In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.
When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.
Why does happiness have to be so hard?
(Content warning: Suicide)
More Happy Than Not was the kind of book that I picked up, and after reading a few chapters, I knew that I would love this book. And love it I did.
After finishing this book, I let out a deep breath of relief. Only after finishing this wonderful book did I realize that I had been, figuratively, holding in my breath for years, waiting for a book of such high calibre to present itself. The bittersweet thing is that this isn’t a new story; More Happy Than Not delves into the harsh reality that too many adolescents – and adults – endure daily. It tells of mental illness, sexuality, acceptance, race, the complexities of family, the throes of friendship, the oppression of poverty and how it pervades every area of one’s life, and the meaning and importance of happiness. More importantly, it portrays these complex themes with a subtlety that is unparalleled in execution. Silvera recognizes that all those themes cannot be examined in isolation, but are parts of a bigger, fuller picture. More Happy Than Not is a much needed book that tells a much needed story. And here it finally is.
More Happy Than Not tells the story of Aaron following his father’s suicide and his own attempt. Though surrounded by friends and his supportive girlfriend, Aaron struggles to make sense of happiness and life. When Aaron meets Thomas, a boy with elusive dreams on a never-ending pursuit of greatness, their shared interests create an undeniable connection. Although his friendship with Thomas brings him great joy, the more intense their relationship, the deeper Aaron falls within himself and parts of his past begin to surface. Enter the science-fiction element of this story – a solution seemingly presents itself to Aaron: the Leteo Institute and their memory alteration procedure, guaranteed to erase the parts of your life you want to forget.
Reading More Happy Than Not is like peeling back layer upon layers of reality. With its references to comic books and movies, the book is deceptively lighthearted. Whilst the presence of these beloved, familiar things may function as a means to balance the book of its harsher elements, it also serves to remind the reader that the characters are young teenagers who like simple things just like we do – they are, on the surface, not very different to us. As the book progresses, the story unfolds into a multifaceted, complex story of what it is like to live poor and gay in a small world where homosexuality isn’t accepted. More Happy Than Not is a necessary, unflinching look into homosexuality, societal pressure, poverty, and suicide.
More Happy Than Not features an excellent, diverse cast of characters, and has a heartfelt and heart-breaking exploration of relationships – particularly those in our confusing formative years. All of the characters were flawed, developing, learning, and confused, accurately representing the imperfections of youth and humanness.
Nah, you’re more like a work in progress. We all are.
And though some of these characters were ignorant, made terrible mistakes, or inflicted great pain on others, such characterization tactfully remind us of our own mistakes and grievances. Rather than elicit disgust or disdain, I unexpectedly found my capacity to empathize. Perhaps because, at one point, we were all ignorant of something, but what matters whether we choose to learn, grow, and be better people. Needless to say, Silvera’s excellent and complex characterizations deeply affected me.
Perhaps one of Silvera’s best achievements with More Happy Than Not is his honest, thoughtful exploration of happiness. Though this book may center on one boy’s pursuit of happiness, this pursuit is framed in the midst of a cold, cruel world. Happiness is given a complex, thought-provoking, and compelling analysis, and that happiness is not always as simple as ‘being happy’. Namely, happiness can be all you have when you have nothing, or may be necessary to one’s survival. This small fact is oft overlooked, particularly when the characters are poor or from the working class. More so, More Happy Than Not offers an examination of the importance of being true to one’s identity, and how that correlates with their happiness. To be confronted with this perspective – particularly one that is very different to my own – was an incredibly humbling experience, and a gentle but necessary reminder that we experience life differently and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to society’s problems.
More Happy Than Not contains the full spectrum of what it means to be alive: love, happiness, joy, grief, doubt, heartbreak, hope – all the wonderful and terrible things meshed into one. The book may be frequently described as depressing and dark, and whilst the subject matter is indeed difficult, two better words I would use to describe this book are honest and hopeful. Accomplished by Silvera’s fantastic writing, the book paints an all-rounded, earnest, and sensitive picture of what it means to be young and fumbling while trying to find yourself in the world. A truly outstanding novel.
Book Name: More Happy Than Not
Author: Adam Silvera
Publisher: Soho Teen
(Book trigger/content warning: self-harm, suicide, homophobia, death)