Hello! I’m Joy, and I love to read. I consider it my greatest talent and favorite hobby. Another one of my preferred pastimes is recommending books to anyone who is the least bit curious. Seriously. I am always volunteering book recs to people near me, whether they ask or not. I thought it would be fun to bring this passion to Baton Rouge Parents Magazine. I will share with you every book I read month by month and what I think about them. You can also follow my Bookstagram account on Instagram at @joyfulreadswithjoy
Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu
Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu is a sweeping story that spans continents, decades, wars, perspectives, and emotions. This novel truly captures what trauma, PTSD, and political fear can do to multiple generations of a family. Fu creates this story of a devoted Chinese widow, her dutiful son, and his precocious daughter as they navigate their lives. Fu focuses on the journey of Meilin and Renshu as they flee Japanese invasion and Communist takeover from the 1930s-1950s. This novel is beautiful and heartbreaking.
Summary: Meilin is a young mother, proud of her loving husband and lovely life in 1930s China. When her husband dies in battle and the Japanese start to move closer, she and her four-year-old son are forced to flee and begin a series of moves for the next 20 years. Renshu receives a scholarship to study in the U.S. during the Cold War. Here, Renshu’s adult story begins as he starts his American life as Henry Dao, Chinese American immigrant. As political complications increase in Taiwan and China, Henry feels more isolated and conflicted. His biracial daughter, Lily, takes over the narration as a teenager while she develops and finds her identity. We get to know three voices of the Dao family, and believe me, I grew to love all three of them.
The first half of this novel reminded me of Pachinko, but Henry’s experience in America became an introspective journey into the “double consciousness” many immigrants face. Fu portrays the strained relationship between a father who wants to protect his daughter and a daughter who wants to know more about her father and his heritage. Incredible tale and breathtaking debut by Melissa Fu.
The Guncle by Steven Rowley
I want to give this book a giant hug. Unfortunately, it’s digital, but I hugged it with my heart. The Guncle by Steven Rowley completely took me by surprise. My friend @madelines.shelf recommended it, and so after months of contemplating reading it, I downloaded it from Libby! Initially I really dug the wittiness and Emily Henry vibes, but soon it morphed into a really beautiful exploration of grief and healing.
Summary: Patrick O’Hara is a former TV star nearly retired in Palm Springs when his widowed brother asks him to do the unthinkable: keep his two kids for the summer. Gay Uncle Patrick isn’t sure he’s up for this challenge, but soon Maisie and Grant are on his doorstep, in his pool, and consuming his whole life. Patrick, Maisie, and Grant are a trio for the ages, and their adorable relationship blooms in the scorching desert sun. As the weeks pass, Patrick deals with his own grief and guides the kids through theirs.
Five Stars! Here’s the thing: I rate books by how much they make me feel, how attached I get to the characters, how fast I fly through the pages, and how much I think about the book. The Guncle really did it for me. Great humor, lively settings, gorgeous character development, and lovely prose about grief make this a must read! Perfect for spring or summer.
Tell Me Everything by Erika Krouse
Part memoir and part legal/true crime investigation, Tell Me Everything is an intense commentary on sexual assault trauma and systemic rape culture. On one hand, it’s the reflections of a sexual assault survivor finding her way to healing, but the other side is the same survivor investigating a college football team’s rape and harassment scandal. Erika Krouse writes with raw vulnerability about her own pain while investigating the pain and trauma of other young women. Her prose is beautiful and breathtaking while also being haunting and at times, stifling.
Summary: Erika Krouse is working temp jobs while trying to keep her writing career afloat. In a chance encounter she meets Grayson, a litigator who has recently taken on a class action lawsuit against the university in their small Colorado town. Impressed with her ability to listen and her face that provokes others to confess, Grayson hires Erika as his private investigator. Her task? Dig up every witness that can prove the football team and university are responsible for covering up multiple sexual assaults by football players. As she embarks on this five year mission, Erika also confronts the lasting trauma from her own sexual assault.
Four Stars! I was fascinated with the investigation of the University of Colorado rape scandal 2001-2006. This lawsuit changed Title IX at colleges around the country and began a serious shift in how college sexual assaults are treated. At times, the memoir was tough to read because of the author’s constant self-denigration, but I understand she wanted to show the damage of her abuse. This is a powerful and insightful book about the ramifications of rape and rape culture. My favorite parts were the history of investigation and background on issues.
True Biz by Sara Nović
I devoured this brilliant novel by Sara Nović. This coming-of-age tale set in a Deaf boarding school is also a fierce manifesto for protecting Deaf culture, education, and community. Nović propels her readers into this world with three strong narrators who give us a glimpse into very different perspectives of Deaf life. A CODA headmistress of the deaf school, a language-deprived rebellious new girl, and a golden boy of impeccable Deaf lineage make this story a captivating and meaningful read. The result is a page turner that is immersive in more ways than one. Each point of view has such value and wisdom.
Summary: February, the head of River Valley School for the Deaf, is at a crossroads in her marriage and career. She is faced with making hard choices in the midst of dealing with grief and an unknown future. Charlie, the new girl, is suddenly in a world of Deafness that she has been kept from her whole life. Mainstreamed with a cochlear implant, Charlie has missed out on learning ASL and understanding Deaf culture when she joins RVSD. She encounters Austin, a deaf legacy who rules the school with his charm and intelligence. His world is rocked when instability enters his family. All three characters find their way as their worlds crash around them.
FIVE STARS! True Biz is the most important book I’ve read in a while about a marginalized culture. Deaf culture is portrayed so well in this novel, and I think it’s incredibly important for Hearing readers to dive into this searing truth from Sara Nović. I have briefly encountered the Deaf community through amazing people and writing, and this book hit on all the huge issues that The Deaf world is facing. At the same time, it’s a universal story of change, self-determination, community, and identity. Also: ASL and Deaf history included!
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
I had zero expectations for this novel. I had been seeing it everywhere for a while, and I finally checked it out from my library. Oh my gosh! What a fun ride! I whipped through these pages so fast, eager to know what was going on. If you’re up for a quick page turner that’s a little John Grisham, a little Liane Moriarty, this is for you.
Summary: Hannah Michaels is shocked one afternoon when she is given a note from her missing husband that only says, “Protect Her.” He has disappeared, and now she and her 16 year-old stepdaughter have to uncover the truth about this man who was hiding much more than they could have imagined. Together they chase leads until they discover the truth, which is a danger that has them entangled in a much larger web than thought possible. From Sausalito to Austin, this Laura Dave novel takes you on a mysterious trip rife with family drama.
FOUR STARS! I have seen this described as a thriller, but it’s more like a family secret mystery. The plot is paced well, and the characters develop along the way. Though mostly chronological, Dave uses flashbacks to drop clues and hints for the reader as Hannah pieces everything together. This is going to be a series on Apple, and Jen Garner is going to play Hannah. Looking forward to that adaptation! Relevant topics addressed: fraud (Theranos vibes), organized crime, tech stuff, stepmom issues, family dynamics, and relationships.