Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review: The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate

While Rebecca sits at her dying father's bedside, he confides in her the fact that she has a half-sister, the product of an affair he had when Rebecca was just a toddler herself. Then he directs her to a safe deposit box that contains letters written but never sent to her half-sister Joy on each of Joy's 26 birthdays. In her grief, Rebecca cannot wrap her brain around the idea of her father, who had always claimed her mother was the love of his life, having an affair and turning his back on both the pregnant woman he abandoned and the child they created. And so she decides to search out Joy, her only remaining family, in the picturesque town where it all happened. But Joy hasn't been daydreaming about her half-sister and she just wants Rebecca to go away. She has more than enough stress in her life without a long-lost sister showing up unannounced on her doorstep. So much for an instant bond of sisterhood.

While Rebecca tries to absorb (and overcome) Joy's reluctance to be drawn into Rebecca's life, she is also trying to sort out her feelings for her live-in boyfriend. She loves Michael's mother and cares for him but she just doesn't know if loving a future mother-in-law is enough on which to build a hypothetical future marriage. Michael is having trouble understanding Rebecca's need to be in Maine near Joy when he thinks she should come home to New York, him, and the paralegal job at his divorce mediation firm that she detests instead. Obviously communication issues abound between Rebecca and Michael. And that might be another of her reasons for staying in Maine.

As Rebecca tries to understand Joy's position on their shared father, she must also examine her own stagnant relationship with Michael and the promising relationship with Theo that seems to be developing in up there in Wicasset. But Rebecca isn't the only one examining the meanings of commitment, marriage, and loyalty. Joy runs a singles tour company whose best customers are the divorced wives of Wicasset and Rebecca, who would prefer to be a therapist who helps people reconcile than a paralegal who helps mediate divorces, steps in to try and help these entertainingly endearing women and then to help the couples who go on a Rocky Couples weekend also under the aegis of Joy's company. This variety of characters gives Senate the opportunity to showcase many different examples of marriage and commitment.

The plot lines here run seamlessly, all having equal importance and none overshadowing the others. The characters are all thoroughly interesting and unique and I found that I really liked and sympathized with both Rebecca and Joy. The one slightly unreal character was probably Theo in that he was just a little too good to be true but don't we all need a little of that kind of magical and omniscient person in our lives sometimes?

The writing itself flowed nicely and kept me turning the pages because I needed to see how the characters would all get to the right (and best) place in their lives. One of the conventions that helped suck me into the narrative so easily was Senate's use of Rebecca's father's letters to Joy. I was initially frustrated not to be able to read all of them in one fell swoop but the way they were spaced out just ended up enticing me all the more. And I do generally like the use of correspondence in novels.

This novel examines some pretty deep subjects in it and the characters don't come to any easy answers. Ultimately they must all decide what feels good and right to them and what they can and are willing to accept from a partner, just as in real life. This was definitely a feel good book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I sat down with this and before I knew it, the book was finished in one short afternoon. It was definitely a book to devour greedily, even as it has left me a lot to think about post reading.

Be sure to check out the other blogs on this blog tour and see if they felt the same way about this book as I did:

Books, Movies & Chinese Food
Booking Mama
Frugal Plus
All About {n}
Brizmus Blogs Books
Psychotic State
Books Reviews by Buuklvr81
Starting Fresh
A Sea of Books
That’s A Novel Idea
Book Junkie
My Book Views
Drey’s Library
Me, My Book & the Couch
Just Another New Blog
One Person’s Journey Through A World of Books
Booksie’s Blog
Keep on Booking
My Life In Not So Many Words
Beth’s Book Review Blog
My Reading Room
My Book Addiction and More
Crazy For Books
Bella’s Novella
Blog Business World
Reading at the Beach
My Friend Amy
Book Magic
The Life (and Lies) of an Inanimate Flying Object
So Many Books, So Little Time
Jeanne's Ramblings
Red Headed Book Child
Reading with Tequila
Books, Gardens, and Dogs
Jens Book Talk
My Own Little Corner of the World
Lit and Life
Entertainment Realm

Thanks so much to Sarah at Pocket Books for sending me the review copy of this book.


  1. This book sounds really good. I'll keep it in mind for when my TBR tower is a little more under control. (HA! I wish!)

    Diary of an Eccentric

  2. I love books that make me think! This one sounds so good.

  3. The great thing about your blog, Kristen, is that I would never in a million years have picked up that book. But your review makes me think I would really enjoy it. In fact, I recognize the cover as one I didn't even pick up at my local bookstore that I spend over an hour a week in (gotta fill those kids' Judo classes somehow!)


  4. I have this one and I'm looking forward to reading it. I like the idea of letters in a novel. Great review!


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