Rebecca Strand has wanted a sister ever since she was five years old. She is 28 years old when her father, Daniel Strand, confesses to her - on his deathbed, no less - that Rebecca does indeed have a sister: a 26-year-old named Joy Jayhawk, his lovechild from a summer affair he had while their family was on holiday in Wiscasset, Maine.
Daniel Strand leaves Rebecca with a box of letters written every year on Joy’s birthday, letters he never sent. Rebecca takes it upon herself to find Joy and deliver the letters to her, share the inheritance and forge a relationship with this stranger, her sister.
Rebecca encounters great lack of support from her cynical live in boyfriend, who does his best to discourage Rebecca from the meeting and attaching herself to Joy, let alone sharing the inheritance – the monies he believes should be for his future with Rebecca. He instead encourages her to improve her skills as a paralegal at the firm where they work and stay in New York City rather than running away from dealing with her father’s death and work issues.
With moral support from her best friend, Charlotte, Rebecca does go to Maine, determined to create her new role as a sister. When she first meets Joy, an operator of a singles tour around the state, she sees that Joy looks and acts like their father. However, Joy closes the door in Rebecca’s face after stating emphatically that she has no interest in bonding with a half-sister who is the daughter of a man who abandoned her when she was a child. Rebecca nonetheless sticks around Wiscasset to wait out Joy’s ambivalence about her acknowledgement (and forgiveness) of their father, as well developing a relationship with her.
Rebecca rents a room at the local bed and breakfast run by Marianne and slowly finds herself intertwined in the personal lives of the colorful local townsfolk, like outspoken Ellie, Maggie, Arlene, and the almost-perfect man, Theo, who embrace her not only because she is Joy’s half-sister, or because she has a knack for mediating personal arguments, but simply because they like her. Rebecca rides the singles tour ‘Love Bus’ and the ups and downs of the relationships of the members on the tour and in the village and soon discovers she is the one with a lot of questions about her own life.
The Secret of Joy is a sweet, heartwarming journey of self-discovery and the exploration of bonds – biological and otherwise. Melissa Senate has created a town of characters who are lively and endearing with their quirky personalities and responses to their loves and losses. This novel will leave you smiling. Highly recommended.