Joyful Reads with Joy January 2023 Edition
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!
The Rewind by Allison Winn Scotch
First book of 2023! The Rewind by Allison Winn Scotch is a nostalgic rom-com set in Massachusetts on New Year’s Eve, 1999. The plot follows a former couple, who in Hangover-style, try to piece together the forgotten night before that resulted in them waking up in bed together. Winn Scotch employs this plot device to develop her main characters and help them to grow.
Summary: Frankie and Ezra were the ideal college couple at Middleton in the late 1980s. After a catastrophic breakup on the steps of their beloved college library, the pair does not talk for ten years. On New Year’s, 1999, they uncomfortably reunite for their friends’ wedding rehearsal dinner. After a mysterious night of mishaps, they wake up together with wedding rings on. Frankie and Ezra revisit their highs and lows of their relationship as they try to reconstruct the night’s events. Introspection and evaluation lead to marvelous maturity and understanding amid the laughable mistakes.
This was a cute way to start the year, even though it didn’t blow me away. I describe this as a delightful Netflix romcom, not a classic, but enjoyable, sweet, and pleasant. The Rewind reminded me of Serendipity meets The Hangover.
Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach
This novel was an unexpected and emotional journey. I started reading this on my phone with my Libby app, and it quickly sucked me in. A mix of grief, humor, coming-of-age, confession, and love, Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance is unlike anything I’ve read.
Summary: Sally and Kathy are close sisters growing up in Connecticut. They talk about everything and can be their weird selves with each other. Sally is thirteen when her adored big sister dies in a car accident. Sally and her family struggle with grief while she also goes through her teen and college years. The one person she is totally herself with is Billy, her sister’s boyfriend. Their friendship sustains both of them for fifteen years. No one knows the depth of their pain and the depth of their love.
Allison Espach tells a moving story from sister to sister that is so honest and candid that it feels so real. This novel is weird, funny, sad, sweet, and so brave. The dialogue carries the story into dark and odd places, but reflects how strange we are all with the people who know us best. Honest narrative about loss and love that I will remember for a long time.
Warning: Sibling loss and car accident death
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
Astonishing! This novel is transporting and beautiful. Malinda Lo crafts San Francisco in the 1950s so expertly that I completely believed I was there with Lily and Kath. Last Night at the Telegraph Club develops themes of self-discovery, second generation belonging, young love, queer identity, family expectations, and cultural loyalty in gorgeous detail and insight.
Summary: Lily Hu is a senior in high school in San Francisco in 1954. Living in Chinatown, she is juggling her family expectations as a “good Chinese girl” and her burgeoning identity in a time in which both lesbians and Chinese Americans are marginalized and under government surveillance. Lily dreams of a career in jet propulsion and science. She connects with Kath, the only other girl in her advanced math class, and they discover they both have unorthodox goals for young women of their time. As their friendship matures, they realize their feelings for one another while they embark on adventures at the Telegraph Club. Lily discovers herself and by the end, she finds her voice and strength.
The marvel of this book is how well-researched and nuanced and fresh the story and characters are. The prose is stunning, dialogue is realistic, the settings are captivating, and the characterization is so complex. I absolutely loved the time and place and historical layers of this book, and I recommend it to anyone interested in Chinese American history, LGBTQ history, YA, or anyone who just loves to escape into a text. FYI, this is categorized as YA, but I would classify it as older YA or adult.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
This dystopian classic is not for the faint of heart. It is rough when it comes to violent content. It is brilliant. This year is the thirtieth anniversary of Parable of the Sower, and it is unbelievable how prophetic Octavia Butler was. Similar to The Road and Station Eleven, this novel takes place in a ravaged, nightmare version of America. However, the characters are dynamic and lovable, and the seeds of hope and community are unforgettable.
Summary: Lauren Olamina has hyper empathy syndrome in a dangerous and violent dystopian California. She feels and shares anyone’s pain near her. She and her preacher father live with their family in a walled community, learning and preparing for survival. Lauren begins writing her own verses for a new religion, Earthseed. As she discovers her new faith, life changes around her, forcing her to put her faith into action and build her new world amid the catastrophic chaos.
The prescience of this novel is almost spooky. Butler details all of the natural disasters, climate change, corruption, violence, and instability that causes the horrific reality her characters inhabit. Lauren and her friends/followers all have value and hope. This is a tough read, but the whole of it is beautiful. It’s bleak and dark, yet marvelous in its scope and realism. A must read for those who can handle it. It’s not for everyone, but I see why it’s so praised. Parable of the Talents next!
Warning: graphic violence, drug use, sexual assault, fire