Cover Image: Small Joys

Small Joys

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Member Reviews

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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As much as I wanted to enjoy this book, it just wasn't for me. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with it, but I just couldn't get into it. Even though the plot was one that is interesting, I just found myself bored through the book, and it was a struggle to finish it. Unfortunately, you can't love them all. Thank you, NetGalley for the eARC. 2 stars.

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This is a love story, but not a romance. Harley is facing the challenges of being a gay black man in England in 2005. Complicating matters is the extreme religious devotion of his father. Harley returns from University to spend the summer with his friends and learns to love and be loved. There are several uncomfortable scenes where Harley explores his sexuality with an unsafe partner. By that point, the reader is already invested in his life and fears for his well being. Elvin James Mansah's debut novel develops like real friendships develop with starts and stops and misunderstandings. When the book ends, you will miss the characters, which is one sign of a good story. I look forward to seeing what Mensah creates next.

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This book is all the feelings - sad, funny, heartbreaking, hopeful. You will feel it all. This is the story of a young, gay, black man that wants nothin more than to be loved and to matter to someone. His group of friends and found family had Sally Rooney vibes to me - 20 somethings that do nothing and everything together. So grateful to have read this beautiful book.

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This debut novel centers around a young, Black gay man in Britain. The experiences the young man endures cause him to be suicidal. He becomes infatuated with one of his flatmates as they spend time together bird watching.

The author’s writing style gives the reader a glimpse into British society. Through dialogue and descriptions the reader becomes immersed into everyday Britain. The pace of the novel is slow with not a lot of resolution to the story lines. Because of the pacing, some readers may grow impatient with the novel.

I was sent a digital copy of this book by the publisher, Penguin Random House via Netgalley.

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A story about two friends that find each other on the worst day of one of their lives. As titled, this book is full of small joys as we read about a new friendship blossoming.

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This is such a delightful book that I hoped it would never end! Harley drops out of university and rooms with Muddy and several other charming and quirky roommates. Muddy is a birdwatcher which confuses but also intrigues Harley. Chelsea, Finlay, and Noria are all part of the friend group and there are such funny moments! But Harley has trouble with his father who refuses to believe when Harley comes out to him as he himself has been fired for homophobia. This is one of those books where you laugh, you cry, you may want to hit a wall ,but you can't stop reading! So sweet
Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

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"Life could still feel wonderful, I thought, even if it really wasn't"

Harley, whose never really fit in, recently dropped out of Uni and moved back to his small English hometown. Struggling with with depression and feelings of self worth he seeks out the few people he had connections with before college. In walks Muddy, a new roommate, who completely changes his life. This novel is such a powerful story of friendship, of finding those <i>small joys</i> that make it worth living.
"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."
I loved the way this story unfolded and the honest and raw look at how depression can be so isolating and how it can twist the way you value yourself and others.

Thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine books for allowing me an ARC. All opinions are honest and mine alone.

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Oh this book. What a debut novel. It's heartbreaking and hopeful and so so beautiful. Despite the dark and heavy themes, there is always a glimmer of light and hope.

Harley is navigating through anxiety, depression, and an overwhelming sense of being unworthy. He drops out of university and is adrift. He keeps everything to himself but as his friend group slowly expands, he slowly opens up. His friends keep showing up and giving him support and unconditional love that he didn't expect but always longed for. Everyone should have a friend like Muddy who lights up a room and draws everyone into that light with him.

This is a book that will resonate in my heart and head for quite a while.

*I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine, Ballantine Books and I am required to disclose that in my review in compliance with federal law.

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Truly beautiful story of friendship and found family, of loving yourself and being able to receive love from others. The frank and moving depiction of crippling depression and anxiety was inspiring, but the absolute genius of the story was in the simple truth of friendship. Would that we all had a Muddy in our lives, though I’ll bet many of us have awfully something close, whether we realize it or not.

Cry in front of someone. Hug somebody. Check up on a friend. We’re all just one real encounter away from heaven or our own hell.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my free copy. These opinions are my own.

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