More Happy than Not
by Adam Silvera
Original Publication Date: June 2, 2015
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Soho Teen
Obtained Via: Bought
View at the Traffic light:
Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s newfound happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he can’t stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.
Adam Silvera’s extraordinary debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.
Oh, this book broke my heart, made me laugh, and made me hope. I understand the strong praise More Happy than Not is getting in the YA community, and it’s well deserved. The story takes place in a world that’s almost-this-one-but-not-quite. It’s not 100% contemporary, because there’s an element of medical technology that hasn’t been invented yet(the Leteo procedure), but for all intents and purposes I think it’s the genre that fits it the best, if only because everything this book touches on feels so current and REAL.
So the MC, Aaron, has grown up in a not-so-well-off area in the Bronx, and at the beginning of the book Aaron’s father has recently committed suicide and Aaron has attempted to take his own life as well. He’s slowly trying to move past that, but of course there’s setbacks along the way, though also hope in the form of his girlfriend and a new guy who starts hanging around who quickly becomes Aaron’s best friend. . . and then something Aaron wishes was more than just friends. Sometimes, contemporary novels can feel like they have thin plots and their success rests solely with the characters. Well, the characters in More Happy than Not are excellent, but the plot has a surprising amount of twist and turns as well.
There are just so many things that More Happy than Not does well, it’s almost hard to know where to begin. I could talk about how I love the portrayal and exploration of Aaron’s sexuality(I do), or how there’s time devoted to exploring the intersection of sexuality and race(also wonderful), but one thing that stuck with me so, so much in More Happy than Not was the description of poverty. I don’t know why, but something about it just hit me hard. I think so often we only see one depiction of poverty, but the depiction in More Happy than Not felt more current. For example, the family shared a one bedroom apartment, but they did have an old computer they shared. I think that just made something feel so real to me, because when I worked at a non-profit, I saw households like that all the time. Computers aren’t really new, anymore, and while someone in poverty might not have the latest and greatest, they’re not necessarily going to be cut off from the outside world. One of the first computers my family ever got, we got for free because my mom’s company was throwing it out(it still worked). The subtle inclusion of technology, the way Aaron would often go to the comic book store but could rarely buy anything, the community aspects, I just really appreciated it all.
I will admit that I was not immediately endeared to Aaron, but as the book went along, I got to care about this character more and more. I read so many books, most YA. There are few times I read a book and think it’s truly unique, but that’s how I felt about More Happy than Not. There’s really not another book I can even think of to compare it to. I liked that it always surprised me, that the narrative never went the easy way I was half-hoping for(because I wanted the character to get a break), and that there wasn’t a moment when Aaron’s life was affecting the story.
I’ve seen people on twitter talk about people saying a book tried to tackle “too many” issues, particularly in areas of diversity, and how that can be a misguided principle, because people like that exist. I don’t think I’ve ever truly saw a book that tried to tackle too many issues, BUT I do think I’ve read books where there are multiple aspects going on where they weren’t integrated together well. That is definitely not the case in More Happy than Not at all. It’s written so seamlessly that even though the Leteo procedure doesn’t exist in our world, you can almost imagine these characters are real, with all their messy dynamics between Aaron, the girl he loves(but not in the way he wants to), and the boy who can’t figure out what he wants to discover in his life.
More Happy than Not is an impressive debut. I don’t think it quite reached favorite status for me, which is why I haven’t given it 5 stars. . . but I think upon re-read it’s highly possible that it could. It’s the book you read and instantly realize will reward a re-read. I will not be at all surprise to see this one on the end of the year “best-of” lists.
While More Happy than Not did not quite reach 5 stars for me upon first read, I do think it’s a virtually flawless book in that I have no complaints or criticisms. As dark as this book gets, it still carries a current of hope, and I think it’s a very important book. 4/5 cupcakes.