Elizabeth Berg

Joy School, Elizabeth BergElizabeth Berg
Joy School 

With the bone-deep emotional honesty that is her hallmark, Elizabeth Berg delivers an achingly accurate portrait of first—unequal—love.

Joy School marks the second appearance of Katie Nash, the central character in Durable Goods. Not quite thirteen, Kate is trying to adjust to a new life in Missouri, where her father’s military career has taken them. She misses her older sister, who has left home; she misses her best friend from Texas, Cherylanne. And she misses her dead mother so much that she avoids references to her. “I keep her out of it, for sacred reasons.”

One day she goes ice skating alone, falls into the frigid water, and shivers her way to a nearby Mobil station. And there is Jimmy; it says so in red embroidery on the mechanic’s outfit he lends her to change into. Katie falls hard, and not just through the ice.

Their friendship develops over checker games, sandwiches, conversations. Visits to the garage supply all that is lacking in Katie’s life. She goes to the library to read up on classic Corvettes—Jimmy’s passion—so she can impress him. Katie is far more at home with 23-year-old Jimmy than with kids her own age, and she’s convinced they are soul mates. “Young as I am, I know now that everything is about to come. Jimmy will be the place for me to learn the real happiness. He will be my Joy School. My joy. Mine.”

And then Jimmy tells her that he and his wife are moving away, and Katie’s fragile world is destroyed all over again. “He was the one. . . . It will never change. When I am fifty, I will say fast and automatic, ‘Jimmy’. ”

Berg is right. You don’t forget.

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