More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera
Trigger Warning (highlight below to see the triggers)
Suicide, depression, self-harm, homophobia, assault
Aaron Soto’s had a difficult year. Difficult is putting it lightly; his father committed suicide, his mother’s been slightly lost ever since that happened, and Aaron tried to kill himself to escape the pain. But things are good now. Aaron loves his girlfriend, Genevieve, and he’s reminded by looking at the smile-shaped scar on the inside of his wrist that he has things worth living for. Things that make him more happy than not. When a boy named Thomas comes into Aaron’s life, initially things get even better. Aaron’s found a new friend, a best friend who understands him like no other, who he feels comfortable around. The summer is brightened- but when Aaron realizes that his feelings for Thomas might be deeper than friendship, things start to unravel. There’s a new science in town; the Leteo Institute promises that it can take away painful memories, suppress them in the back of your mind- would Aaron turn to them?
Set in a gritty near-future version of the Bronx, More Happy than Not is simultaneously dazzling and dreary. Dazzling in the way that it is so vivid in its speculation of what the future could be, in its vivid portrayal of friendship and love, and the way the characters draw you in and get you so invested in their lives that you know little else apart from the story. Dreary in the way that it provides a shockingly realistic portrayal of mental illness, of the realities of communities from the lower socioeconomic ladder, and its exploration of truths and ideas that we often don’t talk about because they’re not glamorous enough, or that they make us unjustifiably uncomfortable. Can you ever truly escape who you are? Should you try to? And why does this damned world make you ever want to?
It’s difficult to pinpoint this book’s genre. Personally, I would categorize it as a contemporary, since it involves many of the elements found in contemporary novels. There’s no magic, there’s little of science-based action. Rather, this book revolves around friendships, families and an individual’s sense of self. In that sense, More Happy than Not is perhaps one of the most well-rounded books I’ve ever read. There is so much happening, but it’s so well-paced and well-balanced that you never feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by emotion, sure, but not by the narrative itself.
Thematically, this novel throws every other book in its vein under the bus- which I don’t mean in a negative way. I’ve read so many sad books that are simply that: sad. Adam Silvera doesn’t write that way- More Happy than Not is a sad story, but it’s not just that. It’s hopeful, and it’s strong. It pulsates with determination and perseverance, and it holds on to that one silver lining at the edge of that heavy grey cloud, and it tries to breathe life into it. It’s devastating- perhaps one of the most devastating books I’ve ever read, because Adam Silvera doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He doesn’t tone down the crude language for his audience’s comfort, and he doesn’t hesitate in graphic, gritty depictions of violence, despair and sex for people’s convenience. Silvera is unapologetic in his writing, which is why the story feels alive. You don’t ever feel like you’re reading about characters. You feel like you’re reading about people.
But even more profound than that, perhaps, is the complicated concept of memory. Of holding on to things that you don’t always want to, of wanting to change an integral part of you- whatever that part may be- because it hurts too much. Would this world be a better place, and would we be better people if we could erase the pain in our lives? What would that mean for us as a society? What if we could erase the memories of our loved ones who had died- it would spare us the pain, but is it our duty to hold on to the good memories we have of those we loved and lost? Adam Silvera raises some difficult questions- questions that can never really be answered because they’re too complicated, and because they vary too much. But I think he does it in a beautifully authentic way, which made my speculation all the more delightful.
Ultimately, I’ll give this book a 4.25 star-rating, mainly because there were certain parts towards the beginning that I felt didn’t need to be there. And although I was completely engrossed after the first 30-40% of the story, initially, I was pushing myself to read it more than wanting to read it. But it is a book that I will recommend that everyone read until my dying day, and Silvera has become an author that I will be on the lookout for. I have a feeling he may go on to do big, big things.