The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

Book review: ‘More Happy Than Not’ by Adam Silvera

on May 21, 2016

More Happy Final CoverMore Happy Than Not. Adam Silvera. Soho Teen. June 2015.

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for sixteen-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? 

More Happy Than Not is the book which finally snapped me out of the reading slump I’ve been in all month. I read two other books whilst I was slumpy, but while I could have happily set them aside to do real-life things, THIS book followed me EVERYWHERE; I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it.

This novel isn’t action-packed, but there’s something so very readable about it; I started it in the morning before I went to work, and stayed up long into the night to finish it that same day. Aaron’s voice is so distinctive, so authentic; I felt I was reading the thoughts of a real person. I cared about Aaron a lot – a mixed up boy who’s been through some truly horrible things – and I desperately needed to keep reading to find out what would happen to him.

If you’re under the impression that this book is more happy than not, you’re mistaken – this is a very sad book, but it’s sad in a poignant way, and I took so much from it. Given the subject matter, you might expect this book to be one giant angst overload, but you’d be wrong there too – Aaron is not one to wallow in his pain. It’s present in everything he does, but he’s not melodramatic about it, even though he has every right to be. But that could be because he’s so determined to have that pain wiped from his memory completely – so he doesn’t have to think about it ever again.

On the subject of memory alteration, the concept of the Leteo Institute was one of the most fascinating parts of the story. The procedure the institute offers, which can make you forget *anything*, brings a speculative/sci-fi element to the novel, but this doesn’t feel wildly out of place; it’s just as believable as everything else within the world of the story, which is more gritty and realistic than fantastical. What I found most interesting about the Leteo procedure was all of the questions it raised: Is it right to alter your memories? Can you change who you truly are by doing so? Is it *cheating* to get rid of pain or guilt in this way? Does someone *deserve* to be able to hide their pain, when everyone else has to suffer through theirs?

I won’t go into too much detail about how Leteo affects the plot becauase I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it was interesting (and devastating) to see Aaron’s thought processes as he gradually came to the conclusion that the only way out was for him to ‘forget’ the fact that he’s gay, or that he ever even met Thomas. Part of the reason this was so upsetting to read was because of its applicability outside of fiction. Of course there’s no such thing as the Leteo procedure, but in our world there are manipulative groups who offer ‘gay cures’ to those who can’t accept their sexualities (or who have families/live in communities that never will). It’s utterly heartbreaking to me that somebody would ever be made to feel like who they are and who they love is wrong, and this book is powerful because it doesn’t shy away from the fact that this is a reality for some people in some parts of the world.

This novel explores a lot of issues – homophobia, depression, suicide, poverty, crime – but the story is so well executed that it never feels like a preachy ‘issue book’. This is 100% Aaron’s story, and his compelling personality, along with all of the other distinctively drawn characters, drives the story, rather than the issues he is facing.

I loved Aaron – he was funny, considerate, thoughtful, and somebody who was not in the least bit ashamed of his nerdy side. I don’t know much about comic books, but I enjoyed the way Aaron’s passion for them was integrated within the story, and how much joy it brought him simply to visit his favourite store (even though he didn’t have enough money to buy any comics). I also really liked the development of Aaron’s character – the way meeting Thomas changed him, gradually making him realise he hadn’t always been true to himself, often going along with the things his friends did (for example getting into fights), simply because it’s what he’s always done and he’s never known any different.

Another character I liked a lot was Genevieve, Aaron’s girlfriend. Gen’s an artist, and I loved reading about the awesomely imaginative paintings she was always working on. She was funny too, and the banter between her and Aaron carried some of my favourite scenes. Although Aaron could never reciprocate Gen’s romantic feelings, I didn’t doubt that he cared for her deeply and loved her. Something we learn about Gen later in the book made me question her a little, but given the way she felt about Aaron, I could understand it on some level. I felt desperately sorry for Genevieve, because was she was in love with someone who could never love in her quite the same way. I’m so happy this book didn’t dismiss her feelings in favour of Aaron’s; it explored her side of things well, considering the story is told from Aaron’s POV.

The character I identified with most was probably Thomas. Thomas is someone who’s always searching for happiness, and trying to figure out what he wants out of life. He’s had a string of different jobs, all of which he’s quit rather promptly, because he doesn’t see the point of carrying on once he realises something isn’t for him. Thomas is constantly working on his plan for achieving happiness, and coming up with a new life ambition every five minutes! Although he’s somewhat directionless, I admired his determination to find one.

What I loved most about Thomas was his kindness, and the sincere way he cared for Aaron, in a way that the other boys Aaron had known since childhood never seemed to. The friendship between Aaron and Thomas was beautifully portrayed. Even though Aaron saw their relationship as something *more* I think Silvera illustrated perfectly that friendship can be just as deep and life-alteringly important as romance, and just as strongly felt. Just as Aaron loved Genevieve, I knew that Thomas also loved Aaron.

I really liked the focus on male friendship in this novel – I felt that the camaraderie and sense of community between Aaron and his friends helped paint an authentic picture of life in the Bronx neighbourhood of NYC, where the author himself grew up. Male friendship is something which is often dismissed in fiction as being more superficial than female friendship, less emotional. However, Silvera showed just how big a part of your life those bonds are and how deeply they run. Aaron’s friends are boys he’s grown up with, and he cares strongly about their acceptance – so much so that he feels the need to hide his sexuality from them.

As I mentioned before, this book is sad, and it will make you cry (I had tears streaming down my face at one point), because it’s a powerful read. There’s a lot to think about, and a lot that can be taken beyond the pages of the book. I’d recommend this book to everyone, but particularly those who are dismissive of YA fiction for being too simplistic, or frivolous. Books like this one are the reason YA is so brilliant, and so important. They’re also the reason why that limiting classification shouldn’t necessarily be slapped onto a book in the first place. I gave this book 5/5 stars, but it deserves an infinite number! Please, please read it!


22 responses to “Book review: ‘More Happy Than Not’ by Adam Silvera

  1. This book is now on my TBR
    I love books that make me cry….
    Is that weird?! hahaha

    Great review ma’am 🙂

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you! 🙂 And no, not weird at all, I also love books that make me cry, because I think being moved that much by fiction is a sign of a very good book! I really hope you do pick this one up and enjoy it as much as I did 🙂

  2. Amazing review. I need to read this book, it sounds beautiful.

    On a side note, I recently saw an article about a current research on erasing memories (really about lessening bad memories, fears and such), which scared the bejesus out of me. It seems to be in our proximate future and no in the distant anymore :O Here’s a quote from the article:

    “The long-term goal of our research is that we would like to find ways — potentially independent of drug administration — to enhance or diminish the strength of specific memories, the good ones, and diminish the bad ones,” summarized Dr. Role.

    Imagine, as you mentioned, that sort of thing being used as a new form of “gay cure”. It would be devastating. It’s so scary to think about that!

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you so much, and yes please do, it was a beautiful (but devastating) book, and was so well written. And wow, research like this really is terrifying. Especially as it’s the kind of thing which, if proven possible, could be seriously abused, and like you said, have devastating consequences 😦 I feel like the whole idea of removing/reducing a bad memory is so unnatural – it’s understandable that somebody would want to, but I feel that something like that would never be 100% foolproof, and could end up being so much more damaging if those memories ended up returning. 😦

  3. Great review. I’ve seen this book around but had no idea what it was actually about. It’s definitely going on my tbr.

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you! 🙂 It was fantastic – so heartbreaking, but so well written and compelling. Really hope you do decide to pick it up, as it’s well worth a read!

  4. Brilliant review! I’ve seen this book around but wasn’t sure it was for me but your review has sold me on it, I’m adding it to my list now.

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you – I’m so glad my review convinced you 🙂 I really hope you love it as much as I did and I look forward to seeing what you think if you decide to pick it up.

  5. mamandapanda says:

    I absolutely loved this book too. It has the gift to affect you right in the feels! Great review

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you! I know, it really did make me feel EVERYTHING – such a heartbreaking book, but so, so good. I’m glad you loved it as much as I did. I’m really excited to read Adam Silvera’s next book.

  6. Evy says:

    I’ve always wanted to read this book, but have never gotten around to it. Hopefully I can read it soon!

  7. Wow this sounds completely phenomenal!!

    • mudandstars says:

      It really was – it’s one of the best YA books I’ve read; it really blew me away. It wasn’t an easy read (in the sense that it explores some really upsetting issues) but it was so well done, moving, and beautifully written. I recommend this one so much!

      • Yeah it sounds really tough to get through- I’m gonna have to make sure I’m in the mood to read it, cos it sounds heavy going- but worthwhile by the sound of everything you’re saying! Thanks for the recommendation!

      • mudandstars says:

        You’re welcome! 🙂 Well, it explored heavy issues, but it wasn’t tough to get through, because the writing was so compelling and it had a lot of heart, if that makes sense. I literally finished it in a day, I was so wrapped up in it! But agreed, it’s definitely one to pick up if you’re in the right mood.

      • Yeah that does make sense! I hope I can check it out at some point 🙂

  8. This book sounds amazing!!! The concept of Leteo is fascinating! I’ve also never read a book addressing gay issues or homophobia, but I need to! I adore books that tackle issues that are taboo to write/talk about! Great review and welcome back!

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you! 🙂 It was so good, and the Leteo concept was very cleverly done. I haven’t read many books which address homophobia either – I read quite a lot of LGBT fiction, but most of it is fluffy romance, which tends not to explore this side of things. It was a devastating book, but an important one, and I highly recommend it! Look forward to seeing what you think if you decide to read it.

  9. […] Jess @ The Mud and Stars Book Blog […]

  10. […] This is a really tough question, because I’ve read so many fantastic books this year, but the one that stands out for me so far is More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. This was a beautifully written, heartbreaking story, which explored so many different issues without becoming an ‘issue book’. It was achingly honest, had me in tears more than once, and made me fall completely in love with its characters. You can read my review here. […]

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