The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate is my latest women's fiction read and I absolutely loved it on two levels:
1. As an engrossing, satisfying read with complex layers as the heroine sets off on her journey.
2. As a writer, purely enjoying this fresh, comprehensive style that weaves an intriguing braid of past and new along the linear story.
Rebecca Strand's story is pure book club fodder. The back of the book provides intriguing questions, but you'll have your own.
While I've only spotlighted one or two other writers on this blog, all about Me, Me, Me, I wanted to tell others how I felt as a reader and as a writer who has known Melissa for a number of years--in fact, she was my editor for 10 years. I appreciated her then, but in a fresh new way as a really good writer. She's written other books and has her second YA novel coming out in June 2010, plus another women's fiction, THE LOVE GODDESS'S COOKING SCHOOL in November. So, as a writer, she is no one-shot wonder, but grounded in a number of books you can easily find.
THE SECRET OF JOY was my first exposure to Senate's work, but not my last. I don't often let go of trade- book $, but the value was met in this story that asks: What would you do if you discovered you had a half-sister you never knew existed?
Her dying father confesses to an affair which produced a younger half-sister he has denied since the mother's disclosure. Engaged, employed, and deeply grieving, Rebecca is asked to deliver the letters he wrote to said denied half-sister, on every birthday. Stunned, Rebecca sets off after his death to comply.
Enter twist: Located in a fictional small coastal Maine town (where Senate lives by the way), said half-sister is a separated mother, who conducts weekend singles tours out of her orange mini-bus AND she wants nothing to do with their father, half his sizeable fortune, or Rebecca. She's managed all these years quite nicely, thank you very much.
Determined and hungry for family, Rebecca stays to dig into the small town, schmooze with Joy's best clients--the Divorced Ladies Club of Wiscasset--and a very interesting hunky carpenter. Loved the sisterhood of these ladies and how Rebecca fits into them.
There's plenty of introspection as Rebecca makes her journey from not quite feeling in place (don't we all have that feeling at some time?), to making choices that fit. In writer-speak, if a character doesn't question themselves, their lives and change, they're not making a journey. But as "Becs" makes her journey, she also enriches lives with very deep comprehension. As I said, I loved the layers in this book.
This is a very rounded, satisfying read with plenty of small Maine-town coastal feel. Settings can also be characters as I mentioned in a previous post and Senate paints a gorgeous coastal picture.
At her blog, linked at Senate's website, you'll find General Quesions about The Secret of Joy, and I really, really suggest reading those, either in your reader's hat, or in your writer's.
If you're into YA, Senate's next is THE MOSTS, June 2010.
Where you can find more? Visit Melissa's website or her blog for a delightful experience all the way around.