Synopses & Reviews
In this exquisite new novel by bestselling writer Elizabeth Berg, a young woman falls in love — and learns how sorrow can lead to an understanding of joy.
Katie, the narrator, has relocated to Missouri with her distant, occasionally abusive father, and she feels very much alone: her much-loved mother is dead; her new school is unaccepting of her; and her only friends fall far short of being ideal companions. When she accidentally falls through the ice while skating, she meets Jimmy. He is handsome, far older than she, and married, but she is entranced. As their relationship unfolds, so too does Katie's awareness of the pain and intensity first love can bring.
Beautifully written in Berg's irresistible voice, Joy School portrays the soaring happiness of real love, the deep despair one can feel when it goes unrequited, and the stubbornness of hope that will not let us let go. Here also is recognition that love can come in many forms and offer many different things. Joy School illuminates, too, how the things that hurt the most can sometimes teach us the lessons that really matter.
About Durable Goods, Elizabeth Berg's first novel, Andre Dubus said, "Elizabeth Berg writes with humor and a big heart about resilience, loneliness, love and hope. And the transcendence that redeems." The same will be said of Joy School, Elizabeth Berg's most luminous novel to date.
“A coming-of-age story that is neither grim nor saccharine, an exploration of how, for one spirited girl, life brings both daily grief and daily joy....Joy School possesses many of the strengths of [Durable Goods], most notably the narrator’s voice. Katie is funny, imaginative, irreverent, idiosyncratic, and deeply, unusually charming.” The Boston Sunday Globe
“A funny, sweet, coming-of-age narrative....Its heart and wit will remind Berg’s fans why her writing is so eminently likable.” Chicago Tribune
“If you remember the heart-slamming intensity of your own first love, Joy School will recall the pain and exhilaration that intersect when that love is unrequited. Berg’s peripheral characters are a treat: Vivid and quirky, they do more than fill in the background. These are people who encourage the reader to imagine what their own stories would be.” St. Louis Post–Dispatch
“Growing up is hurtful, humorous, petty, and very, very serious. Berg has beautifully wrought this stage of life in her witty, warm way. Like every other Berg novel, Joy School
is a joy to read.”
The Orlando Sentinel
“Berg’s style works beautifully — deceptively simple, conversational, and hip.” USA Today
“The reader feels tenderness toward the child’s hope and toughness, and recognizes wisdom in her guileless voice. . . . Berg captures particularly well the feeling of loneliness and the sadness of growth and change.” The Dallas Morning News
In this exquisite new novel by bestselling author Elizabeth Berg, a young woman falls in love — and learns how sorrow can lead to an understanding of joy.
Katie has relocated to Missouri with her distant, occasionally abusive father. Her much-loved mother is dead; her new school is unaccepting of her; and her only friends fall far short of ideal companions. When she accidentally falls through the ice while skating, she meets Jimmy.
He is handsome, far older than she, and married, but she is entranced. As their relationship unfolds, so too does Katie's awareness of the pain and intensity first love can bring.
Reading Group Guide
Joy School is set in the late 1950s or early '60s. Why do you think Berg chose this time-frame as the setting for her story?
2. Joy School is a pre-feminist, baby-boomer coming-of-age story. How do the role models that young women grow up with today compare to the role models of Katie's time? How are young women today equipped differently to cope with the whole first-crush experience. How are first-love fantasies of young girls different today than they were when Katie was growing up?
3. With a dead mother, a father who flies into sporadic rages, and a sister who has fled to Mexico, Katie has every excuse for withdrawing into herself. And yet she continues trying to make connections with those around her. What keeps Katie from closing herself off to others? What would you do under similar circumstances?
4. At one point Katie tells Jimmy that she'll come see him again the next day, and he says he'll be there. "This shocked me," Katie says, "that he has been there for a while, and that he will be there tomorrow, just like that." Why do you think Katie is so shocked that Jimmy will "be there" the next day and the next?
5. Do you remember your own first crush or first love? How did your experience compare to Katie's experience with Jimmy?
6. In describing Taylor, Katie says "Taylor is a funny person who doesn't see any right and any wrong and is too strong to be around." What do you think she means by this? Have you ever had a friend like Taylor?
7. One reviewer has said that Berg "completely nails down the entire universe of teenage experience in a single high school freshman." Do you agree?
8. What does Katie mean when she says "Jimmy will be the place for me to learn the real happiness. He will be my Joy School."
9. How does Berg's portrayal of Katie compare with portrayals of other girls her age that you might have read about?
10. Katie, talking about trying to settle into her new surroundings, says "I have never had such a hard time getting my place in a school. You wish you could bring a book of directions to yourself that everyone would read." Why do you suppose she's having such a hard time with this particular school? What might Katie have done to fit in better?
11. Katie tries to talk to Ginger about some of the problems she's having in school. Katie says "I want to say, 'Did you have any trouble in school with kids being kind of mean to you? If so, what did you do about it?' Like an essay question. But when I start to ask, all that comes out is 'Did you like high school?' " Why do you think Katie has such a hard time talking to Ginger about her problems?
12. What do you think of the peripheral characters Berg brings into her story: Taylor Sinn--the beautiful model with a penchant for shoplifting; Cynthia O'Connell--the classmate with an overbearing control freak for a mom; and Nona, Cynthia's dying grandmother who sneaks down to the kitchen in the dead of night to cook pasta by candlelight?
13. What does Katie learn from her experience with Jimmy? In what way is sorrow a kind of teacher for Katie?
14. What do you see in Katie's future?
15. What's your opinion about Jimmy's behavior toward Katie? Do you feel he was sensitive and caring of her feelings, or rejecting? When Katie tells him she's in love with him, he says "I didn't know..." Should he have realized that Katie was developing a crush on him? Was she sending signals that he failed to notice?
16. Do you think Katie's crush on Jimmy might have been less heartbreaking if her mother had been there to help her through it?
17. What do you think was going through Jimmy's mind when Katie tells him she loves him? And when he sees the realization in her eyes that he considers her only a child?