Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister

If you liked Erica Bauermeister’s previous novel, The School of Essential Ingredients, you’llΒ  be sure to gobble this book up as well.

A group of friends gets together for a victory dinner, to celebrate Kate’s recovery after cancer. Kate reveals that to celebrate, she’s going white-water rafting with her daughter in the Grand Canyon, and she’s terrified. In a symbol of true friendship, the other ladies agree to each do one thing that year that scares them – and Kate gets to choose what that will be for each person.

The book is separated into one prologue (the dinner) and seven chapters, one centering on each of the characters. We learn about their lives, the task they were given by Kate, how they go about completing it, etc… It’s all about finding joy in life. One thing that I have to note is that most of these women didn’t have a lot of joy in their lives to start with, therefore making the “task” that Kate gives them all the more important. With the exception of maybe one character, they all had a sad story or inner turmoil that they needed to get past in order to let joy into their lives again. It started to get a little depressing – it kind of gave the illusion that you only need to hunt for joy if you’re unhappy. I think that even the content, happy people could stand to get up and do something that scares them in search for that extra little jolt of joy.

I love Bauermeister’s writing. It’s just beautiful, and there are these sentences that jump out and grab you – that for me, had me reaching for a pen and a post-it note to jot some pretty line down. I also love that this book is about this close group of friends… these kinds of books always make me wish a little bit that I had more girl friends. There’s also a lot of mouth-watering descriptions of food, smells, and places.

I also wanted to point out that the style of the book is very similar to the author’s other book, The School of Essential Ingredients. By letting each character get their own chapter, we get to know each character; their history, their secrets, their pains. However, I feel a little cheated because I end up knowing just a little about each character, rather than knowing a lot about a couple of the characters and less about the others. I’d love to see Erica expand her writing skills into a more…. complete, concrete story focused on a specific character or smaller group. Each chapter about these characters ends very openly, and there’s that little part of me that once in a while wants to see what actually happens to the characters. I grow to care about them, and want to see how their particular story ends… or at least a good idea of the direction it’s headed in.

Now, don’t get me wrong – this was a great book. I’ll probably buy it when it comes out in paperback – it’s beautifully written and it does make me feel inspired to go out and do something fun and new. It definitely captures that wonderful sense of adventure and accomplishment that you feel after doing something unknown. I can’t wait to see what Erica Bauermeister’s next book will be like.

Sarah Says: 4 stars



    1. Thanks! It is a good style of writing, but I hope the author branches out a bit. If she writes every book like that, then it’ll be too much of a “formula” for her books.


  1. Hey – you have lots of girlfriends! All those gals that did the summer read-a-thon would be sitting around your table if it was feasible.

    I’ll have to give this one a read.


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