Cover Image: Small Joys

Small Joys

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Member Reviews

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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