Cover Image: Small Joys

Small Joys

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Member Reviews

Finding happiness can be a constant uphill battle for some but for others it can be found in the simplest of things and when those two kinds of people meet there’s an opportunity for wonderful things, as in Small Joys by Elvin James Mensah. 
Harley has dropped out of uni and moved back in with his best friend Chelsea who has helped him get his old job at the cinema back. Grappling with his anxiety and depression that drove him from his studies, coupled with his continued estrangement from his father who blames Harley for his mother’s death and can’t accept he’s gay, Harley ventures in the woods where his attempt to end his suffering is interrupted by Muddy, his new comfortable-with-himself, birding roommate. Muddy, and his appealing confident manner, soon becomes a fascination and lifeline for Harley, and the pair strike up a strong friendship, bonding over their shared appreciation of music, educating one another on their different tastes. Spending time with his friend group, comprised of Muddy, Chelsea, Finlay, and Noria, Harley finds moments of happiness, but the quintet’s dynamic has a complex romantic history, festering jealousies, and several secrets, which fuel his anxiety and cause him to backslide to seeking attention from an older, demeaning man from his past. As life becomes too overwhelming for Harley yet again, his friends support him, with Muddy leading the charge to help Harley find reasons why life is worth living and ways to cope when things get rough. 
With a cast of characters with decent development and descriptive writing driving the narrative, this story moves slowly and mindfully through some rather dark days of Harley’s life that have small points of light and joy, fostering deep thought on mental health and the value of love and support coming from friends who are a powerful found family. The dynamic between Harley and Muddy is endearing and Muddy is a fascinating character to discover more about as the story progresses as there’s great depth to him; it’s likely driven by an inherent human need to label or categorize things, but the touched upon but not fully resolved or defined relationship between Harley and Muddy was frustrating despite knowing that leaving it undefined does serve a purpose to demonstrate that all the characters are still figuring themselves out and their place in the world and it’s not confined to just Harley. As the story focuses closely on Harley and his perspective, his emotional states are made clear through extensive introspection, which manages to emphasize overarching themes of being comfortable in your own skin, self-worth, and the value of friendship and having people who are there for you. Acceptance of help from others, and importantly of yourself as you are, is depicted throughout this novel as a gradual process riddled with setbacks amid progress, offering a realistic view of development, both in terms of character and dealing with life’s challenges. 
Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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I loved the characters in this book. Loved them. And I think I’ll miss them now that I’ve finished the book. This is a book about your early 20s, sexuality, and mental health, but friendship most of all. 
The dialog was fun to read, the honesty and depth didn’t feel contrived. I kind of hope for a sequel maybe, or at least an epilogue. There are good human beings on this earth. May we all be lucky enough to find a Muddy one.
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This book itself is a small joy, a lovely and quiet love story. (So small though that it might be more like a 3.5 for me?) I enjoyed the tenderness of the story and the relationships at play, but it did seem to wander a bit and some of my big questions never got answered.

First the pluses. I think Harley is an amazing lead character and his relationships with his friends (and, of course, Muddy) is the biggest strength of his book. I found the Finlay/Harley relationship particularly fascinating and beautiful. You don't often get to see relationships between gay and straight men portrayed this way. 

However it did kind of bug me that the relationship with Muddy was never defined (but maybe that's my hetero bias of wanting things to be neatly labeled?) Is Muddy Ace? Is he attracted to Harley or does he just love him? Ultimately does it matter?

I guess I was willing to go along with this just being unlabeled except there is a very strange scene toward the end of the book with a totally out of character proposition to which we never got a response. That annoyed me.

I also struggled with the mental health stuff, mostly because it continually leads Harley to make poor decisions and, as a reader, that's frustrating to repeatedly read. I too have depression and anxiety, and thought his bottoming out and slow road to recovery was handled well, I just had a hard time toward the end of the book when Harley was still keeping secrets and sabotaging relationships. 

Thanks to the author and NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
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I thought the book got off to a somewhat slow start but by the end, I was really hooked. I’m glad that it had a happier ending, and I felt the characters were really lovable. I did at times find the progress of the story a bit hard to follow, especially with the British accents of the writing.
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This book took me a bit to get into but once I did I was glad I committed.  This is a new author for me and I had to give it some time, but I would recommend giving this one a chance.
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"Small Joys" takes us back to 2005 in a quiet, nondescript town in England. Told from the perspective of 21 year-old Harley, he opens in the midst of a painful scene where he first encounters his new roommate, Muddy. As the novel goes on, we find out more about Harley - his difficulties as a gay black man, his difficult relationship with his father who refuses to accept him for who he is, and his tight circle of friends: Chelsea, Noria, Finlay, and now Muddy. Harley has dropped out of college and returned to his hometown, but is unable to tell his father the truth of his struggles and mental health.

The story is a quiet, slow-paced exploration of Harley's life and lingers on the past and current friendship and relationships between this group of five friends. I personally loved how character-driven the novel is, giving us time to understand each individual and his or her backstory and changing relationship with everyone else. I think many readers will connect with Harley's emotions and difficulties finding his place in life, and just as many will appreciate the friends who support him and cheer him on in different ways. Muddy grows to become a large part in Harley's life, and while the two may appear to be polar opposites at first glance, their deepening friendship was one of the highlights of this novel for me.

Mensah's writing is beautifully developed, lyrical at times, and I appreciated the introspection into Harley's thoughts and emotions. There's exploration into a number of weighty topics - mental health and self-worth, aging and loss, sexuality and race, and how friendships can be of more weight than ties of blood. Very much a recommended read and one that I'm excited to see published in 2023!
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Small Joys is debut fiction from Elvin James Mensah. 

Harley Sekyer is a college dropout, black, gay, and needy. His friends, Chelsea, Finlay, Noria, and Muddy are a menagerie of gender and races. 

This story is a first person perspective, a story of friendship and love. Unfortunately, the story drags but there are enough redeeming qualities, notably good characterization, to finish it and rate it 3 out of 5 stars. There is nothing wrong with the writing style; the story just didn’t grab my interest. 
If you enjoy general or LGBTQIAP+ fiction Small Joys may be more your cup of tea, so give it a read. 

My thanks to Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine, Ballantine Books, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. However, the opinions expressed in this review are 100% mine and mine alone.
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You know those rare moments in life, when you meet up with a friend for coffee or a meal, and it ends up stretching out for hours and you just keep talking and feel so held and cared for and seen by another human, and then you go back to your house and you feel like you're floating and that you are a valuable human who is worthy of friendship and joy? That feeling is this book. 

Harley, the gay son of a Ghanian-British man (his mother died in childbirth), has recently moved back into his old flat after dropping out of uni due to his mental health. Unfortunately, his old room has been taken by someone named Muddy, who runs into him in the woods when he's contemplating taking his own life. Muddy is from Manchester, loves Oasis and birding (not birdwatching, he is clear about this), and is overall a very masculine, rugby-playing northern lad. This relationship changes the trajectories of both of their lives for the better, as do their close friendships with Finlay (a straight white man who doesn't really mean to be a prejudiced jerk, he just is sometimes), Noria (a Nigerian-British woman who loves music and doing her friends' hair who is desperately trying to find a new job due to a racist manager), and Chelsea (Harley's coworker who took him in when his father kicked him out and is trying to get promoted while also figuring out what she wants in life). 

There is so much to be said about this book. Harley's journey as a young Black man towards mental wellness is something so rarely seen in fiction. Another reviewer noted the diversity of depictions of Black men in this book and while it's sad that feels so refreshing, it really does, particularly a Black male therapist, who is so wonderful to Harley and really helps him on his path to healing. 

Harley deserves so much happiness and joy, whether those joys are small or large. His relationship with Muddy was one of the purest things I've ever read, and I actually cried happy tears at Muddy's revelation towards the end of the book (I never feel so seen and it came out of NOWHERE and it was amazing and I cried real tears). 

All the characters in this book have their own backstories, histories, struggles, conflicts. The writing is so raw and realistic and anyone who has struggled with mental health will relate. I highlighted SO many lines that I truly cannot wait to share on my ig stories once this comes out in April. 

My only gripe is that Chelsea seemed slightly less fleshed out than the other characters, and I felt there was some foreshadowing throughout that never amounted to anything- maybe left over from a previous draft? But honestly, I don't even care. I read this book in one go, desperate to see what would happen to this found family. 

I know I can't quote from an ARC, so instead, I will leave you with the epigraph to the book, which was the point that I said, "I will very much enjoy this book;" I was right:
"Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing." -Elie Wiesel, The Gates of the Forest
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It was a slower story in the beginning but worth it as you get to know the main character and his struggles. It's a story of the power of friendship. Give it a go and you'll sink into it like a warm cup of cocoa on a cold day!
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Thanks Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for this eARC, these opinions are my own. I enjoyed this story very much! Harley, young gay black man, is struggling very much. As he contemplates doing something harmful to himself, his new roommate Muddy intervenes. They develop a friendships and along with other friend Harley begins to se the good in life. Elvin James Mensah does a good job depicting the ups and downs of anxiety and depression! I think one of my favorite things about the book is how it shows the power of friendship and how friends can help people get through the toughest times! The characters are well flushed out and they have growth throughout the book! I highly recommend reading this story of love and friendship!
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I stopped at 10%.  Unfortunately, I was not able to focus on the story and it did not capture my interest.  The story doesn't move quickly, and I didn't find anything to like or root for with the characters.  I don't see this moving in our libraries.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC.
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I received a free e-arc of this book through Netgalley. Harley is a young adult who has just dropped out of university due to depression and anxiety. He's about to commit suicide when another young man finds him in the woods. This results in a life-changing friendship for both of them. It doesn't solve all their problems, but it makes a huge difference when at least one person cares about you and if you live or die. There are some graphic sex scenes so not for those readers easily upset. It is a worthwhile coming of age story about the power of friendship.
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Quiet novels can have a huge impact, and Small Joys, about a Black gay college dropout, is such a book. Even though it’s pretty sad and raw at times, it’s a beautiful story full of warmth about found family, friendship, and a journey toward happiness. 

The beginning of this novel, set in 2005, is rather harsh. Twenty-one-year-old Harley is thinking of killing himself when he gets disturbed by Muddy, his new roommate, a heterosexual, masculine birder and an OASIS fan. They quickly become friends, and slowly Muddy shows Harley that life’s worth living.

Be aware that this is not a romance. Small Joys is a story of anxiety and depression, followed by healing and growth, and above all it’s a story about a beautiful friendship. The characters in this story are fully fleshed out, and I loved the interactions between the friend group,  especially those between Harley and Muddy. Muddy was such a great guy and so sweet and kindhearted with his own stuff to deal with. My heart ached and was full of love simultaneously, and sometimes tears sprang into my eyes.

Corina Diez from Random House Publishing Group offered me an eARC of this book, and I’m so happy that she did because I’m not sure if I would have requested this book on NetGalley. I loved Elvin James Mesah’s descriptive and lyrical writing, and the story felt really personal to me. I am eagerly looking out for Elvin’s next novel! 

I know I’m not supposed to quote from an ARC but the next sentence touched my whole being:
‘Friendship didn’t insulate you from affliction, but it did make the path to some sort of recovery feel worthwhile and almost pleasant, it allowed you to experience the most wonderful things, even in the dark.’
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I had to DNF this book. It just dragged from page one onward, and I couldn't make myself like any of the characters. This was not the book for me. Thank you for the ARC.
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What a wonderfully-written book from a first-time author! The themes of "found family" and "healing through friendship" are nicely rendered here in the story of Harley, 20 years old in the early aughts, who suffers from anxiety and depression in part due to having one of the cruelest fathers ever.  He drops out of uni, returns to his hometown, and moves in with an old friend and quickly becomes absorbed into a group of four friends and off again on again lovers, most importantly, Muddy, who literally saves his life. Harley's interior monologues flow effortlessly and naturally.  In the course of the novel, Harley discovers that he is worthy of love.  LOVED the bird imagery--as well as the actual birding that Muddy introduces Harley to. Perfect cover.

A few minor qualms.  I found it a bit annoying that Harley's friends tended to infantilized him--Finlay and Muddy joke about him as their "son" even though they are only three years older than he is.. The  fact that  he is very short and slight adds to this.  With its tight focus on the small group of five, the book feels a little claustrophobic and repetitive in the middle section.  The four friends continue doing what they've been doing for too long. Since everyone tells everyone else everything, Harley's unwillingness to talk about his mental health issues with his friends is not really motivated.  There is a long "Is he?" or "Isn't he?" trope through the book which has, for me, an unsatisfactory resolution.  The two female characters needed more depth.

Despite these qualms, I very much look forward to reading this author's next book!  Hi prose has a clear clean flow.
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Small Joys was an absolute delight of a novel! Harley was a sparkling main character and the supporting characters were also well fleshed out. This was very dark at times which makes sense due to how much the main character is going through. Despite that this is a gorgeous book about hope overall.
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SMALL JOYS is a delightful story that most definitely became a small joy the two days that it took me to read. We meet Harley during the darkest period of his life, struggling with anxiety and depression after dropping out of university and accompany him in his journey to find happiness with his found family: Chelsea, Noria, Finlay, and Muddy. 

Elvin James Mensah gave equal weight to the entire supporting cast, and manages to make all of them unique and interesting. Muddy is one of the loveliest characters I have read, making me hope that one day we could get a story of his own. Mensah’s descriptive way of writing Harley’s thoughts and feelings during his worst moments did feel a bit triggering, but they are never there just to be impactful, these moments feel importan to the story every time.
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A really lovely book. The protagonist and narrator, Harley, is a young Black British man whose African immigrant father subscribes to one of the more toxic forms of Christianity and threw him out; overcome by depression and anxiety, Harley has just dropped out of university and returned to live in the same flat he used to share with his friend Chelsea. But Harley's room has been let to a man named Muddy: joyful, kind, generous-hearted, a birder. Muddy happens to have interrupted Harley's contemplation of suicide, and he takes it on himself to befriend Harley and care for him.

That's a bad way of putting the matter, because it flattens Muddy out. He's lovely, and his affection for Harley helps Harley open himself to friendships with Chelsea's BFF Noria and Muddy's abrasive, obnoxious, but ultimately decent best friend Finley.

NGL, (view spoiler) That's not a fault in the book, it's just not where I would have liked the story to go. *shrug* Mensah does a wonderful job of exploring the relationships among the four friends, Chelsea's rocky relationship with Finley, and Harley's movement away from emotional and physical self-destructiveness. If I had a complaint it would be that Harley's pain and unhappiness could probably have been well conveyed without quite so many floods of tears, but when it came down to it I wasn't put off, so.

I really liked this cast of characters, as well: three of the four friends are working class; two are white, two are Black. They talk about hair, work, sex, music, rugby, birds; they swim and go bowling. Noria and Chelsea in particular are funny and sharp-tongued. Finley's a particularly unusual character because he really is kind of a jerk to begin with, but in a bull-in-a-china-shop-genuinely-meaning-no-harm way; he matures over the course of the book, partly because he loves Chelsea and partly because everyone brings him up short every time he says anything thoughtlessly homophobic, which he does about every five minutes. The scenes between him and Harley are priceless, especially once it's clear to Harley that Finley truly does care about him. At that point Harley starts calling him out sternly but hilariously and Finley's chagrin is pleasant to behold.

I should also add that Harley's terrible father doesn't stand as the lone Black British man other than Harley himself. Noria's father, who immigrated from Nigeria, is a kind man who likes Harley and adores his daughter, and the therapist Harley eventually lucks into is Black. No, none of this feels shoehorned, but just like the context Harley lives in.

All in all, Small Joys is a beautiful story of love and friendship. I'm looking forward to Mensah's future work. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
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