More Happy Than Not – Adam Silvera
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?
Review: If you could erase your past and start your life over, would you do it?
That’s the question that faces sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto. After his father’s suicide and his own failed suicide attempt, Aaron’s life is spiraling out of control. The only time he feels happy is when he’s with his girlfriend and his friends. When a new boy, Thomas, starts hanging out near Aaron’s apartment building, the boys quickly become friends. But, soon Aaron begins having more-than-friendly feelings toward Thomas. Could Aaron be gay? His confusion over his sexuality ruins his relationships. As his depression worsens, Aaron wonders if he should go to the Leteo Institute and have his memory erased so he can start his life over.
On the surface, More Happy Than Not seems like a pretty straightforward contemporary/science fiction (is that an oxymoron?) story, but it’s full of twists that I would have never predicted. I’m struggling to review this book because everything is a spoiler. Let’s just say that Aaron isn’t always the most reliable narrator, and it’s completely awesome.
I loved Aaron from the first page. He’s an easy character to root for because he refuses to wallow in his own misery. Even though his family (mostly) loves him, they’re poor and can’t afford to treat his depression. Aaron doesn’t let that stop him. He wants to be happy. He seeks out solutions to his problem, but they aren’t always the correct ones.
“I’ve become this happiness scavenger who picks away at the ugliness of the world, because if there’s happiness tucked away in my tragedies, I’ll find it no matter what. If the blind can find joy in music, and the deaf can discover it with colors, I will do my best to always find the sun in the darkness because my life isn’t one sad ending—it’s a series of endless happy beginnings.” – More Happy Than Not
Aaron’s depression is realistic. Honestly, I usually avoid books about depressed characters because the characters often come across as insufferably whiny, not depressed. Depression is more than just constant pessimism. Aaron’s mental illness is a big part of his life, but it doesn’t completely define him. He still has a personality.
There is a lot to like about this novel. The setting is one of my favorite parts. The story happens in a poverty-stricken part of the Bronx in New York, which is a very different place and culture than I’ve ever experienced. In this world, being tough is everything. When Aaron’s friends start questioning his sexuality, Aaron’s life could be in danger. The people who once protected him won’t hesitate to kill him if he does something “homo.” The setting makes the story intense and gritty. Aaron lives in a place where he could die for something he can’t control. I don’t blame him for wanting Leteo to wipe Thomas from his mind so he can forget he has romantic feelings for a boy.
It’s hard to talk about this without spoilers, but the novel does a great job of showing the selfishness of depression and suicide. Sometimes, Aaron gets so wrapped up in his own search for happiness that he doesn’t see how he’s hurting other people. At the end of the story, he does see the consequences of his actions, but by then it may be too late for the damage to be undone.
“‘Remember when we had trouble beating the last few levels of Zelda? We pooled our allowances and bought the walk-through guide to help us out.’ He softly adds, ‘You should’ve asked for help before cheating.’” – More Happy Than Not
If you can’t tell already, I really, really love More Happy Than Not. I’m having a hard time coming up with something to criticize. If I was forced to pick something, I’d say that there are too many characters. Most of the minor characters aren’t developed at all, so they’re nothing but names. It was hard for me to remember who was who while I was reading.
That’s a minor criticism. I’m going to recommend this book to everybody because it’s an important story that desperately needs to be told. Go read it.