I liked Joy for Beginners for the same reasons I liked The School of Essential Ingredients. The writing is pretty, the characters interesting and each chapter leaves you feeling like you've learned something about them and life in general.
The premise this time is that Kate has gathered her friends for a victory party and to thank them for their support as she fought breast cancer. "Kate looked at the women around her. It was an incongruous group--it reminded Kate of a collection of beach rocks gathered over time." As they encourage her to white water raft the Grand Canyon with her daughter, she challenges each of them to do one thing that they are afraid of,that she picks out. At first it seemed a little cheesy that she would know what specific thing they need to do to grow or overcome. BUT if you think about the hours they spent visiting with and supporting her, it feels real that she would have a sense of what they need.
I enjoyed several of the chapters. I liked the way the characters intertwine, and you figure out how everyone is connected as you read their stories. There are romantic ones, sad ones and funny ones.
There are sentences that ring so true with me, like a comment on pulling a book down from the bookshelf to re-read, "Open the pages and be caught in the memories of the person she had been when she first read it." I know exactly how that feels. It's hard for me to revise my feelings about a book when I read it again because the first impact is always the most powerful.
Or, "Adults need to have fun so children will want to grow up." I love that. We want our kids to think that their life will just keep getting better, instead of showing them a bleak future in our unhappiness.
And in reference to returning home after sitting with Kate during her cancer treatments, "Afterward, Sara would go home and hold her children, as many as she could fit on her lap, as long as they would stay." Even re-reading it makes me cry.
"Hadley entered the living room; Sara saw her and merely nodded, any personal need to apologize for the bedlam of her household long gone in the fog of her exhaustion." I'm grateful that I've passed those years of tiny baby-no sleep craziness.
"Her daughter's voice came across the line, lit with excitement. 'I'm going to have a baby!' But you are a baby, Marion opened her mouth to say. I'm still holding you in my arms."
I also like Bauermeister's use of the English language: "Clarity broke like a plate on the floor." It is such a perfect simile because the shocking thing is said over dinner in a restaurant, and you can almost image that someone hearing it might drop their piece of china.
And, "The little girl was talking happily, the flow of her words bright and shiny, like candy falling from a pinata."
I think the final chapter of Kate taking the rafting trip with her daughter was meant to be cumulative, to be the big finish that ties it all together. But for me it was my least favorite chapter. It felt too forced, too trite. The other chapters felt more original and fresh. And the swimming part was just too obvious and stereotypical.
I can't decide which of these two Erica Bauermeister's books I liked the most, but if you like one, I'll bet you'll like the other.