Teen Review: More Happy Than Not
Review by Sam
For me, spring brings with it a few distinctly ‘Mayish’ feelings: the cool refreshment of homemade fruit smoothies, the stress of beginning to
pretend to study for exams while watching Netflix instead, and, to guide me into the summer months ahead, a young adult novel to flip through under a hot and greatly-missed sun.
But as I walked to the library to pick up More Happy Than Not, the book that I had chosen to help me drift through this year’s May routines, I found myself faced with a concern. I couldn’t help but wonder, had I grown too old for this tradition? After all, I was no longer the thirteen-year-old boy who read John Green during recess in middle school. I had changed. I had gained twice the height, was learning how to drive (!!!), heck, next year I’d even be considering a future after high school. Young adult fiction always struck me as something directed to tweens: kids who were just entering the realm of adolescence and needed a story to usher them into teenage life. How could I relate to these books not as an older child but as, well, a young adult? After all, my age had exceeded that of the characters I was reading about. Did this mean I was/am too old for young adult fiction?
The answer, I have learnt, is no, I am not too old, and the reason lies somewhere amongst the two hundred and something pages of Adam Silvera’s More Happy than Not. Described by MTV as “Eternal Sunshine for the Now Generation”, Silvera tells the story of a Puerto Rican teen living in the Bronx named Aaron who is recovering from the death of his father as well as his own attempted suicide. His mother is absent and his brother’s glued to his Xbox, so Aaron confides mostly in his roughhousing friends and loving girlfriend Genevieve. Life seems to be resuming normalcy at last for Aaron, but this all changes when a new kid named Thomas arrives on the block and the two begin to bond over the summer. This new friendship awakens something unusual in Aaron, and he begins to fall in love with Thomas. Unable to cope with who he is, Aaron turns to the Leteo Procedure, a cutting edge surgery that allows people to eliminate unwanted memories, and hopes to use it to erase any gay thoughts from his head. Yet, as the novel progresses, Aaron discovers more about who he is and how memory can be deceiving.
Without spoiling anything, because believe me, there is a lot to spoil, More Happy Than Not toys with one’s conceptions of memory and self-discovery. Initially it reads like your standard coming-of-age fare with summer shenanigans, quirky characters, and a damaged, brooding protagonist. The characters are believable but it all seems a little too familiar. While Silvera specializes his voice by presenting a protagonist who is neither straight nor white, the first half of the novel does not break much new ground in terms of storytelling. However, while the Leteo Procedure spends most of the novel lurking in the background, it enters the plot during the book’s third and final act. Only when science fiction becomes entangled with coming of age confusion does the novel go from decent to spellbinding. Silvera rewards readers for their patience, but I’m not sure that makes up for so many pages of seemingly predictable plot.
Thankfully, even when the book is trite, Aaron provides originality with his honest and poignant voice. I like how Silvera weaves jokes and pop culture references into Aaron and his friends’ vernacular, with Aaron frequently alluding to his favourite comics and Harry Potter-esque fantasy series. For a teenager recovering from so much trauma, Aaron has a surprising amount of optimism and humour peeking through his angst, allowing the book to never feel depressing or cynical. However, as much as I wanted to love Aaron unconditionally for being the resilient puppy that he is, some of his traits made me groan. For a kid with few interests and no plans about the future, Aaron’s voice is at times too articulate. After a heart-to-heart with Thomas, Aaron says:
“From the shapes cast by the green paper lantern, you would never know that there were two boys sitting closely to one another trying to find themselves. You would only see shadows hugging, indiscriminate.”
The novel has many passages like this, making me wonder if Adam Silvera cares about the honesty of Aaron’s narration, or if he’s just trying to infuse the book with quotations for sensitive readers to highlight and fawn over.
Another aspect of the novel that irked me was its portrayal of homophobia. It’s supposedly set in a not-too-distant future, yet why do the characters treat sexuality like it’s something new and foreign? Aaron himself, when questioning his sexuality, does not use the term ‘bisexual’ when considering his dual attraction, but rather calls himself a ‘girl-and-boy-liker’. Are you serious? I understand that this is a novel set in a poor area of New York in which homophobia is likely to exist, but it makes little to sense to portray a world in which memory erasure procedures have become public knowledge before proper LGBT terminology.
Though far from a perfect book, More Happy Than Not is clever, emotional, and inventive. A sci-fi twist adds unexpected depth to a tired coming-of-age narrative, it’s just too bad that the book spends so much time setting up its epic conclusion rather than unpacking it. Read this book if you believe young adult authors have run out of original ideas or if like me you think you are somehow above the genre. You’ll be surprised how memorable a book about forgetting can be.