Em – as she is called by her children , is Imelda Mendes suffering from bipolar disorder and is often in the throes of the ‘ highs ‘ ( manic episodes ) and ‘ lows ‘ ( depressive episodes ) which characterize the illness . In her highs , she can be a witty conversationalist or recounting the story of how she met her children ‘ s father whom she has nicknamed ‘ Angel Ears ‘ . There are other stranger – sounding names which she has given to the children ‘ s father whom them call Hoom . The narrator takes us through their family ‘ s struggles with Em ‘ s illness until her death . When the book closes , the Mendes family is left at the threshold of starting a new life – a life without Em . Em has been a presence in the family ( to put it mildly ) and this book gives us only a glimpse into the family ‘ s everyday experiences with the matriarch suffering from bipolar disorder .