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.
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March 24, 1998
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Excerpt from Joy School by Elizabeth Berg
The housekeeper is ironing and I am lying on the floor beside her, trying to secretly look up her dress. I can't see anything but her slip. It is white, a skinny line of lace trim on the bottom, which I already knew because it was hanging out when she first got here, snowing down south. I had a thought to tell her, in a nice way. But what would be the point, it's only us two here and I'm not offended. I used to think you had to be rich to have a housekeeper, but it's not true. Sometimes you are rich, but sometimes you only have a need and that is when you get messy housekeepers like this one. Not that I don't like her. Ginger is her name, like the dancer, and her hair is blond like that dancer, too. She wears socks that fall down into the backs of her loafers--thin, white, wrong ones, though she is done with school so it isn't so important. I found out at my new high school, where I am a freshman, about wrong socks and I had to quit wearing them. Of course that is only the tip of the iceberg. Ginger takes the bus here. She carries a bag made out of rough striped material with wooden handles, and in the bag are slippers and her lunch and a paperback book with a curled-up cover which she reads every day at noontime. Once she gave me the candy bar from her lunch. Oh no, I said but she said, Oh sure, go ahead, I don't need it. It was the Hershey's with almonds kind. Usually she has Heath, so I think it was a case of this was a substitute candy bar anyway, so I did take it. I ate it that night while I read in bed with my knees up. This is how my mother did it, only she also ate fruit. I don't like fruit unless it is hot and in a pie. I suppose that is un-American and another thing wrong with me, which it seems is all that is happening now is I am finding out everything wrong with me. This place and I do not get along. Ginger shifts a little on her feet, and the slip moves and now I can see her underpants. They are only white. I get up and go into my room and close the door quietly so as not to hurt her feelings. I mean that she can't come in, but it's not anything against her. I take out the letter from my drawer. It still smells of lilacs. She'd drawn a circle on the envelope, saying, "Sniff here!" but I didn't have to smell that place, the whole letter smelled. Dear Katie, I have been so unbelievably busy and that's why it has taken so long to write to you. I like your letters. They're funny. The family that moved into your house is useless. There are only little kids and the parents are all the time asking me to baby-sit, which I do NOT have time for. As if I wanted to even if I did have time. I believe I am done with baby-sitting. Even though last time at McLaughlin's you would not believe what I found, I looked in their dresser drawer and found a box of rubbers!!!! You remember when Marybeth told us she had seen a weenie because when her parents weren't home that time Jerry Southerland had come out of her bathroom with it hanging out (DON'T let ANYONE see this letter!!!!!!!) and it was all red at the tip like a dog's? Well, I saw that box of rubbers and I was thinking how it would look on the red and you can imagine how I wanted to puke. But anyway. I am class president this year and there are so many serious responsibilities. I just found out last week, we had elections. I thought I would win, but I didn't know. We are going to have lots of dances. First the Snow Ball. So I am busy. I have already given two speeches in front of the whole class and you know you have to practice a LOT for that kind of thing because you are setting the whole tone. I am right now pulling out an eyelash to send to you because I miss you, too. Keep writing to me and also you can send poetry, but maybe not so many at a time. Have you found a boyfriend yet? I think your life could be much better with one of those. That is something every woman needs full time. Well, m