THE VIEW FROM MOUNT JOY starts out a lot like one of those John Hughes movies I loved when I was a teenager (Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, etc.). Although the high school here is set about 15 years earlier (the book opens in 1971), you're presented with the same intriguing cast of characters: the Good-Looking Jock who is also Smart/Has a Heart of Gold, the Golden Girl Cheerleader and her Hockey Captain Boyfriend, and even the Hero's Smart, Wise-Cracking Best Friend Who Happens to Be a Girl. But no sooner do we get all these classic character types established than things begin to turn, and you realize that this novel might be more like a bittersweet look back at a John Hughes class reunion than what it appears to be at the onset.
The narrator, Joe Andreson, begins his senior year at Ole Bull High School when his mother moves his family to Minneapolis in search of a new start following the death of his father. There, Joe meets Kristi Casey, the Head Cheerleader and undisputed star of Ole Bull High. Although Joe's best friend, the smart and artistic Darva, is not taken in by the aura of Kristi, Joe is soon under her spell --- and finds out that she's not the sweet or innocent cheerleader the school believes her to be. It's not long before they're involved (sexually, if not romantically), and Joe starts to learn that behind Kristi's golden girl smile glints the hard steel of ambition.
As for Joe himself, he has big plans for a successful hockey career and looks forward to his college success on the ice. But as the novel progresses, things don't play out as expected. Ultimately, Joe's existence revolves around his family and his work in a pretty uneventful way. Meanwhile, Kristi is led by her ambitions into a life that seems about as different from Joe's as one could imagine. Darva and Kristi both come back in and out of Joe's life, with wildly dissimilar results. As life unfolds for these characters, Lorna Landvik explores the meaning of happiness and invites readers to take a close look at how we define success.
The novel's hero is a very warm and likable protagonist, though he comes across as a bit too good to be true --- and for a tough hockey player, he spends an awful lot of time crying. As much as I grew to like Joe, I never really got the sense that I understood him as well as the other characters, who were somewhat more complex yet easier to comprehend. Still, Landvik --- the bestselling author of ANGRY HOUSEWIVES EATING BON BONS --- has a sure touch with a storyline. Her book's timing and smooth pace make for a great end-of-summer read.
If you never made it back to a high school reunion, then maybe the view from mount joy will offer you a glimpse of what might have happened to some of those schoolmates --- and give you an opportunity to realize the successes in your own life.
Reviewed by Lourdes Orive on January 24, 2011
The View From Mount Joy