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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Joyous Lies by Margaret Ann Spence is a bittersweet saga about deception and those mistruths or half-truths we sometimes concoct within families to protect ourselves and others from what we think may harm them. Maelle was a Ph.D. botany student with a deep and abiding love for plants. Brought up by her grandparents in a 1970s-style commune, after her mother’s death in an accident when she was ten, Maelle discovered on the farm the interconnected world of plants and humans. Her doctoral thesis revolves around proving that plants do in fact communicate with each other. When a young research psychiatrist, Zachary, enters her life, she falls head over heels in love for the first time. Zachary, though, seems to have a disturbing and linked past to hers and sheds new light on her mother’s death, which she had always mistakenly assumed was in a car accident. The shocking revelations Maelle discovers about her mother and her Aunt Abby’s life within the commune as girls send Maelle on a mission to discover the truth behind her origins and her mother’s untimely death. A search that will expose and pull at the various hidden half-truths and lies from the commune’s fifty-year existence.
Joyous Lies is a wonderfully written, heartfelt exposition of the way in which families will often bend the truth or outright lie to protect reputations or to soften the blow of mistakes for those who follow behind. Author Margaret Ann Spence has touched an exposed nerve with this story. Maelle, as a character, is exceptionally well written. We watch her grow and flourish from a shy young woman who feels permanently rejected and abandoned into a strong, assertive character, determined to find the answers to long-hidden secrets. The setting of a commune that actually survived the community experiment was an inspired choice. I particularly liked the relationship between Neil and Johanna, Maelle grandparents, on whom the grand experiment was founded. We see Neil with his alpha-male domination and unwillingness to accede to others countered by Johanna with her adoring, cult-like devotion to Neil and his project. Yet within Johanna, we could sense an underlying strength and devotion to a purpose that reinforced her love of the lifestyle, despite its trials and immense hard work. There was a deep satisfaction in what they had achieved and the fact that they were still going, even into their 70’s. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, especially the insights it gave me into the lies families often tell each other, always with the rationale of protecting the children from hurt and pain but usually one finds the rationale is more about protecting the image and legacy of the liar. This is a fantastic, flowing, and exciting read, with unexpected twists and turns and one I can highly recommend.