Whenever I pick up a book by an author I know, I'm both excited and hesitant (excited because--look, I know her! And hesitant because if I don't like it, I never know what to say. Usually I don't say anything). Luckily, Jolene Perry's Stronger Than You Know was lovely--a perfect mix of drama and hope.
When the novel opens, Joy is struggling with just about everything: adjusting to her new school, a new life with her aunt and uncle and cousins, talking to anyone she's not related to. Sometimes just existing.
Because Joy has just escaped from a terrible, abusive environment with a mother who almost never let her leave their tiny trailer home, and who didn't protect Joy from her boyfriends in the most basic way a mother should.
What I loved about this book was how Perry managed to make Joy wounded and believable without drowning the book in darkness--it's easy to write dark. It's less easy to write hope that doesn't dissolve into schmaltz. I loved Joy--she was vulnerable, but there was an iron core to her. She'd gone through terrible things, but she wasn't willing to let those things define her. Watching Joy come out of the trauma of her past was one of the best parts of the novel.
I also loved that Joy was surrounded by good people. So often, it's easy to create drama in books by making everyone around the hero disagreeable. But Joy's aunt and uncle are warm and loving and wonderful. Justin was great, too, as the boy who sees something in Joy she doesn't yet see herself, but who's careful to only ask for what Joy is ready to give.
Overall, a powerful book about a survivor, one that made me smile as often (or more) than it made me cry.