2022 Reading Challenge

2022 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 260 books.

Excerpt: The Happiness Thief by Nicole Bokat

About the Book
Happiness is relative. For single mother Natalie Greene, that relative is her stepsister, Isabel Walker, known as The Happiness Guru. But even with Isabel’s guidance, Natalie can’t control her recently retriggered PTSD over the car crash that caused her mother’s death years ago. The old dread. The nightmares. And that all-consuming, terrifying thought: I think I killed my mother. But did she? And if not, who did?



Jeremy had asked Natalie what made her unique. That was the most straightforward answer. She didn’t dare say it aloud, certainly not on a first date with someone she was beginning to like, someone she wasn’t sure she deserved.

Instead, she told Jeremy about how she’d been in a car crash when she was young, and how it left her with a brain injury, which wiped out much of her memory of that time. When she admitted she felt guilty, he asked if she’d been driving and they laughed because, of course, she’d been thirteen, much too young. He has no idea what I’m capable of, she’d thought.

Hours after their date had ended, and Natalie was alone, unable to sleep, she felt the air in her room thin out. She switched on the lamp on her side of the bed, the comforter tangled in her feet. Panic was like a fistful of knuckles to the chest. She heard her breaths coming fast: huh, huh, huh. She rubbed the skin under the rim of her pajama pants where a rash was certain to flare. When she opened the drawer of her nightstand, she shuffled through the ear plugs and coins. She touched the small, silver flashlight she’d shoved to the back, a taunt, a reminder of who she was.

This wasn’t the plastic purple flashlight that had been confiscated by the police, slipped into a plastic bag. Or maybe they hadn’t even bothered holding onto it as evidence. They’d noted it in their report but wouldn’t have used something that looked like a toy against her, a girl who’d been reading in the passenger seat on a dark night. Supposedly, she’d confessed to her stepfamily that it was her fault, that she’d shone the light into her mother’s eyes. She could only remember that she didn’t want to go where they were headed. She’d sobbed in her hospital bed, concussed and in shock, willing herself to forget; and even now, so many years later, the details were out of reach long after the physical damage had healed. Had there been another vehicle behind them on the road? She couldn’t be certain.

What she did recall was that flash piercing the bone black sky and her mother’s scream, “The light’s blinding me. For Christ’s sake, what’s going on?” She could smell the vinyl seats, the coffee with Sweet & Low, her mom’s scent—lemon and flowers and mint. The Dunkin’ Donuts mug shook in the holder.

Their station wagon had careened, and Natalie tried to brace herself, arms hurled everywhere, nothing to hold onto. Her head was thrown backward, then forward, a snap as if her neck was torn from its socket. She felt an awful thrust, then the whirling stopped. Blank- ness. She struggled to wake, stuck at the murky bottom, lungs bursting, until her eyes popped open. The windshield on the passenger’s side had cracked to form a web. Yet the glass had stayed firmly in place. The silence was profound. The last thing she’d seen before she passed out was her mother’s head smashed against the steering wheel, blood seeping down her hair like a red waterfall.

Natalie’s hand found the container of pills. She untwisted the top and popped one into her palm. Pretty in pink, friendly as a child’s teacup. The water glass was lukewarm; she only needed a sip. The tablet winked at her, as if promising all problems would be washed away. Down the hatch.

What kind of monster are you?


After Natalie’s marriage ends, she joins her successful stepsister, Isabel on a business trip to the Cayman Islands. Isabel, who has a thriving business as a happiness guru, is a star lecturer at an annual industry conference and Natalie hopes to discover a nugget of healing wisdom. But, on the last night of the event, Natalie is spooked and thrown back into her past while driving the two of them to the hotel. She strikes something–or someone–on a desolate street.


Had she lost track of time again?

She opened the door and leaned out. A tall man stood next to her stepsister.

Natalie said sharply, “What’s going on? You had your brights on.”

“I’m so sorry about that,” he said in an English accent. “It was only for a moment. I couldn’t see anything out here.”

Natalie rose slowly and walked to the front of their rental. The man was holding a flashlight, which illuminated a few streaks of blood on the bumper and dark stains on the road. Her nerves sparked. “Jesus!”

Isabel rushed to her side, “Don’t worry, Nat.”

“Whatever it was ran away.” The man gestured to the patch of greenery, a few trees among it. “I think it was a dog.”

“Think? Could it have been a person?” Natalie’s voice quivered.

The man shook his head. “It was on four legs and small.”

“We have to help.”

When she nearly stumbled forward, Isabel grabbed her. “Whoa. You’re not going after anything, sweetie.”

“Let me try.”

“It’s dark as hell in those bushes.”

“I’ll do it,” the man said, holding the flashlight vertically so it shone on his face and upper body. His eyes were a surprising Delft blue. “This was my fault; it’s the least I can do.”

“Thank you,” Isabel said.

Once he walked into the thickets of shrubs and the slender thatch palms, Natalie said, “I’ll be okay.”

Isabel relinquished her grasp. “I didn’t want you running off on some goose chase now.”

“I wasn’t going to.”

Was I?

The man returned quickly. He shrugged. “Nothing there.”

“We can’t just leave,” Natalie said. “We can’t abandon it to suffer. We should keep searching.”

“Whatever it was will be all right. It can’t be too injured if it ran off,” Isabel said. “Let’s get back to the hotel.”

He asked, “You’re staying at the Grand Reef, aren’t you?”

Isabel clicked her middle finger with her thumb and asked, “How did you know?”

“I’ve seen you. I’m staying there, as well.”

“Ah, makes sense.” To Natalie, she said, “Let’s go, kiddo.”

“Okay, but we have to call someone, animal rescue, or the police, when we get back to our room.”

“Of course, I’ll do it.” Isabel sounded her usual self: composed, certain.

Suddenly, Natalie remembered that feeling of confidence, that assurance that the world would work in her favor. The hours in the darkroom with her mom, the time her mother gave her first camera and taught her how an image could lie—a wrinkle or blemish could be airbrushed away—but a good photographer captured the soul. The next day, Natalie had gazed at the ice rink after the Zamboni machine had smoothed it to a perfect gleam. It was like a camera, she thought, fixing the image. Every Saturday in winter she had glided onto that surface with her mother, steady on her feet. Not for a moment did she fear a fall.

Excerpted from by The Happiness Thief by Nicole Bokat, She Writes Press (May 18, 2021)

About the Author
NICOLE BOKAT is the author of the novels Redeeming Eve and What Matters Most. Redeeming Eve was nominated for both the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction. She’s also published The Novels of Margaret Drabble: This Freudian Family Nexus. She received her Ph.D. from New York University and has taught at NYU, Hunter College, and The New School. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, Parents magazine, The Forward and at More.com. She lives with her husband in New Jersey and has two grown sons. Find her online here:

Author website: www.nicolebokat.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/nicole.bokat
Instagram: www.instagram.com/nicolebokat

The Happiness Thief will be released in the U.S. on May 18, 2021.

Share this Fabulous post with the World:
  • Print
  • Add to favorites
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • email
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Buzz
  • Reddit
  • Tumblr
  • blogmarks
  • Blogosphere

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>