Book Review: More Happy Than Not
More Happy Than Not
Soho Teen, June 2015
(Advance reader copy from Book Expo)
Here’s the thing, I’m torn between wanting to write all about this book, and wanting to be as sparse and vague as possible, so that you can read this (and you really should) and be surprised by the characters, by the twists and turns as I was. I want to offer up all the details that I marveled over, especially in the second half of the book as I traced them back to where they began. I never post cover copy/synopses of books. But I’m going to. So you can see what I saw in the story before I read it.
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.
I knew it was going to be a wrenching book. I knew it was going to include emotionally wrenching moments (and it did. I needed a hug when I was finished reading.)
The way the story starts and the way it ends are vastly different in emotional feel, and even almost in genre. The setup of the cover copy, with the memory alteration procedure led me to expect a more science fiction feel. Instead, the first few chapters are scenes and stories from a group of friends growing up in the Bronx, the narrator is Aaron, a teenage boy, who lets you in his head and his story. Aaron is dealing with memories: losing his father, attempting his own suicide, trying to hold his family together. He and his friends work and live and hang out in the neighborhood, have girlfriends, get yelled at by parents, hook up, talk smack, fight, deal with not having much money, dream. As his friendship with Thomas grows closer, it stirs up feelings Aaron knows his girlfriend and his friends won’t understand. And raises his questions about who he is and wants to be.
Relationships that aren’t easy, that have nuance, that aren’t True Love or One and Only.
Genuine plot surprises.
Left me reeling a bit.
It reads like a coming-of-age story, where both the emotional realities and the physical world are rendered in excellent detail. A few mentions of Leteo, the new memory clinic that’s come to the neighborhood. But they’re handled in a way that feels contemporary and real. It’s a new thing to talk about, while characters get on with their ordinary lives, and maybe know someone who’s had the procedure done.
It’s rare to see such a well-balanced fusion of a science fiction idea with an ordinarily captured world. I appreciate that almost as much as I appreciate the level of honesty in creating the characters, their fears, their messy relationships.
I’m trying hard to balance describing the details that stood out with staying vague enough to let readers discover the surprises this book held. I should probably stop here and say: read this. Even if you think you aren’t sure about science fiction.
But you might need a hug afterward. Fair warning.