The cover of the book Small Joys of Real Life by Allee Richards

Title: Small Joys of Real Life
Author: Allee Richards
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Hachette
Published: July 2021

TW: Mention of suicide

Eva never gets the chance to tell Pat that she is pregnant with his child before he dies. It was only a one-night stand, but without Pat, this baby is forcing Eva to confront a lot of questions she doesn’t have answers to. Far from alone, Eva’s mum and two best friends, Sarah and Annie, are there to help, though not always in ways she wants. Small Joys of Real Life follows Eva’s journey through a sudden pregnancy as she leans on, and sometimes away from, her support system.

Overwhelmingly, Small Joys is a book about female friendships. About those decades-long sisterhoods that turn friends into family. So cemented is their bond, that even when they fight there is never doubt that they’ll get through it. Hating every second they spend angry at each other, they can’t wait to feel what they need to feel, make up and move on. Eva’s love for lifelong besties Sarah and Annie isn’t grand or theatrical though – maybe they’ve been friends for too long and the honeymoon phase is over. Instead, their connection is quieter, messier, maybe difficult and unpleasant at times, but when Eva’s world is rocked, their friendship feels like the only thing that remains certain. Small Joys explores this theme through its primary premise: an unexpected pregnancy amidst the aftermath of a death by suicide. The mood is often dark but gentle, much like Eva herself. Self-aware and thoughtful, though occasionally prickly, Eva is the narrator-protagonist so her attitude heavily colours the reader’s experience of the book. Yet, despite the heavy tones Eva never despairs. She is realistic, sometimes pragmatic, and mostly hopeful.

The biggest strength in Small Joys is in Allee Richards’s expertly crafted characters. Though we only see them through Eva’s eyes, each character feels like a fully formed person, living a life outside of the interactions she has with them. While being a sign of excellent writing, this also helps to emphasise how stalled Eva’s life seems to be. She occupies some kind of limbo as she hides from the realities knocking at her door; she is full of contradictions, an actor who doesn’t like acting, single and pregnant, longing for answers but asking for none. Still, this rings true; people are not always logical and life in your late 20s can be as blurry as it often is fresh out of school. But with big life changes edging closer, decisions need to be made and action taken, and there is a sense that Eva’s life is slowly coming into focus.

Small Joys of Real Life is not a plot-heavy book; that is to say, not a lot “happens”. Maybe that’s why it takes a little while to warm up, but if you’re looking for a female-focused, slice-of-life contemporary fiction, Allee Richards has served up a charming and emotional stunner.

Underground Team

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