Reading a book by Elizabeth Berg is like sitting down for a long chat with your best friend. She writes about women and their problems with sensitivity and humor that never lapses into sentimentality. Each of her books takes the reader into the life, thoughts and feelings of a woman who is dealing with a serious dilemma. Berg is never afraid to let her protagonist make mistakes, and this honesty allows the reader both to understand and identify with her characters. By the time you have finished one of her books, you feel as though you've made a new friend.
Her new book, JOY SCHOOL, is a glimpse into the life of Katie, a twelve-year-old girl whose life has undergone tremendous upheaval. Her mother has died, and she and her father have moved from Texas to a small town in Missouri. Katie is not close to her father, she misses her mother and her friends, and she is very lonely.
Katie's description of the lunch period at her new school expresses her feelings perfectly. "It is hard enough to do lunch when you know a place. But when you are new, you have never seen anything so big as the lunchroom. There are secret maps, and you'd better not mess up. Which I did, of course."
Along the way Katie begins to make new friends, but they are not like her friends in Texas, and she has trouble reconciling these new relationships with the people she knew before. When Cynthia, a girl in her history class who becomes Katie's first new friend, invites Katie to visit, Katie thinks, "She can't help it that she's so strange. She doesn't know how to do friends. And anyway, she's all I have."
One day Katie goes ice skating, accidentally falls through the ice, and meets Jimmy, a man much older than she is --- and married. She falls in in love with him, unaware, for a time, that his interest in her is merely that of a friend. When she meets his wife and finally understands this, she is terribly hurt, but she comes to understand that love comes in many forms through many different people.
JOY SCHOOL illustrates how the things that hurt the most can, sometimes, teach the most. It is a beautifully written book that every reader can identify with at one point or another. It is a book about resilience, hope and love.
For those of you who are big fans of Elizabeth Berg, JOY SCHOOL takes up the story of Katie where DURABLE GOODS leaves off. JOY SCHOOL stands alone --- you don't need to read DURABLE GOODS to understand the story. But I think you will want to read it and learn more about this amazing young woman.
Reviewed by Judith Handschuh on January 22, 2011