We’re going backlist today and I have to start with the story of how I came to own this book. I had heard a lot about this book and seen copies of it everywhere 2 years ago when I was on a business trip. On a layover at Chicago Midway, I sat down next to an empty seat that had a copy of the book resting on its arm. My flight was delayed for 2 hours and no one came back to the seat for the entire 3 hours that I was sitting there. I kept peeking at the book and finally figured that 3 hours was the beyond the ‘statute of limitations’ for book abandonment so, when I got on the plane, I took it with me! I felt a little guilty but, by the time I reached Columbus, I was more than halfway through it!
Let me say upfront: this book is trigger-rich. If you are particularly sensitive to topics of suicide, homophobia/bi-phobia, hate violence, mental health issues, or fat shaming…More Happy Than Not should be approached with a lot of self-care!
I had heard two primary things about this book when it ‘fell’ into my hands: 1) that it was super inclusive and 2) that it was super emotional! I’ll tell you upfront: I found both to be true. The primary thing I didn’t know about this book when I started reading it is that it’s actually categorized as both contemporary YA and science fiction. I would definitely still say that it was more contemporary YA than sci-fi, that label might have put me off if I had known about it upfront. I loved this book so don’t let that deter you: I love YA and while I have come to learn that there’s a lot of sci-fi that I really enjoy, I generally don’t think of myself as a sci-fi fan!
Silvera takes on the topics of sexuality, community and the role memory plays in shaping our lives by telling the story of Aaron Soto, a young Puerto Rican man living in a tough NY neighborhood. Soto is dealing with the recent loss of his father to suicide and, with the help of his mother and girlfriend, Genevieve, is trying to overcome his own grief and recent suicide attempt. Early in the story we: 1) are introduced to Thomas, a new guy in the neighborhood who befriends Aaron and 2) come to learn about the source of the book’s sci-fi element: the Leteo Institute its newly developed memory-alteration technology.
Aaron’s girlfriend goes away fir the summer and he proceeds to get closer with Thomas, ultimately falling in love with him and coming to see himself as gay. Subsequently, he is forced to face his sexuality in terms of the rough, Hispanic neighborhood in which he lives. The tenderness of his relationship with Thomas stands in stark contrast to the violence he experiences from others and he is left considering the Leteo procedure to help him forget his homosexuality and go back to fitting in in his community. While those developments alone would be enough to keep Silvera’s alive and enjoyable, the masterful way he introduces surprising elements to the plot make this book one you won’t likely forget soon!
While the book is quite gritty in places and may stir up emotions for readers both tender and controversial, Silvera’s depiction of Aaron’s struggle feels true and insightful. I felt both emotionally wrecked and somehow more ‘woke’ to challenges I’m not forced to face when I finished this book. While the book is billed as YA, I find it highly enjoyable as an adult and would recommend it only for teens on the older end of the YA spectrum.
Memory and how we define ourselves in terms of others are key to the message of this story. Love takes many forms and Silvera does a masterful job of asking his readers to consider their feelings about all love in this amazing novel.