book review: The Secret of Joy

Title: The Secret of Joy
Author: Melissa Senate
ISBN: 978-1439107171
Pages: 352
Publisher: Downtown Press (November 17, 2009)
Category: women’s fiction
Review source: publisher
Rating: 4/5

People had been telling her of their tragedies and triumphs since preschool. With pinky promises and crossed hearts and swearing on various boyfriends’ lives not to tell (and Rebecca never did: she was a supreme keeper of secrets), she would hear stories of parents divorcing, of older sisters getting pregnant, of letting a boy unhook a bra. When she’s started working, she’d spent her lunch hours listening to all sorts of family dysfunction, of boyfriends, fiancés, and husbands who wanted this or didn’t want that. But then her mother had died and Rebecca had lost her way and trailed along in her dad’s career as a real-estate attorney—for too long.

The Secret of Joy takes an interesting approach to a topic not often addressed. What happens when a 28-year-old woman finds out from her dying father that she has a younger sister? Rebecca Strand longed for a sister all her life and now gets hit with a double blow: her father is dying but she has a long-lost sister living in Maine. He had an affair when Rebecca was two. She has endless questions about what this woman looks like and what she does and would she like her? Rebecca knows that she must meet her. Her father instructs her about a locked box he has kept in which she finds letters that he wrote to Joy on her birthday but never mailed. The Manhattan paralegal, in a two-year passionless relationship with Michael, takes her bereavement leave to find this sister, box of letters at her side. Rebecca is impulsive and idealistic. Her sister Joy is skeptical and practical. She’s a singles group tour planner. Rebecca throws herself into Joy’s life without giving Joy much of a chance to make any decisions. No matter how many times Joy turns her away, Rebecca determinedly returns. Before too long, Rebecca has new friends in Wicasset, Maine and even a blossoming love affair and she’s renting a house. She also has no desire to return to Manhattan. Maine provides another character for The Secret of Joy, as anyone who has visited knows. The people are genuine and welcoming, in no rush to be anywhere and generally sweet and comforting. At first, I thought, how realistic is it that she is embraced so quickly but then realized it’s small town Maine. Of course they would welcome someone as open and caring as Rebecca.

She glanced back at Rebecca. “Really. He’s nothing to me but biology and DNA. My mother married a very nice man when I was nine. He helped raise me. Why would I be interested in some stranger who couldn’t even face up to the most basic of responsibilities?”

With both her parents dead, she desperately wants a family and in that she wants her sister. Even if her sister doesn’t quite believe in the whole DNA makes us sisters argument. Joy resents their father for abandoning her and her mother completely. Joy says a sperm donor does not make a father. A father has to be present in someone’s life. [And I can understand this as my parents divorced when I was around six and my father disappeared. My mother remarried when I was 12 and I even changed my name when I was 23. My biological father reappeared during my adult years and it turned out that he ran a magazine. You would think this would be the perfect opportunity for his writer daughter to re-connect with her publisher father but he had never changed. He was still a deadbeat. So I would be just like Joy. Very unsure of what to expect.] Rebecca intends to make up for her father’s faults. Through touching moments, realistic situations and real people to which anyone can relate, Melissa Senate has created a book that will provide much debate on the subject of parenthood, siblings, and familial relationships. I’ve never had a sister but writers adore writing about the bond between sisters. In this one, the reader never knows whether Rebecca and Joy will ever find a common bond or a place at which to begin to mend that past that their father tore apart decades ago. The Secret of Joy provides an astute outlook on sisters, a subject that many women’s fiction books adore to cover.

Thank you to Sarah Reidy and Pocket Book Blog Tours.

Buy The Secret of Joy at an Indie Bookseller

–review by Amy Steele

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