Book Review: Small Joys by Elvin James Mensah

It’s 2005 and Harley has dropped out of college to move home, back to rural England, where he works a dead-end job at a movie theater. Estranged from his father and finding every attempt at happiness futile, Harley is on the verge of making a devastating final decision. Fortunately for him, things don’t go according to plan, and his attempt on his own life is interrupted by his new roommate, Muddy.

Muddy is everything Harley is not: ostensibly heterosexual, freewheeling, confident in his masculinity. Despite their differences, a deep friendship blossoms between them when Muddy takes Harley under his wing and shows him everything that, in his eyes, makes life worth living: bird-watching, karaoke, rugby, and the band Oasis.

But this newfound friendship is complicated. It has enormous repercussions for the pair’s romantically entangled friend group—for Chelsea, an overbearing striver whose generosity they begrudgingly rely on; for Finlay, her raffish and uncouth boyfriend; and for Noria, who despite her simmering confidence is smarting from a series of unreturned affections. And then there’s the violent affair with an older man that Harley finds himself slipping back into . . .

As secrets and jealousies endanger all that Harley has come to depend on, he finds himself faltering once again, even though he finally has something—and someone—to live for. Soul-stirring and witty, full of hope and peopled with characters who feel like close friends, Small Joys explores a young man’s turbulent journey toward happiness and announces the arrival of an exciting voice in fiction.


Small Joys was a really lovely book. Such a simple yet impactful story, which I’m sure to remember for some time yet. I didn’t expect to connect with it as much as I did but there really is something for everyone. It covers deep topics – depression, sexuality, family relationships, friendships – yet does so in a witty, lighthearted way. But it also makes you feel all the emotions, and possibly even shed a tear. And then make you laugh a few minutes later. I was completely impressed how the author made me jump from from emotion to another in such a natural, wonderful way.

I enjoyed the story line but, I have to admit, by the last quarter I did get a bit tired of it. Small Joys is not one of those books with a lot of action anyway, but the plot and dialogue became a bit repetitive for me. The real star of the show was the characters.

Each character was able to hold their own and brought something to the book. However, it is Muddy who really leaves an impact. What a wonderful human being. If there were more Muddy’s in the world it would be a better place. I fell completely head over heels for him and not necessarily in a romantic way. He is just someone you would want to have in your corner. Keep an eye out for Finlay as well, who will be sure to surprise you. Between them and Harley, I got My Mad Fat Diary vibes; another story that melted my heart.

Small Joys is available to purchase here.


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