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 reads 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. Let’s get started! You can also follow me on Instagram at @joyfulreadswithjoy!
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng is a remarkable and prescient novel that is both unsettling and beautiful. As a fan of Ng’s other novels, I greatly anticipated this 2022 novel, and I was not disappointed. Although Our Missing Hearts takes place in a dystopian America, it really feels so close to our present reality. This is a book about family, story, rebellion, friendship, hope, and love told in three distinct parts.
Summary: Bird is a bright yet lonely twelve-year-old boy in Cambridge who lives with his Harvard-employed father. His Asian American poet mother left them three years ago, but she is reaching out to her son through obscure clues. America has become a Big Brother/fascist state that censors books, media, languages, and targets Asian people and Asian influences in every form. Any family deemed unpatriotic can have their children taken and rehomed. Art installations are popping up everywhere as acts of resistance. Bird journeys to find his mother, and he learns of the truth and the individuals of the resistance working to do what is right.
Celeste Ng is such a brilliant writer who imbued so much of what is historical and what is current into this work that it feels a little too real. The threat of having your children taken is so terrifying, and the idea of having no ability to protest and question is also frightening. One of my favorite parts of this novel is the power of the library, the book, poetry, and story. These characters will stay with you. I promise. Perfect book for a book club! Lots to talk about!
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
What an exceptional and sensational novel. Memphis is a multi-generational saga of the North women, a family of strong women who suffer and celebrate in the Southern city. This novel is brilliant and beautiful and heartbreaking, like most of what I read, but on another level. So intimate and personal!
Summary: Joan North, the first person narrator, flees from her North Carolina home with her mother, Miriam, and sister, Mya, to Memphis in 1995. Her mother is looking for refuge from her abusive husband. Miriam and her daughters stay with August, Miriam’s sister, in their parents’ stately home. The home is a place of consistency, but also pain for the family. Each woman shares her voice and experience of pivotal moments in the family. Joan, a gifted artist, paints the powerful women around her and finds a way to utilize her unique power and express her trauma.
Imbued with distinct multi-dimensional characters, Memphis is so captivating that I truly believe these women are living and breathing in Memphis today. Tara M. Stringfellow writes with precision and eloquence, yet illuminates her prose with a familiarity that connects with her audience. I absolutely love this book, and though it is one of my last of 2022, it is one of my favorites. Also includes non-linear timelines, several decades, multiple POVs.
Warning: Domestic violence, sexual assault, and gun violence.
A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham
I don’t read many thrillers, but A Flicker in the Dark was nominated for Book of the Month Book of the Year, and I got it for free. I was interested in this because it takes place in Baton Rouge, where I’m from and currently live. This thriller is psychologically deep, trauma aware, and exceptionally detailed. It kept me guessing and questioning, even doubting the narrator at times. Stacy Willingham approaches the true crime/thriller genre from the child of a serial killer’s perspective. She excellently explains the trauma, fear, guilt, and confusion that her protagonist experiences.
Summary: Psychologist Chloe Davis has spent the last twenty years trying to recover and heal from the summer that her father killed six girls. Her past still haunts her, even though she is engaged and successful in her career. Shockingly, a girl turns up missing in Baton Rouge almost twenty years to the date of her father’s first victim. Another girl disappears soon after, and Chloe chases theory after theory while in a self-medicated haze. Who is this killer? Why do the girls have something to do with Chloe? Twists and heartbreaks ensue.
Willingham gives her characters dimension and fully developed interior lives. She employs paranoia, misdirection, clues, disorientation, and complex family dynamics in her mystery. If you love thrillers, put this on your list, and if you’re like me and occasionally like a good mystery, this is a great read. In this time of true crime interest, thinking of how the crimes affect the families of the perpetrators is original and fascinating.
Warning: domestic violence, attempted suicide, and strangulation