Sometimes, a book really does live up to the hype. In this case, a story about a confused 17 year old and the heartache and heartbreak of his life. There is a slightly science fiction aspect that figures in the background but isn’t really a part of the plot until much deeper into the story. The book blurb notes the ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ aspect but the trippiness of that movie is replaced with pathos and heart. What we have is a very real and grounded story (but never maudlin or saccharine) and a character in Aaron Soto that you want to follow and love as he falls in and out of love himself.
Plot: Aaron is a teen boy surviving life in the Bronx – drugs, frenemies, sex, part-time jobs, comics, video games, goofing off, and the dawning realization that the future is no longer a nebulous, far off proposition. But he is also realizing he might be gay – despite or in spite of having a wonderful girlfriend. Everything changes when he meets Thomas – a guy his age from a neighboring project. They strike up a friendship and suddenly Aaron is no longer sure – about Thomas, about himself, and most especially about Leteo – a clinical treatment that might allow him to forget feelings for Thomas, not lose his friends, and live a normal hetereo life with his girlfriend.
The immediacy of a teenager – longings, wants, pain, and more are so beautifully rendered in this book. Author Silvera weaves a delicate balance between the harsh realities of the Bronx projects and Aaron’s heart. In other hands, this could have been a very harsh and unforgiving book with an overly strong moral message. But instead, Aaron’s character is both flawed and insightful, hopeful and despairing. It is a heady mix that keeps you reading, even as Aaron and all the other characters make both the right and the wrong decisions in search of their happiness.
There are several themes explored here: loss, memory, homophobia, normalcy, friendship, and especially love (not just his own exploits but also what his family and others do for love, in searching for love, and despite love). So although the book synopsis makes it sound like either a) a gay story, b) a supernatural sci fi, or b) a moralizing sermon, in reality it is at heart a story of love and life with a well executed twist at the end.
I’m really not into books that are psychological mind games or heavy on the statements since they tend to be at the expense of story. Fortunately, with More Happy Than Not, the focus is completely on the very unique and distinct characters and doesn’t fall into the trap of trying too hard to be clever. Reading between the lines, this is likely semi-autobiographical and therefore so many little details really add to the authenticity of the story. But the depth and distinct characterizations make this a book that is more than just an experience of reading someone’s story; it’s one that really makes you muse about life since there is so much said in very low key and subtle nuances. As the kids in the story play street games, video games, drink beer on rooftops and party despite the consequences, we’re completely drawn into the story of their lives.
It really is all about the writing here. I think in the YA genre we forget or forgive the lack of good writing so easily and so often. But with More Happy than Not, we have a book that really should be a classic and required reading for teens in schools. Rich with life, it is a book that is easy to read but stays with you long after you finished.
Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.