Cover Image: Small Joys

Small Joys

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Member Reviews

Small Joys is a touching story of the healing power of love and acceptance. Harley journeys from the isolation and deep loneliness of being rejected by both his father and the world , until he is embraced by a flawed but generous group of friends who help him navigate his way to joy and a better future.

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This book is unlike any book I’ve ever read—it’s an in-your-face journey of a Black gay man and his struggle for acceptance, but also involves a lot of bird watching?! The story takes place in the UK and focuses on our main character, Harley and his attempted suicide that was thwarted by his friend’s boyfriend. Harley is unsure what to make of his newfound friendship with Muddy because they’re very different. Muddy is straight, confident, and carefree. Muddy and Harley form a unique bond that I can tell you, every gay man wishes they could have with heterosexual men if they don’t have one already. However, this friendship isn’t without hurdles for the reader to uncover.

This book is not a romance. It’s a deep dive into mental health, self-acceptance, and friendship. This book talks about serious topics, but is done so in a very healthy and formative way. At times, this book is lighthearted and will put a smile on your face; but it can also have its moments of serious conflict that will leave you breathless. SMALL JOYS is a book I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

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Small Joys is a beautiful love letter to friendship and chosen family that feels tender and inviting from the first pages.

We meet Harley after an extremely rough stretch of untreated anxiety and depression that lead him to drop out of his first semester of college. Lost, embarrassed, and defeated, he finds his way home to a friend's spare room. Rather than plan his next steps, Small Joys opens as Harley is attempting to end his own life. Luckily, a boisterously friendly birder stumbles upon Harley and is able to disrupt his plan, setting a terribly uncomfortable meet-cute between Harley and his new roommate, Muddy.

Practically comedic-relief level opposites, Muddy and Harley's friendship blossoms through Mensah's debut into something unusual, beautiful, and strong. We slowly see Harley's walls lower as Muddy and their mutual friends challenge and support him. Unfortunately, no new friendship is a cure-all for a life of recurrent trauma. Despite his old friends and this wonderful new person in his life, Harley still finds himself facing his demons again and again.

Brimming with family trauma, suicidal ideation, and struggles with everything from mental health to sexuality, and racial identity, Small Joys contains much more than its title alludes to without feeling unbearably heavy. It does a great job of normalizing the kind of struggles that often feel burdensome to share with others while reminding us that we—ourselves and our friends, our chosen family—are so much more resilient and capable than our anxieties make us think.

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Small Joys is a wonderful quiet novel about mental illness, found families, and loving oneself. Harley is a black, English, gay man who has so far failed to launch. After being kicked out of his religious father’s house for his sexual orientation, and dropping out of uni due to depression, he finds himself sharing a flat with his friend Chelsea and her ex-boyfriend Muddy. What transpires between Muddy and Harley is a beautiful friendship where each is wholly and unequivocally accepted by the other for who they are, faults and all.

Although slow at times, Small Joys is a heartwarming story filled with hope despite themes of depression, sexuality, and suicide ideation. The characters of Harley, Finlay, and Muddy are both broken and adorable and you can’t help but want to reach into the pages and give them all giant hugs.

Highly recommended for fans of contemporary and LGBTQIA+ literature.

Thank you to Netgalley, Ballantine, and Elvin James Mensah for an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.

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4.25 stars

Small Joys is itself a small joy granted in my life. Endearing, heartwarming, insightful, and teeming with subtle profundities, this debut novel is hands-down a dazzler. Told from the point-of-view of Harley, a depressed, gay, twenty-something black man, this slice-of-life bildungsroman centers around the few months of his life spend closest to his newest acquaintance, Muddy.

Muddy is my favorite character, easily. Muddy is charming, funny, and genuine; he exudes an almost holy quality, and not just because he becomes a literal savior to Harley. I want Muddy in my life more than I have ever wanted a fictional character before.

All of the characters are hyper-realistic, and their lives totally believable. The pacing is excellent and the plot lines well executed. Though the prose itself is nothing special (I hate typing that because I love the story so much), I found myself wanting more from this author--any simple story will do!

Quietly impactful, Small Joys is a delight of a novel, and Elvin James Mensah is a new voice in literature to keep an eye on.

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Small Joys is an impressive debut and a gut-wrenching novel we all can manage to relate to, even if we have very little in common with the protagonist, Harley.

Harley is a young, socially anxious, gay Black man who carries much baggage from his emotionally abusive father and lonely upbringing.

Hailing from rural England, Harley struggles to fit in, and after dropping out of university due to his anxiety and depression, he finds himself forging a new path under the “wing” of the quirky, kindhearted bird-watcher, Muddy, who becomes his roommate and support system.

Small Joys is not action-packed, but it will tug at your heartstrings as it takes a look at friendship, trust, and what it means to have a place in this world.

I found myself rooting for Harley and for the characters in his community/family, and I give it 4 stars.

Thank you, NetGalley, for the ARC.

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4.5 stars.

An unexpectedly compelling, compassionate book that completely swept me away. Small Joys is not plot-driven by any means (the synopsis is pretty much covered in the first 40%) but instead is a character study in which we follow Harley develop deep, lasting friendships while also learning to live with depression and anxiety. In many ways, this is a novel about personhood: who you are, who you want to be, and who you can be depending on the people you're in relationships with. I was thrilled to read a book about a queer character that doesn't put romance front and center, as Mensah instead prioritizes the value of friendship and, in my opinion, queerplatonic relationships, as we see with Harley and Muddy—who was not only asexual but likely aromantic, and I felt so seen by the way his sexuality was approached. The only things I wished we'd gotten more of were Harley's time at university and where his interest in music journalism stemmed from, and how he met Noria, the only other Black person in their friend group. Overall, this was a quiet, introspective novel that will stick we me as an aroace reader.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Small Joys is about a gay black man with a terrible father, depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies. Harley meets Muddy (a bird watching rugby player) and Fin (a runner and bit of a meathead jock who is dating his friend). As the book progresses they both show how much they care about Harley and his feelings. The relationship with Muddy is so raw, honest and heartfelt. The relationship with Fin becomes deeper and meaningful as they trust each other.

This book is HEAVY but oh my goodness so good! At first I couldn't connect to the characters, as they were everything opposite of me. But then I enjoyed the incredible depth of the male bonding in this book. Harley is so special and some of his thoughts are just incredibly beautiful and eye opening. Muddy is the best friend a person can have and makes me want to be a better person. And the music references were so good and added to the feelings in the story!

"...watched him move through his tailored world, in which happiness was actually happiness and not simply an absence of sadness. It was such an active, potent form of it that I wondered if it was something that could be taught, a skill I could learn and maintain, like riding a bike."

4.25 stars, highly recommended!

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Thank you so much to the publisher and NetGalley for the eARC of this stunning debut. I absolutely adored this novel in every way, the story of Harley’s journey from isolated despair to happiness in the company of his wonderful friends. I wanted to be part of this friend group so badly: Harley, Muddy, Finn, Chelsea, and Noria, all in their early 20s in 2005 England, muddling through life and love together. The prose is just perfect, easy to read and still taking your breath away with its beauty. And the relationship between Harley and Muddy just made my heart explode. Seriously, you need to read this book, either now as an eARC if you can get your hands on it, or when it’s released in April. Ahhhh. <insert 5,000 heart emojis here> Can’t wait to read the author’s next novel.

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CW: mental illness, homophobia, suicide attempt, and emotional abuse

Small Joys was the story of Harley and his struggles with mental health. He recently dropped out of university where his feelings of depression and anxiety overwhelmed him to the point he was unable to attend classes. He felt like a failure, unlovable, and worthless. Harley moved back to his hometown and back into the flat he once shared with a close friend, Chelsea. Muddy, Chelsea's ex-boyfriend and now friend, was a flatmate also. Muddy noticed Harley spent a lot of time in his room, made disparaging remarks about himself, and didn't have many friends. He made it his mission to involve Harley in any activities he or his friends were doing in hopes of showing Harley he was wanted as a friend. Chelsea and her friends, Noria and Finlay, also made plans with Harley to show him he was valued as person. As time went by, Harley began to heal and see his worth.

I felt the author did a very good job of writing the characters in the story. I could feel the sadness Harley felt and Muddy's determination not to let Harley feel alone and unwanted. There were times in this book when I felt such anger at his father and such joy when Harley began to find his way. I was happy when he took the steps to seek professional help. The story was slow at first, but picked up for me in the second half. The ending was lovely and hopeful. I would love to see a novel with Muddy as the main character. I enjoyed this debut novel by Elvin James Mensah and look forward to reading more of his work.

I received an e-ARC for Small Joys and want to thank Elvin James Mensah, Ballantine Books, and NetGalley for the opportunity to voluntarily read and give an honest review of this book. I plan to post my review to my Goodreads, Instagram, StoryGraph, and accounts the week of March 26, 2023.

Small Joys is set to be released April 11, 2023.

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Small Joys by Elvin James Mensah

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Small Joys. It is Elvin James Mensah's debut novel. This is a story about the loving friendship between Harley and Muddy. The story is raw, touching, and heartfelt. Despite each character's unique traits, they come together in meaningful scenes. This beautiful story of imperfect friendship left a lasting impression on me as a reader. It is a wonderful debut and I look forward to reading more.

Small Joy is available on April 11th. (4.25/5)

Thank you NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine, for sharing this incredible friendship. I appreciate your kindness.

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this book is the author's debut and it shows. don't get me wrong, i enjoy my reading experience with this prose but at the end of the day, it was just another book in my read's pile. it was an okay book
i was expecting more.

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Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group- Ballantine for the advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review. This is the author’s first book and I enjoyed the story of Harley, a young gay black man. This is about him coming to terms with being gay despite his religious dad’s protests. He meets a group of friends who are more like family and starts to find himself. I’ll read more by this author in the future!

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I found this book touching, compelling, and eye opening in so many ways. This isn’t a storyline I would normally pick but I am so glad I did. 5 very enthusiastic stars.

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3.75 star
What a great debut. This is a very hopeful story about a Black gay man who faces mental health and relationship (family & romantic) hardships.
Harley has a a homophobic single father who kicked him out when he was younger and believes he can be changed.
Harley has a sexual arrangement with an older white man who is both homophobic and racist. He accepts this because he wants to be looked at and touched with desire.
Muddy and Finley are loud, rough housing best friends. Muddy has a big passion for bird watching and it serves as something calming for the story. It also shows Muddy’s gentleness and carefulness around things that frighten easily.
Harley and Muddy’s relationship is so endearing. Their friendship and maybe something more is refreshing. Things aren’t rushed and everything moves realistically.
The discussions around mental health and being a Black gay man is so significant.
This is a not a book about a person who constantly suffers and ends hopelessly. He is actively trying to get better and growing his relationships with his friends. He opens up to them and they are there for every step of the way. He seeks professional help (medication and therapy).
Quotes I really appreciate:
“Anxiety and queerness and failure only served to make further unrecognizable as a black man to him”
“…in handing over these pieces of myself, I could sustain his interest in me, that maybe one day this interest would blossom into him seeing me as more than just a submissive body with brown skin”
“ ‘I feel like I been looking after you since I met you.’ There was relief in his voice. ‘You know,” he continued. ‘I watched you, “

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4.5 stars rounded down.

This is a small, cozy, lovely coming of age book about a Black queer 21 year old in 2005 (why in 2005? that remains a mystery to me but i didn't hate it. solid year honestly), and his group of friends and friendfamily. It was deeply queer and really humanized men and their friendships in a way that worked very well for me. It's about mental health and loss and how we save ourselves and each other. I can't wait till everyone can read this.

NetGalley ARC, unbiased review.

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What a beautiful book. It is a quiet book... not packed with action but that is appropriate. It takes you into the journey of Harley, a black gay man, as he deals with his anxiety and depression and begins to find self acceptance. This is not a gay romance story... it is an intimate journey through one man's mental health issues and the impact they have on his life. Topics touched on are family rejection, suicidal ideation, toxic relationships, identity and friendship. Through it all, we see Harley experience the Small Joys of life and how they impact his recovery. For a debut novel, it has great depth, vulnerability and heart. I look forward to more from this author.

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Wow, I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did! There are not many things better (and more important) in this world than a friendship filled with comfort and love. The author did such a tremendous job portraying how a beautiful opening up and connecting to someone can literally transform a life. This book deals with many heavy topics, so read the content warnings before diving in. I felt so much hurt, so much love, and eventually so much hope for our main character, Harley. The friendship that develops between him and Muddy is nothing short of magic, and the writing style was so beautiful and portrayed every emotion in such a raw, heartfelt way. I felt all the feelings, cried (more like sobbed) all the tears, and finished the book feeling optimistic and looking at life and people through a new lens. This was a phenomenal debut and I'm excited to read the author's future works.

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"I'd always felt like a weed growing among flowers, competing for light and water: too neglected to be picked, but somehow too weak to be a threat to anything. But, in the end, these flowers had given me something, they'd arranged themselves around me, and made me feel as if I were one of their own" (Mensah, 2023).

Mensah's Small Joys follows Harley as he moves back to rural England and comes face-to-face with the challenges he has desperately tried to leave behind. Harley finds that his current life is not worth living and makes a decision to end his life. However, he is ultimately saved - in more ways than one - by his fellow flatmate, Muddy. Muddy ends up showing Harley that life is worth living and worth second chances at happiness. Despite their differences, the two become fast friends. Small Joys is a heartwarming story about growth, acceptance, and finding your "people."

I'll be honest, I almost gave up on this about 30% of the way through. It was moving so slowly and did not seem to be going anywhere. I sympathized with Harley and felt his pain, but at times, it just felt whiny. However, once I hit the halfway point, I was fully invested in Harley and Muddy's journey. Their friendship is one that everyone needs to have in their life. There are quite a few sensitive topics in the novel (self-harm, mental illness, homophobia, abuse), so if those are an issue, I would pass on this one. Also, if you are not English and are not up-to-date on your slang, be prepared to be a little confused at times. It is very slang heavy - but only requires you to re-read a sentence once or twice to get a general idea.

Overall, this gets a 3/5 due to the pacing and heavy English slang. If you are looking for a good LGBTQIA+ book, give this one a try!

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Honestly it was difficult for me to get into the book due to its slow start. I may not be the right audience for this book, however I do see it being successful and I know there will be readers who will love this book more than me. I do look forward to the author’s future works.

Thank you to Netgalley and publisher for e-arc.

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