So, enough with all this BEA stuff, already, right? It's time to get back in bed with my review backlog which keeps adding up because, um, I keep reading books. Hard to believe, isn't it?
Actually, I'm very excited to be talking about Erica Bauermeister's new book Joy for Beginners. I really enjoyed her debut, The School of Essential Ingredients, so imagine my glee when Erica herself wrote me with an offer of her newest. It had big shoes to fill to follow in the footsteps of The School of Essential Ingredients, and I'm happy to report it doesn't disappoint. Exactly the opposite, in fact.
When Kate's friends come together over dinner to celebrate Kate's victory over breast cancer, they get a little more than they bargained for. Kate's daughter Robin wants her to take a terrifying white-water rafting trip, and having just dodged death, Kate can't fathom taking such an unnecessary risk. To persuade her, her friends each agree to do something scary or difficult, and Kate gets to choose.
The book follows each of the seven women as they undertake the tasks that Kate has chosen for them. I admit, at first, that I was reluctant to believe that Kate could so perfectly choose just the things that would lead her friends to challenge themselves and be renewed, but as the book moved on, and the bands of friendship between the group were more illuminated and finally, when Kate's own Grand Canyon rafting trip takes place, it all comes to seem natural and perfectly woven together.
Bauermeister gives each woman her own section of the book, gently fleshing out each character and drawing her connection to the others. Kate's wise choices of tasks are revealed, and though some seem less than challenging to the average woman, each task is loaded with emotional hurdles for characters who have struggled and who have lost or given up parts of themselves just going through the motions of life. In the process of taking on Kate's challenges, the women discover parts of themselves that they had either intentionally or unwittingly locked away, parts where joy is so tangled in fear and pain that they could hardly hope to unravel them.
By the end of the week, Sara had decided that her feet and eyes and nose were much more interesting guides than a map. Over the years, she had forgotten what it felt like to walk with the delicious purposelessness of going nowhere. But now she remembered, and she spent hours simply moving, reveling in the feeling of the muscles of her legs, the swing of her arms agains her body. She stopped only to eat, or to take pictures - the smooth brown surface of a cat mask, the light caught in its curves; the middle-aged couple oblivious to the world, sitting on a park bench, her legs draped across his lap, his fingers on her ankles. A family eating Sunday lunch, the aroma of their meal drenching the air in a scent so warm and round and golden it made breathing feel like eating.
How long had it been, she wondered, since she had seen the world like this?
That's just it, though, in Joy for Beginners, the women, with Kate's help, begin to uncover the strength, the capability, the joy they had forgotten existed. All throughout, Bauermeister's writing with its almost ethereal quality imbues the characters' journeys with a kind of everyday magic with the power to make readers smile and cry, occasionally at the same time. It's easy to recognize yourself or any of the women you know in Bauermeister's characters, which makes Joy for Beginners that much more of a personal read. On the whole, Joy for Beginners is an emotionally satisfying tale of self-discovery and the power of true friendship that I can't recommend highly enough.
Check out Joy for Beginners when it hits shelves on June 9th!