartfelt story about a women  wanting a child so much that she is willing to steal her best friends baby, The Upper Room  is about a crazy, overweight serial killer, who just happened to steal the baby girl she always wanted but never had.

I had gotten to less than 100 pages into the novel when I wen back to re-read the description.  I even went back and re-read the reviews, just to see make sure I  was reading the right book.  After reading the reviews, I figured that somehow I wasn't getting it.  Everyone else seemed to think this book was funny. The star rating was 4 and above.  I wondered if Mary Monroe was using some form of satire that was just going over my head.  I did not find this book funny or even mildly entertaining.


There is a whole cast of crazy characters.  Characters that I often confused with one another.

The main character, Mama Ruby claims to be a God fearing, Christian with the devil on her coattails.  In reality, the devil is on her left shoulder with direct access to her whenever he wants it.  She kills people (lots of them) needlessly with out not provocation. If someone wants to collect a debt she kills them, if someone calls her a name she kills them.  She kills anyone and everyone, claiming that they were trying to rape her and she had to "chastize" them.  She is also and alcoholic and is morbidly obese.  Her only redeeming qualities are the she loves her children and if you stay on her good side she is a great friend.

The daughter that she kidnapped, Maureen, was a underdeveloped.  All she wanted to do was live her life, which would only be possible if she could escape Mama Ruby, who has no intention of letting her go, ever.  I really wish Monroe would have done more with Maureen characters.  Yes, she knew that her mother was a "little" crazy, but she turned a blind eye to her antics, instead pretending that she did not know what was going on.

The characters that I liked the most were Virgil, Mama Ruby's son, and Black Jack, Virgil's friend.  They were the most believable out of all the characters.  They were the only two people that would say that Mama Ruby was crazy and that Maureen needed to run as far away from her as possible.


Mary Monroe's writing style is engaging but her writing couldn't cover up what a hot mess this book was.

There were jumps in time without any indication that time had passed.  One minute Maureen is a baby, then next she is five, then she is 18.  It was confusing and took me out the flow of the story often.

Monroe wasn't consistent and her ages were off.  At one point I pulled out a calculator to figure out how old everyone was and it didn't match.

The dialogue was unbelievable.  I understand that the characters are from the south and that because of regional accents some words would have different pronunciations but who was "V-Eight Nam" or "so-wee-side"

I have tons of highlights with notes that way "!!!What???"  or "WTF".

The person that edited The Upper Room should be ashamed of themselves.

Overall Recommendation:

I would not recommend this book to anyone.  That being said, I am looking forward to reading the prequel, Mama Ruby, which was written about 20 years after The Upper Room.  I have heard that it is a much better book and show Monroe's growth as an author.  I am also looking forward to reading The God Don't Like Ugly series which I have heard good thing about, also.  Apparently, Monroe suffered from a bad case of "horrible" debut syndrome with The Upper Room and her other works are much better.


  1. What a shame. I would have thought the same thing. The synopsis sounds intriguing enough and I have heard some good things about God Don't Like Ugly. Thank you for your honest review. I will pass on this one.

    1. I can't honestly recommend this one... If there was ever a book that needed to be re-written this is it.

  2. "At one point I pulled out a calculator to figure out how old everyone was and it didn't match"
    --that is too funny.

    Based on your review, you were being really nice to give it two stars. Terrible but not un-finishable?

    1. This was a book that I read for my bookclub so I had to finish it. There were funny parts. I struggled between giving a 1.5 stars and 2 stars. In the end, I picked 2.

  3. When I first was given the book to read by a friend who knew i enjoyed reading. I was so confused. so confused. I kept reading and i slowly begin to form some vision of the story line. just read without noticing any errors. just read and vision, i promise it gets tolerable. I end up thinking it was an okay read. however, mama ruby was most enjoyable. Most enjoyable. Mama Ruby is a Mess, and she was a Mess in her younger years to.

    1. Mama Ruby was a mess and her character was entertaining, but the writing just throw it all off.