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Titles similar to More Happy Than Not
A smiling scar marks the inside of 16-year-old Aaron Soto’s wrist, both a souvenir of the time he tried to follow in his father’s footsteps by checking out of life early and a reminder “not to be such a dumbass again.” Though his mom has become overprotective and the suicide attempt shambles beside him like an elephant into every room, Aaron is making a comeback, in no small part due to his group of friends and awesome girlfriend, Genevieve. When Gen takes a three-week summer trip, however, Aaron meets Thomas, from the neighboring housing project, and things start to unravel.
Sensitive, attractive, and looking for direction, Thomas is unlike any of Aaron’s tough-as-nails friends, and the two connect on a deep level. Aaron grapples with burgeoning feelings of homosexuality, which, heartbreakingly, are not reciprocated by the straight Thomas and are bone-shatteringly rejected by his friends, who try to beat being gay out of him. Emotionally and physically broken, Aaron turns to the nearby Leteo Institute, which offers a procedure to erase painful memories. If he can just forget he’s gay, everything will be OK, right?
First-novelist Silvera puts a fresh spin on what begins as a fairly standard, if well executed, story of a teen experiencing firsts—first love, first sex, first loss—and struggling with his identity and sexuality. Aaron’s first-person narration is charmingly candid as he navigates these milestones and insecurities, making him both relatable and endearing. The book is flush with personal details, and the reader inhabits Aaron’s world with ease. A fantasy and comic-book geek to the core, he often filters his own life through a comic lens—threatening to “Hulk out” if someone spoils the end of a movie and wondering what Batman would do in certain situations. Game of Thrones references mingle with veiled Harry Potter allusions (Scorpius Hawthorne and the Convict of Abbadon, anyone?), which many teens will relish. Though some scenes verge on twee and dialogue occasionally strays into precociously-witty-teen territory, it never stays there long, nor does it become self-indulgent.
These tender and philosophical moments stand in counterpoint to life in the tough Bronx neighborhood Aaron calls home. There is a borderline gang mentality at work here, where fierce neighborhood loyalty mingles with groupthink to create friends who are as likely to defend as pummel each other, if the code of conduct is challenged. And being a “dude-liker” is an offense punishable by extreme violence. This prejudice is illustrated with gut-wrenching brutality, and its effects are scarring, but Silvera tempers it with the genuine love and acceptance Aaron receives from a few important friends and family members.
Dividing his book into parts by degree of happiness (“Happiness,” “A Different Happiness,” “Unhappiness,” “Less Happy Than Before,” “More Happy Than Not”), Silvera examines this state of being from multiple angles to reveal its complexity and dependency on outside forces and internal motive. Is being happy for the wrong reasons real happiness? Can forgetting problems or trauma actually fix your life? The ingenious use of the Leteo procedure allows Silvera to write two versions of Aaron (gay and straight), which proves a fascinating means of drawing attention to the flaw in taking shortcuts past life’s major roadblocks. The process of reinvention hinges on memory, on surviving and understanding the sometimes unbearable why of being—and that’s what Aaron initially misses.
Timing is everything in this story, and Silvera structures his novel beautifully, utilizing careful revelations from Aaron’s past and consciousness to create plot tension and twists that turn the narrative on its ear. It is not a story of happy endings, but this complexity allows it to move in new, brave directions that are immeasurably more satisfying. Resting somewhere between Ned Vizzini’s A Kind of Funny Story (2006) and John Corey Whaley’s Noggin (2014), More Happy Than Not will resonate with teens tackling life’s big questions. Thought-provoking and imaginative, Silvera’s voice is a welcome addition to the YA scene.
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