In Heart With Joy, fifteen-year-old Julian Hale’s life is turned upside down when his mother suddenly moves from North Carolina to Venice, Florida under the pretense of running her parents’ motel and finishing the novel she has been working on for years. While Julian has always been closer to his mother and wants to go with her, she tells him he has to stay with his father until the end of the school year.Heart with Joy is one of those rare novels that are simple in style and can be quickly read in one sitting but rather than leave the story empty-handed, one takes away so much meaning and is left with a feeling of wholehearted contentment.
Six weeks after his mother leaves, Julian’s father decides to run a marathon. This surprises Julian because he has never seen his father exercise, but once he agrees to help him train the two develop the sort of close relationship they’ve never had before. Also, with the help of an elderly neighbor, Julian learns that the most important thing in life is to follow your heart. And Julian’s heart leads him to a passion for cooking and a young cashier at the local grocery store. By the end of the novel, Julian is forced to choose between staying with his father and going to live with his mother.
Heart With Joy is an uplifting coming of age novel about cooking and bird watching, about writing and pottery, and about falling in love and the sacrifices we all make. But ultimately, it’s about the importance of following your heart and trusting that it will take you where you need to go. [taken from goodreads]
Julian was a thoughtful character, more concerned about his parents splitting up and learning how to improve his cooking skills rather than chasing girls or being cool. His maturity (especially for being so young—he’s only fifteen!) really resonated with me and made me bond to his character easily. And Julian’s passion for cooking made the book much more fun to read overall—all the descriptive parts where Julian explains what he’s cooking? Delicious—and shows that food is a great connecter when it comes to family and friendship. As well as learning to improve his cooking skills, Julian also learns to slowly let new people into his life and forms an unlikely friendship with his elderly next door neighbor, Mrs. Peterson. I loved Mrs. Peterson for her love of birds and for her wisdom; she really helped Julian with coming out of his shell. Here’s a quote of hers that I really like:
“Let me just say this. Everyone should have something they are passionate about, something that fills their heart with joy. Those who don’t, I’d say, are missing something.” –pg 46 of Heart with Joy
"Everything should have something that fills their heart with joy." I couldn’t agree more. And so Julian finds things that start to fill his heart with joy, and learns that as one person leaves his life, another one comes in and guides him to a new chapter of his life. As for Julian’s parents, he has the difficult decision of who he wants to stay with and he does eventually choose but only after recognizing that there was more to the story than what he originally thought. This realization pushes him even further from his comfort zone and watching him slowly come into his own was unquestionably inspiring.
There is a dash of romance but it’s not a huge part of the story. Tia is another character that shares Julian’s passion for food and becomes another driving force behind Julian’s personal growth. They get together to whip up some awesome dishes and while they learn new recipes, they become attracted to each other. Their steady romance was endearing, awkward and honest (as all real-life romances start out).
Sweeter than butter, Heart with Joy is a quick, fufilling read that will brighten your day and give readers a plentiful amount of satisfaction despite the novel's open ending. It's odd for me to feel content with a novel that leaves something unanswered but Cushman's refreshing and earnest writing style made it possible.