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? From Goodreads.
Trigger Warning: Suicide.
I have wanted to read More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera for ages, but for some reason the cover, and the fact that it has been likened to the movie Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, which I didn't like, put me off a little. I knew I would read it eventually because of the rave reviews, but it was always "later". I finally picked it up as it was part of Dahlia Adler's November Book Club, and oh my god, I wish I had read it so much sooner! This book is incredible!
A few months ago, Aaron's father committed suicide. It was completely out of the blue, and he has no idea why. Dealing with his grief and sadness has been tough. The only person he can really talk to is his girlfriend Genevieve; his friends don't really do real talk, his mum is almost always working to keep a roof over their head, and he's not that close to his brother Eric. The grief was too much for him, and now he's left with a smiling mouth scar on his wrist from a failed suicide attempt. He's now trying to piece his life back together. He's made a new friend in Thomas, a guy who lives not too far away, and he starts spending most of his time with him. Thomas allows Aaron to be himself, to talk about the sadness he still feels without judgement, and soon Aaron develops feelings for Thomas. But being gay is causing him more problems and more unhappiness. Maybe his only chance is to get the Leteo procedure, which will alter his memories and make him forget his feelings for Thomas. But can altering memories stop you from being who you are?
Oh my god, this is so, so brilliant, I can't even tell you! It's so clever, complex, deep and sad, but completely wonderful! I was completely engrossed in Aaron's story, which is such an interesting one, and had this huge twist I wasn't expecting at all. More Happy Than Not is set in the not too distant future, and feels very much like a contemporary novel; the Leteo Institute, where people are having memory-altering procedures to forget difficult times is the only sci-fi aspect of the story, and for a good long while, it's something that's going on in the background. Aaron knows someone who had the procedure and then moved, and he sees adverts for it and protests at his local institute, but it's not something that affects him. He's just a teenage boy living in the Bronx, trying to get over his father's suicide, experiencing firsts with his girlfriend, and making a new friend. It's not until much later, when Aaron realises he has feelings for Thomas, and Aaron starts to feel those feelings are problematic that the Leteo Institute comes into play.
'I know not being me will be a lie, but I know I'm doing myself a favor in the long run if I can somehow book a Leteo procedure. Because as I stand now, I have so much bullshit to look out for.What adds to the contemporary feel are all the pop culture references we're all going to recognise. Aaron is a bit of a geek, and one of his favourite places is his local comic book store, so there are a lot of Marvel and DC references. I was a tiny bit annoyed by the fake Harry Potter - Scorpius Hawthorne, a demonic boy wizard. All the references are so close to the real books (book three is called Scorpius Hawthorne and the Convict of Abbadon, and Emma Watson plays Scorpius' friend Lexa in the movies), it just seemed a little weird to not use the real books, but I guess there must have been some issue there.
Happiness shouldn't be this hard.' (p157)
I also loved how gritty and real this book is. It's set in the Bronx in New York. I don't know much about the Bronx, but I have this idea that it's a rough kind of place, and Silvera makes it feel that way; Aaron lives in a one bedroom apartment, with he and his brother sharing the front room as a bedroom. It's the summer and all three of them work - his mother has two jobs - and yet there is still very little money around. Aaron is living is such poverty, but it's so normal for him, that's it's not even really a major part of the book, but it's there in everything. His sort of best friend Brendan is a drug dealer, another friend in his group who is known as Me-Crazy (and actually talks in the third person about himself, calling himself Me-Crazy) can fly of the handle at any second and will beat the crap out of anyone, and his group is known to get into fights with the teenagers from the nearby group of apartments. They also have this street way of talking, that thankfully isn't too full of slang, because I don't understand it. It's also a diverse community; there are very few people in the cast of characters who are white. There's one character I assume is white because she has red hair and green eyes, and there are a few characters who's skin colour is mentioned, but for the most part the race of most characters isn't brought up at all, but there is the feel of a very diverse community. And with Aaron, we have an intersectional protagonist as a gay person of colour.
One of the things I loved about this book is how, even though Aaron is so severely unhappy for most of the book, it's not a book that drags the reader down. I find most books about such sadness are emotionally draining and exhausting, and leave you feeling empty, all the while being a book I'm wowed by. With More Happy Than Not, I was wowed without being pulled into Aaron's sadness, which is surprising, since suicide comes up a fair bit, either when Aaron is talking about his dad's suicide, his own suicide attempt, or suicidal thoughts that come up over the course of the story. I was still emotionally involved; I cared about Aaron, about what would happen to him, about where his life would go, and I was sad for him, but not the exhaustive sadness that leaves me feeling completely wiped out.
'Sometimes pain is so unimaginable that the idea of spending another day with it seems impossible. Other times pain acts as a compass to help you get through the messier tunnels of growing up. But pain can only help you find happiness if you can remember it.' (p270)I can't really go into much more detail about the plot without spoiling things, but believe me there is a lot going on! Silvera has woven this incredible story that completely blew me away, and has such a turn of phrase; at times poetic, and at others so poignant.
'From the shapes cast by the green paper lantern, you would never know that there were two boys sitting closely to one another trying to find themselves. You would only see shadows hugging, indiscriminate.' (p136)I must say that Silvera writes about pain and sadness in such an exquisite way, but in a way that, having read Silvera's post, Happiness Isn't Just an Outside Thing (trigger warning: he discusses suicidal thoughts), made me feel so sad for him and what he must have drawn on for the story. You can't read that post then read this book and not go, "Woah." It just makes this story mean a whole lot more - not plot-wise, but sadness-wise - and I feel like we've been given something very special. I know this is a review, but I'd like to add that I sincerely hope that Silvera gets through his dark times. We're better off for his talent.
An unbelievably beautiful novel, and I'm so excited to read whatever Silvera writes next. He's most definitely one to look out for.
Published: 2nd June 2015
Publisher: Soho Teen
Adam Silvera's Website