Cover Image: Small Joys

Small Joys

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Member Reviews

Small Joys had small joys in it. It started off with a triggering bang, but it gradually worked its way into heartwarming territory. Depression and hopelessness replaced with waking up to new opportunities and try agains!

Harley was suicidal because he wasn't feeling accepted by his father and he was having hard time finding his way in this world. A bird watcher saw him and changed the course of his life. This bird watcher was his new housemate. He, Muddy, was a typical lad with friends to play rugby with. Harley was not sure if they could get along at first. Harley was quiet, introverted gay man, while Muddy was all "masculinity". But eventually, life showed them how similar they were and appearances did not dictate personality. 

In his small circle of friends, Harley found love, acceptance, protection, and peace. It is what everyone deserves, right?
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I enjoyed this book’s quiet, steady character exploration. I thought the focus on the importance of friendships, navigation of different forms of friendships and relationships, and how both evolve over time, were excellently handled. The additional focus on mental health for black, queer men (and health for men in general) were likewise thoughtful and authentic. The characters are all nuanced and show both depth and growth, but without changing in ways that feel overblown. Narrator Harley, for example, remains quiet and introspective even as he begins opening more to those that are important to him. As an aroace, I especially enjoyed Muddy’s evolution to understanding his asexual identity (while not explicitly labeled as such, his desire to not have sex with anyone is clearly defined). 

The book is deeply ensconced in 2005 Britain, especially the music of the time, so some readers may lack familiarity with slang, geography, and/or music. I didn’t find these distracting, but some readers might. Content warnings for homophobia, including an attempted exorcism, racism, suicide attempts.
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This book tackles very heavy topics in an open way. SMALL JOYS is the perfect title for this book; I ended it full of so many feelings for our MC. 

I received an advance copy. All thoughts are my own.
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This book had some very dark moments and heavy topics, but much like the title “Small Joys” there was humor, and some really beautiful scenes woven in between the sadness.

This book is not shy about anxiety and depression, and is very open about mental health struggles. 

Harley’s journey is tough to follow in the beginning, but watching him start to trust his support system of friends and go to therapy, and in the end his realization that his life is worth living, was really wonderful. 

Muddy was this absolute sunshine of a character, and Finlay, while an asshole, was a good person deep down. Chelsea and Noria were a delight as well. I love their friend group, and how much they all loved each other. The dynamic was playful and supportive, and how as they learned more about themselves they called each other out and respected each other. 

At first reading this, I was getting through it pretty slowly because it is a heavy start, but the ending was lovely, and the book is so well-written. I think this will be on my list of favorites for the year. Definitely a recommend from me.

Content Warnings: Suicide Attempts, Homophobia, Anxiety, Depression

Thank you @netgalley and @randomhouse for sending this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
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I rarely give up on books but I came close over the days that I read “Small Joys”. It is an exhausting look at depression and sadness and maybe the edge of mental illness. It is also an examination of friendship - the kind that you hope and pray to have at some point in your life and if you are lucky you will find that friendship when you are at the lowest point, when you are at the bottom of the pit - the kind of friendship that takes the time to watch, listen and tries to pull you up and out of that all consuming despair.     

When you come at life with the belief that it is “something to be bargained with, to be battled with” somehow you just know that it is not going to be uplifting and easy to like or jump onboard. Couple this premise with very brash, outspoken and more outspoken characters in this book, it was just exhausting. But I kept reading and thinking and feeling so badly for this poor boy who has no self-worth - so, so sad. The road is going to be long and arduous - one giant step forward and a million baby steps backwards. Healing, rupturing, rejecting, accepting, realizing that hope can be had, friends can be made, they can care and try to protect and you might start to share and see what it can be to heal and realize you have worth. The words aren’t empty when they are spoken with the love found on the pages of this book. 

Thanks to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for a copy.
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My goodness, I really enjoyed this book and thought it was an impressive debut. It was particularly remarkable how a book with so much darkness and sadness was still such a fun and warm read. 

Set in 2005 in rural England - it had a really strong sense of time and place. I ended up listening to the audio and, while I certainly am no expert on the accents, I got the impression that the narrator did an excellent job of them and that also helped with distinguishing the various characters. 

While so much of this book was about friendship, ultimately, this is Harley's Bildungsroman. At times it's tough being in his head - he is having a hard time (see content warnings) and makes some frustrating choices. But he is also a quiet joy of a person - somehow I can almost picture his smile. And Muddy is like a cinnamon roll of a friend - a true delight but not without depth and flaws. The deep platonic attraction that Harley and Muddy feel for each other at the beginning of the story is such a rare and beautiful thing to read. And the whole group of friends is a lovely, real but complicated delight. They are still young and learning about themselves and each other but their love for each other is palpable. 

This book was quiet in many ways, veering in mundanity at times but somehow always picking up the pace right at the edge of that mundanity. Even with some rather dark and upsetting moments, it always felt hopeful. It really was filled with lots of small joys.

Content warnings include: self-harm/suicide attempt/suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, racism, homophobia, assault/hate crimes, alcohol use, emotionally abusive parents, religious trauma/abuse.
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This book reminded me of Real Life by Brandon Taylor but in the sense that I felt for the main character but not much really happened in the book. I kept waiting for more but found it really was a “coming of age”-ish story. 

I found the challenges the main character, Harley, was going through were relatable and the feelings he expressed resonated with me. However, I’m cynical to how realistic it is. Finding a friend like Muddy, in that tough of a time, is very rare. It was a refreshing character to read about, but question how fast their bond grew.

With that being said, as a native American English speaker, I found the slang and dialogue hard to follow at times. Nothing impossible to get through just a much different dialect than I’m used to even with British English.
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4-4.5 stars
Well-written and moving story of a young, gay, Black man who is depressed and suicidal. His journey through his mental health and life struggles is helped along by a diverse group of friends. Harley and his friends are quirky, fun, flawed, and supportive--except for when they aren't. There are dark moments and light ones. My only real complaint about this book is Harley's friend Muddy: he's just too good to be true and is obsessively kind and compassionate.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a free e-ARC of this book.
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Small Joys is a surprising debut novel by Elvin James Mensah that explores friendship, chosen family, and finding happiness where you least expect it. Harley is a young, gay Black man who is adrift and struggling with anxiety and depression. He is so lost he walks into the woods to take his own life. Fortunately, he is interrupted by Muddy, his new flatmate, who quickly becomes his closest friend and teaches him to find joy in the small things in life.

Throughout the novel, heavy themes are explored but lightened with humor and the supportive relationships in Harley and Muddy’s diverse friend group. Small joys are found in unexpected places, such as Muddy’s delight in bird-watching and the bittersweet quality of his relationship with his grandfather, who has dementia. 

I highly recommend Small Joys to anyone who enjoys thoughtful, quiet novels about relationships and the human experience in its many forms. Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine for this advanced reader copy of Small Joys in exchange for an honest review.
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I wasn’t sure what to think about this novel when it first started. It was slower than I anticipated and I wasn’t drawn to it for the first few chapter. And then on a rainy summer day I sat there and read about 50% of the book and was pulled in by Muddy, Harley and Finlay. Everyone needs a friend like Muddy - that friend that is supportive of everything you’re feeling and is your pillar when you need the stability. Finlay develops into someone more than what he allows others to see. He’s the friend who cares deeply and will be by your side without saying the words out loud. The whole book is a quietly strong and it was worth the investment.
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I found Small Joys to be such a heartfelt novel that it was almost hard to believe it’s a debut! Mensah is definitely one to watch. This was the most beautiful exploration of friendships, adolescence, queer identities and what the mean for teenage friendships and relationships, and what it really means to choose your family. It’s a lesson in acceptance and perseverance and it was really, really powerful. I also ended up listening to this via audiobook post-pub date! 

Thanks so much to the publisher and NetGalley for this e-arc!
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Small Joys ~ Elvin James Mensah 

Harley doesn’t feel like there’s much to live for another but a chance friendship with his new roommate Muddy helps to turn his life around. The exact opposite of each other, Muddy shows Harley the beauty in life that he didn’t quite notice before. 

A quiet story with beautiful character development - a focus on friendship, healing, and growth. This one begs the question, Is family what we’re born into or what we find when we need it the most?
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In 2005, twenty-one year old Harley is an anxious, depressed, gay, black man with has a father that does not love or accept him. Harley has dropped out of college, works at a low level job with no future and decides that life is not worth living. Harley takes himself in the woods and while attempting to take his own life he’s interrupted by a young man named Muddy that is out birdwatching. Muddy becomes Harley’s “person”. In time, Muddy shows Harley what true friendship is about, how precious and valuable he is and why life is worth living. This is a heartwarming story of friendship, acceptance and personal growth.
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A compelling read about found family and friends. The main character is a recent college drop out suffering with crippling mental health issues. Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts. A new roommate takes it upon himself to keep an eye out for Harley. This close look at friends helping us and lifting us out of the fog is a truly touching story that keeps you feeling all the feels. I look forward to Elvin James Mensah's future works
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Pride Month 2023 Book #7: 4 stars.

A very lovely book, a great debut effort, this one moved me quite a lot, mates. Loved Harley, and I loved his hard-earned progress through his deep and severe mental-health issues. And of course, I LOVED his new best pal Muddy and their friendship. I loved AND hated the homoerotic frisson of that relationship; you could have a proper drinking game and get drunk fairly quickly from how many times big, brawny, and straight (or IS he straight?) Muddy touches Harley's arm, back, face, etc., and from all the homoerotic banter that ensues between them and with even more "straight" and muscular Finlay. Honestly, it was hot AND frustrating AND sometimes seemed just plain weird to have all that in there, but it also strangely added to the sweetness and poignancy of the story. You'll have to "trust" me on that one, friends.

One quick semi-peeve. This 2023 novel is set in the mid-2000s, and it never really becomes apparent why that is so. At least, it didn't to me. I don't know the author's age, so I don't know if he was in his 20s at that time, like the five main characters - there are also two women that are at the heart of this story, Chelsea and Noria. I mean, loved all the references to music artists of that time, but I just don't get the point of setting this story twenty years ago, as besides those and a few other pop cultural references throughout the book, it could have just as easily been a story set today. And that annoys me some, I admit.

Well, anyway, a beautiful book. I laughed, I cried, I grew with the characters. Awesome first novel, and I look forward to more from Elvin James Mensah.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review of the book. Highly recommend.
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This was a beautifully written book. It was quiet and thoughtful and honed in on what anxiety and depression really feels like. I connected with these characters in a number of ways and am looking forward to reading more from this author. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
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rounded up to 4 stars

The main character in this book is Harley. But that’s not who this book is about. At least not in my eyes. 

Harley is the gravitational pull around which all the other characters revolve, like a solar system. 

At a top level, Harley is a black gay twenty year old (ish) who has dropped out of university due to depression and anxiety. He’s in the forest with a blade and about to kill himself when Muddy sees him and stops him. 

Lo and behold, Muddy is the roommate in the flat that Harley is staying in - thanks to their mutual friend Chelsea. 

The book seems like it’s about Harleys struggle with anxiety and depression. And it might be. But he’s the least interesting character in the book. Instead, it’s Muddy and his buddy Finlay who are bursting out of the page with multi-faceted, complex characters. 

It’s Muddy and Finlay that are hilarious and macho and touchingly sensitive and continuously surprising. It’s the two of them I have the most compassion for. 

This was one of those books that I enjoyed reading, but whenever I put it down, I wasn’t drawn to pick it up again. I suppose when the lead character is the least interesting, that happens. 

I hope Muddy and Finlay get their own tv show. 

#netgalley #smalljoys
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In 2005, twenty-one year old Harley is an anxious, depressed, gay, black man with has a father that does not love or accept him. Harley has dropped out of college, works at a low level job with no future and decides that life is not worth living. Harley takes himself in the woods and while attempting to take his own life he’s interrupted by a young man named Muddy that is out birdwatching. Muddy becomes Harley’s “person”. In time, Muddy shows Harley what true friendship is about, how precious and valuable he is and why life is worth living. This is a heartwarming story of friendship, acceptance and personal growth.
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This book was not my usual read, very 'youngish' and with a lot of cultural references I wasn't familiar with. It's the story of a young Black gay man who is estranged from his father and fighting mental issues. He has a core group of friends, one who is a very macho straight guy who turns out to be emotional and loving. I was more invested in the book as this relationship developed and the characters came more into their being. This is a character driven novel, not really much of a plot (which I seem to gravitate toward), still I'm glad I read it since it is a world that exists outside of my own life and it's good to be curious about people you don't normally interact with.
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Small Joys is a moving, sad, powerful debut novel about friendship, chosen family, and the search for happiness.

The main character is Harley, a man in his early twenties who is struggling with loneliness, depression and a persistent feeling that he is not worthy of anything. His despair is so severe that he contemplates suicide. 

Muddy is a new roommate who becomes friends with Harley. Muddy is a wonderful character. He is kind and  accepting and generous and exuberant and caring. He takes Harley under his wing and looks out for him. He introduces Harley to activities he loves, such as birdwatching and listening to the music of Oasis. 

Harley and Muddy become close. They spend a lot of time together and confide in each other. Muddy shows Harley that there are people in the world who can be trusted. He teaches Harley to grab whatever bits of happiness that life presents. Harley begins to embrace the small joys. 

This is not to say that it’s a cheerful novel. Many dark topics are explored, such as racism, homophobia, severe depression, deep anxiety, and suicide. We are shown the world through Harley’s eyes, and it is not a welcoming place. 

The friendship between Harley and Muddy is beautiful to see, and it is uplifting to watch Harley’s slow struggle to believe in himself. 

I greatly enjoyed this touching, well-written story. I look forward to reading this author’s future works. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️,
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