Elizabeth Berg, probably best known for her Talk Before Sleep, offers up this sequel to 1993's Durable Goods. It's a sequel that stands very well on its own, though, thank you very much. Joy School is a straightforward story about a young girl learning about life and love, told in the charming narrative voice of 12-going-on-13-year-old army brat Katie.
Her mother is dead and her older sister has run off, so it's just Katie and her emotionally distant father starting a new life together in a little town in Missouri. Katie misses her old best friend and is finding it hard to make new ones here. Beleaguered by the merciless taunting of the kids who live across the street and having trouble making a place for herself in her new school, she finds most of her company with the diminished family's housekeeper, Ginger. It's when she accidentally falls through the ice while skating that she discovers her destiny: to love the owner of a nearby gas station. His name is Jimmy, he's gorgeous, he's 23, he's married. Katie is confident that she can win past little obstacles like a 10-year age difference and the fact of a wife.
As she makes small inroads in her relationship with Jimmy, Katie begins to take tentative steps in the direction of friendships. There's Cynthia, a pampered girl with a stiffly perfectionist mother and a tiny wildhaired dynamo of a Sicilian grandmother (who takes an instant shine to Katie). There's Taylor, gorgeous and bored, a teenage model well-acquainted with the dubious thrills of shoplifting and sex. Somewhere between these new friends, memories of her mother, her longings for her absent sister and her swelling love for Jimmy, Katie begins to discover the young woman she is becoming.
It's impossible to resist Katie's voice -- she tells her life as it happens with disarming candor and truthfulness. Her story is a bittersweet journey back in time for adult readers who have forgotten the intensity with which everything, every joy and pain, is experienced when you are just thirteen. A beautiful little book.