Heart With Joy is the story of fifteen-year-old Julian Hale. His mother has suddenly left their home in North Carolina and moved to Florida, leaving Julian and his father to fend for themselves. Julian is not sure why she left, but he senses this is a separation between his parents. He was close to his mother, and misses her company, especially in the kitchen. In her absence, Julian begins to cook meals for himself and his father.
"Mom always made it look easy, the way she sort of fluttered around the room, moving a pan this way or that, sipping on her wine, Van Morrison singing about some poor lost soul in a faraway land. And working with my mother, I discovered that I actually liked to cook and enjoyed the challenge of reading a recipe, placing all the ingredients on the counter and turning it into a complete meal. Not that I would confess this to anyone but her. If Dennis, or any of my classmates knew, I was pretty sure they'd give me a hard time about it."
~Heart With Joy, Steve Cushman
Heart With Joy is a character-driven novel. I appreciated the fact that the characters have flaws, just like real humans. Although he's a good kid, Julian isn't perfect, and neither are his parents. His mother, a writer, smokes and drinks a lot of wine, and his father, a nurse, is a bit of a workaholic. At the beginning of the story, Julian and his father do not really have much of a relationship, but as time goes on they spend more time together, eating, exercising, and talking. Soon after his mother leaves, Julian becomes friends with his elderly neighbor, "Old Lady Peters", who has a way with birds and teaches Julian about them, and about the importance of following your heart, of following your passion (akin to Joseph Campbell's "follow your bliss"). Julian's friend, Dennis Kindl, is a great side character, because many of us have had friends like him, who tend to hog center stage and are domineering, especially if we were on the shy side, growing up.
Although I don't watch much TV, I do enjoy watching cooking shows every so often, so I liked the fact that Julian would watch and learn from contemporary cooking shows. Julian's salmon and spinach with butter sauce à la Rachael Ray sounds quite appetizing, and I must admit that I was eager not only to sit down to a good meal but also to create it because of this book. Julian's love of cooking is shared by his new friend, Tia Brogan, who works at the local Harris Teeter where Julian and his father shop for groceries together. Heart With Joy has all the ingredients for a terrific novel: characters who develop over the course of the story, realistic family relationships and friendships, a bit of romance, and the idea that even if things do not work out exactly as you may want them to, life can still be joyful. In my book, this is a good message for young adults, and older adults, to keep in mind.
Special thanks to Steve Cushman for sending me this book.