Published by Soho Press on 6/2/15
Genres: LGBTQ+, Love & Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
My content rating: YA (Characters have sex, but it's not shown)
In his twisty, gritty, profoundly moving debut—called “mandatory reading” by the New York Times—Adam Silvera brings to life a charged, dangerous near-future summer in the Bronx.
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?
More Happy Than Not was such an incredible surprise to me. I apparently didn’t read the blurb very carefully (or the reviews – I just saw that they were glowing and knew that the main character was gay) because I didn’t remember about The Leteo Institute before I started reading, so that bit of sci-fi element to the book (some people are calling it fantasy, but I’d say it’s more sci-fi – the idea is that scientists come up with a way to make you forget parts of your life) took me by surprise. Once you get to the point that involves that, the book takes a very interesting turn!
What I LOVED:
- The setting. This book is set in the Bronx and has a definite inner-city feel to it. Right from the start you find out that one of the neighborhood kids was shot and fights are pretty much a part of the norm. They run a bit wilder than is typical in the buttoned-up suburbs, and that raises the stakes when Aaron is questioning his sexuality – it’s not the type of environment where being gay is accepted (in fact, pretty much any time the boys touch each other they have to declare “no homo.”) Not that being gay in the suburbs is easy, but in this urban setting it seems downright dangerous (I suppose the same is true is certain rural settings as well, but I digress.) At any rate, the gritty setting created a unique backdrop for this story that shaped it in many ways. The setting in this one wasn’t just an afterthought – it might as well have been a character. (I wasn’t at all surprised to read in Silvera’s bio that he grew up in the Bronx himself.)
- Friendships. This book really focused on the relationships between Aaron and his friends and girlfriend. These relationships were crazy and funny and, at times, sweet. Aaron and Genevieve form a bond that can only be forged out of both joy and pain, and Aaron’s relationship with Thomas is endearing and humorous in a world that could easily be all about pain. The fun moments with friends kept this book from being too dark. (I should also mention that Aaron’s relationship with his mom is refreshing too!)
- The struggle for identity. Once Aaron realizes that he’s having feelings for his best friend, he doesn’t immediately want to go to The Leteo Institute to forget. It’s through a series of pretty painful events that Aaron comes to that conclusion – that being gay is just too hard and that it would be easier just to forget that part of himself. He’s sure that Leteo can change him into the person he wants to be. This part of the story was intriguing, but then there are some HUGE revelations that turn the whole thing upside down – I really don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that Aaron’s journey is way more complex than I ever imagined. In fact, the second half of the book (or maybe just the last quarter?) is almost a completely different book as it moves into the realm of the fantastical – but all still grounded in Aaron’s very painful reality.
- The ending. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the ending to this book. It was very strange and completely open-ended, which some people love, but I usually don’t.
This book is different from anything else you’ll read, and for that alone it deserves praise. It’s a surprising novel about accepting who you are – or forgetting it completely. But trust me, this is not a book you will soon forget. I give it 4.5/5 stars.
About the Author
Adam was born and raised in the Bronx and is tall for no reason. He was a bookseller before shifting to children’s publishing where he worked at a literary development company, a creative writing website for teens, and as a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. He lives in New York City.