Cover Image: Small Joys

Small Joys

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Member Reviews

At its core, a good story about friendship with relatable characters. Overall, it's fine, very British.

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I enjoyed the description of mental health and the portrayal of the struggles that come with that in this novel. I also enjoyed the male friendships portrayed between straight men and gay men as that isn't often shown in books. There was not much plot and I think the story stalled out at points. The story was very British lol

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Small Joys by Elvin James Mensah is a special book that explores complex topics but also focuses on themes of kindness, acceptance, and found family. The setting and time period is pitch perfect with strong character development.

Many thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for sharing this book with me. All thoughts are my own.

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I had quite a hard time finishing this book. It was very slow paced for the whole book, despite the highest highs and lowest lows. Muddy's friendship provides such an extreme amount of support and love, and although I loved Muddy's willingness to help and support those who need it the most, it almost felt unrealistic.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC.

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Harley is depressed. He’s quit college and moved back home to his rural town in England. He’s on the verge of making a tragic decision when he is interrupted by his new roommate, Muddy. Muddy is the polar opposite of Harley; freewheeling, confident, masculine, and presumably heterosexual, he pulls Harley into his orbit and friend group. With his relentless positivity, zest for life, and love of birds, Muddy brings light back to Harley’s life–until the past threatens to darken it again.

I adored this novel of found family and finding meaning in small things. The friends are each different and have their own struggles, but the way these working-class 20-somethings show up, accept, and stay for one another–especially Harley–is remarkable. I loved their dynamic, I loved Muddy, and I didn’t want this to end. There are some triggers here, with Harley’s depression, but I was smiling throughout so much of this book.

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Special thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I absolutely loved this book. The characters were so realistic and I especially loved the main character. His voice was so unique and the perspective is one that is greatly lacking in popular media. This book was diverse in the best ways and none of the characters felt like a stereotype.

At times this book felt slow and I'm not the biggest fan of first-person POV, but I would overall highly recommend this book.

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Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! No spoilers. Beyond amazing I enjoyed this book so very much. The characters and storyline were fantastic. The ending I did not see coming Could not put down nor did I want to. Truly Amazing and appreciated the whole story. This is going to be a must read for many many readers. Maybe even a book club pick. Our library purchased and our patrons have been checking out and and enjoying the book. I see it is a popular book club choice as well we hope to have more oppurtinies to support authors like them

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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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