More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
Published by Soho Teen on June 2, 2015
Genres: [Young Adult] Contemporary, Science Fiction, LGBTQ+
Buddy Read With: Lois at My Midnight Musings
4.5 Stars, Completed June 23, 2016
– read the bold text to avoid SPOILERS –
[That awful moment when you realize you scheduled a post unfinished… 😮 Yup, that actually happened with this book’s review early last week. For those that follow Xingsings via email, so sorry for the confusion! I guess you guys got a special glimpse of the process I take while composing a book review. Anyway, this is the official one for More Happy Than Not.]
It’s sort of funny how bad I am at skimming my friends’ reviews, because I totally missed the crucial memo about More Happy Than Not: it is a sad book, not a happy one as the title suggests. I dived into it totally assuming it would make me laugh more than cry. (I mean there is a smile on the original cover…) But, gosh, was I wrong.
Sometimes pain is so unmanageable that the idea of spending another day with it seems impossible. Other times pain acts as a compass to help you get through the messier tunnels of growing up. But the pain can only help you find happiness if you can remember it.
More Happy Than Not follows Aaron Soto, a guy with a smile-shaped scar on his wrist to remind him of a period of overwhelming grief and misery. This summer his supportive girlfriend, Genevieve, leaves him for art camp and he’s left all alone. Aaron then befriends the kid on the other block, Thomas. He finds that hanging out with Thomas brings him a sense of happiness different from Genevieve and his other friends, and he soon has to face what these newfound feelings mean. Aaron then considers turning to Leteo Institute’s cutting edge memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out (quite literally in the figurative sense), even if the consequence is forgetting who he truly is.
This novel deserves recognition for its ability with touching very important topics and motifs in great depth with authenticity. Also, this book is so diverse not only in sexuality and gender, but in race, ethnicity, and social class as well. And readers have so much to contemplate as issues such as social constraints, mental health, sexual exploration/discovery, and memory loss arise throughout the story. I was so thankful to have Lois with me along this reading journey because, beyond the plot and storyline, there’s plenty to discuss.
I also loved that this wasn’t like usual coming out stories. Aaron accepts and publicly shares his sexuality and identity in a very unique way that I’m sure future LGBTQ+ stories will have difficulty in replicating or surpassing the impact More Happy Than Not exudes. And speaking of Aaron, to many readers’ eyes he is one of those fallible heroes that readers can’t help but fervently wish a happy ending for. But he’s not written to gain sympathy cards but, rather, he’s used as a character vessel for readers to understand the broad range of emotions Adam Silvera wants to convey with his words and story. (I actually wonder how much of Aaron is in Silvera since I noticed they shared tiny details such as both growing up in the Bronx and having the same initials.) In many instances, I can see how this is debut novel. I’ve observed that a lot of authors tend to put their heart and soul in their first books (probably and arguably) the most seeing as they all hope to publish their work someday and that by some chance it’ll make it big. Readers can really feel the honesty that radiates from More Happy Than Not from time to time; the praise this standalone has received is well deserved because of this raw energy.
Like Aaron, the rest of the teenage cast is as relatable and believable as his character if not more. Readers will meet a ton of them, but each seem to serve an essential purpose in the story however brief his/her apperance may be. I also really appreciated that not everyone was accepting or understanding of Aaron’s sexual identity. There were some steadfast supporters such as Aaron’s mother and Genevieve, but also much less accepting ones such as Aaron’s dad, Brendan, and most of the other childhood friends around the block. But, importantly, there are also the grey ones where they didn’t have an obvious stance and/or were indifferent (like Aaron’s brother, Thomas, etc). I believe it’s important to include these prototypes just because there are a lot of them (people that don’t really support or are against LGBTQ+ views, and/or may just be confused themselves) in reality.
Lastly, something really interesting that I found wasn’t highlighted enough by other reviewers is the execution in perfectly balancing the contemporary and science fiction elements. It was so brilliantly done in More Happy Than Not. This standalone should probably be identified as a contemporary or realistic fiction work, but I really appreciated the slight sci-fi details, which were never at all overdone but instead emphasized just right, with the Leteo Institute’s involvement.
So I really loved More Happy Than Not, but post reading I couldn’t shake off one small disappointment: (I may be the only one that felt this way but) the hype wasn’t justified in the first 120 pages (hence 4.5 stars). Maybe I wasn’t in the mood to read, but More Happy Than Not just didn’t captivate me in the beginning and I didn’t really see (at the time) what made it special. However, by the middle/end, there were several twists that I hadn’t anticipated and I was completely in awe by the significant turnaround.
I’ve become this happiness scavenger who picks away at the ugliness of the world, because if there’s happiness tucked away in my tragedies, I’ll find it no matter what. If the blind can find joy in music, and the deaf can discover it with colors, I will do my best to always find the sun in the darkness because my life isn’t one sad ending—it’s a series of endless happy beginnings.
Anyway, I am more happy than not that I chose to read this thoughtful and emotional debut novel sooner than later. Incredibly poignant and moving, More Happy Than Not is a book readers shouldn’t miss.