Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review: The Secret of Joy

Summary: Rebecca is about to find out. The New York City paralegal thought nothing could shake her life off its fast track -- which includes her handsome lawyer boyfriend and their extravagant condo. The shocking revelation that she even has a half sister comes from her dying father, in a hospital bed confession of a long-past summer affair...and now the dad she adores has one last wish: would Rebecca deliver a cache of letters he never sent to his other daughter, Joy Jayhawk, in a tiny coastal Maine town?

But when Rebecca arrives in Wascasset, with the life-changing letters stashed in a leather box, nothing goes as she imagined -- and Joy Jayhawk is less than thrilled to meet her. Joy already has her own life, her own family, and her own business: she runs a bus tour for singles, a matchmaking excursion that's brought lovers together, healed broken hearts, and changed lives. Rebecca join the singles tour in the hopes of unlocking a door into Joy's life and forming a relationship with the only family she was left. But as she spends more and more time with Joy and the woman who dub themselves. The Divorced Ladies Club of Wascasset -- and starts a flirtation with a seriously hunky local carpenter -- Rebecca realizes it's her life and heart that are ready for healing and change...and that sometimes, you just have to go along for the ride. -- Downtown Press

THE SECRET OF JOY is Melissa Senate's latest novel about Rebecca, a young woman whose life is turned upside-down when she learns from her father on his deathbed that she has a half-sister. Needless to say, Rebecca is shocked by this news that her father had an affair and that she wasn't really an only child. Having always wanted a sibling, Rebecca desperately wants to meet her sister Joy and form a sisterly relationship. Despite warnings from her fiance, Rebecca drops everything and rushes to Maine to find Joy, She doesn't fully take into account the effects of her actions and that Joy might not be happy to see her. Once Rebecca is in Maine, she begins to not only better understand her father and her sister, but she also begins to learn things about herself.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE SECRET OF JOY, and I recommend it to readers who enjoy light books about women and their relationships. (I started to type " readers who enjoy chick lit," but I hesitate to call this novel chick lit because it did have some deeper themes.) One of the reasons that I enjoyed this novel was that I really liked the character of Rebecca, and I quickly became attached to her. Even though I sensed that she was heading into a mess when she just left her fiance and her job to find her sister in Maine, I loved how she had the strength to go after what she wanted. And I have to admit that part of her charm was her naivete regarding Joy!

I thought THE SECRET OF JOY was fairly predictable, but I wasn't really expecting a lot of twists and turns from this type of novel. For me, the book just worked -- it entertained me and at the same time touched my heart. I usually appreciate stories about the resilience of women, and books that highlight female relationships -- romantic ones with men as well as friendships between women. And, THE SECRET OF JOY definitely did a good job of covering both of these topics. I also liked that this novel had main characters who discovered things about themselves that either made them better people or even just a happier ones. I enjoyed seeing the characters grow, and in some ways THE SECRET OF JOY was a coming of age novel for Rebecca and Joy.

While parts of THE SECRET OF JOY were very light and funny, the novel also managed to touch me. Some major themes in this story dealt with loss, grieving and forgiveness. When Rebecca's father dies, she is left with no family and feels that her world has been upended. She learns that her father had an affair while being married to her mother, and she has to accept that her father wasn't the perfect man like she had always thought. Since he has died without really giving her an explanation, all she has is a stack of 26 letters that her father wrote to Joy. Rebecca uses these letters to come to terms with her father's actions and as a way to understand him. At the same time, Joy is extremely bitter about not having a father when she was growing up. Her anger and resentment not only affect her happiness, but they also begin to affect the stability of her marriage. Throughout the course of THE SECRET OF JOY, Joy begins to work through her issues; and she ends up using the very same letters to find some sense of peace. I couldn't help but feel compassion towards both women and the way their lives were changing.

A few years ago, I read one of Ms. Senate's earlier chick lit novels called SEE JANE DATE. I don't remember many specifics about the storyline, but I do remember enjoying the book and especially liking the author's writing style. After reading THE SECRET OF JOY, I found that I still really liked Ms. Senate's writing; and I thought she did a great job of developing the characters -- quirks and all! If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Senate, you can check out the "Author Revealed" page on the publisher's website as well as this insightful interview where she discusses some of her inspiration for THE SECRET OF JOY.

When I was visiting Ms. Senate's website, I was surprised by how many books she has written in the past few years -- both for the adult and YA market. In addition, she has also contributed to a lot of anthologies including the collection EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A GIRL I'VE LEARNED FROM JUDY BLUME which I am dying to read. As I read the summaries of her books, I thought a lot of them sounded cute and I was definitely jotting down some items on my book wish list.

THE SECRET OF JOY could actually be a very interesting discussion book. This book is very readable, and it's definitely on the lighter side; however, I was pleasantly surprised by how many things there are to discuss. I think THE SECRET OF JOY would be a good pick if you're coming off of a literary type of book and you are looking for something a little less deep, yet you still want a book that has plenty of issues to talk about. There is a readers guide available with eleven questions that cover topics including sisterhood, parent/child relationships, marriage, friendships, secrets and fidelity. I think it would also be fun to talk about the various characters and their actions.

THE SECRET OF JOY is available today, November 17th. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book.


Mary (Bookfan) said...

Nice review. I'm looking forward to reading this soon!

bermudaonion said...

I love it when characters discover things about themselves too. This sounds like a very pleasant read. Thanks for your review!

Anna said...

I'm okay with predictable if the book is enjoyable overall. This sounds like a good comfort read, and I'll keep it in mind. Thanks for the review!

Diary of an Eccentric

Beth F said...

I'll have to keep this one in mind. It think I might like it since it does touch on some deeper issues.

S. Krishna said...

I really loved this book and consider it chick lit for people who don't normally like chick lit! Great review!