Title: More Happy Than Not
Author: Adam Silvera
Publication: June 2nd 2015 by Soho Teen
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss (thank you Meredith Barnes, Soho Press and Edelweiss!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary
Other classifications: LGBTQIA, Young Adult
The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto—miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. Aaron could never forget how he’s grown up poor, how his friends aren’t there for him, or how his father committed suicide in their one-bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.
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.
I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.
More Happy Than Not is a strong debut from YA newcomer Adam Silvera. It is as unrelenting as it is hopeful, as gut-wrenching as it is absorbing.
Set in a Bronx neighborhood that is a character of its own and with a bit of a speculative tinge, Aaron Soto’s story may seem ordinary, another of those teens navigating the firsts—first love, first kiss, first sex. But it’s not before long ’til Silvera starts tearing down expectations, busting one assumption after another. The plot twist sucker-punched me and, just when I thought he’s exhausted his arsenal, he delivers the final blow. He paints the extent to which being gay in a close-minded community may lead to all sorts of horror with severe, and often brutal, honesty. There were multiple instances I had to stop reading because his words cut deep.
“This is one of those times where you swear you have to be sleeping and living a nightmare because it’s so impossible that your life can only be a string of bad things until you’re completely abandoned.”
In More Happy Than Not, the author plays at one of the oldest societal debates: nature vs. nurture. Aaron firmly holds that his being a “dude-liker” is something he didn’t choose but rather something he had to deal with. It’s refreshing to view sexuality through this lens, especially in line with homophobia. And especially considering how this novel wins at diversity. Not only does it have a gay MC, it has a Puerto Rican gay MC. But that’s not all of it. In one scene, Thomas tells Aaron, “I was the only brown Scorpius Hawthorne” and it doesn’t feel forced. I think Silvera’s voice—unabashed and observant as it is—is a promising addition to an important conversation.
“It’s not like my heart is in running or anything like that, but at least I learned that you can’t always choose who you’re going to be. Sometimes you’re fast enough to run track. Sometimes you’re not.”
Then, you have the characterization. One thing that’s remarkable is the chemistry between the characters. They are complicated, thrown in further complicated positions, but Silvera successfully balances the complexity with relatability. He didn’t try to redeem the bad guys (for lack of a better term) and that’s a major score. And there’s family dysfunction. Aaron comes from a poor family (which, I cannot overstate this, is scarce in literature but is a reality) and it’s not an easy household.
“This is the most painfully confusing time in my life and he’s the first person who said all the right words to me and reminds me of the first days of summer where you leave home without jacket, and my favorite songs playing over and over.”
I want to point out, as well, how geeky the book is. There are several pop culture references—leaning heavily on comics—and you don’t need to know that the author is a potterhead to observe the winks and nods to the Harry Potter series. Plus, I really enjoyed moments when Aaron and Genevieve (I’m going to use “the girlfriend” as a descriptor but, trust me, you’d want to get to know her) would hang out or when Aaron and Thomas would and, this is me being nostalgic, I love how street games are a big part of the community Aaron lives in.
“Do you think there’s a chance you were someone really awful in a past life? Like Darth Vader? I feel like you can’t catch a break.”
With characters as unforgettable as the book is unflinching in its portrayal of confusion, love, homophobia, family, friendship and a lot more, Silvera is set to win many, many fans. He’s barely started, too. Readers who adore Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe will come upon another favorite.
Adam Silvera was born and raised in the Bronx and is tall for no reason. He was a bookseller before shifting to children’s publishing where he worked at a literary development company, a creative writing website for teens, and as a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. He lives in New York City.
Have I convinced you to pick up this title when it comes out (2 weeks from today!)? Are you a fan of heartrending coming-of-age stories? And will you take the Leteo procedure if you can? There’s an amazing pool of emerging new voices in the book industry, especially in YA, who are your recent favorites? Tell me in the comments below! I always want to hear from you! Also, while you’re at it, you may want to participate in The “More Happy Than Not” Tag?