More Happy Than Not: Review

June 24, 2015 2015, 3.5 star books, contemporary, Layla, lgbtq 23 ★★★½

More Happy Than Not: ReviewMore Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
on June 2, 2015
Genres: contemporary
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
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three-half-stars
The Leteo Institute's revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto -- miracle cure-alls don't tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can't forget how he's grown up poor or how his friends aren't always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it's not enough.

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn't mind Aaron's obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn't mind talking about Aaron's past. But Aaron's newfound happiness isn't welcome on his block. Since he can't stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

Adam Silvera's extraordinary debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.

Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not hit me right in the feels.

I checked this one out from the library on an impulse: I wanted to read a book with LGBTQI content, particularly one that considered intersectionality; I don’t tend to look for stories about LGBTQI-identified young men enough and I’d like to amend that; there was the hint of a sci-fi premise with the Leteo Institute’s mind-altering technology; and last, but not least, I liked the unsettling half smiley face on the color. (Hey world, if you are trying to get me to read a book here are some pro-tips on how to do it: make it queer, make it sci-fi, make me feel vaguely creeped out by the cover. I will read that book in a heartbeat.)

And this impulse paid off. I read More Happy Than Not in one sitting (thank you, coffee, for making this possible) and was always interested and engaged by it, and I never wanted to stop reading it. If you’re looking for a great book about a kid coming of age (and potentially coming out) in the Bronx, this is a wonderful choice. I liked so many things about it, you all.

Here’s the premise: Aaron Soto lives in a world that feels … mostly pretty recognizable – he’s growing up in the Bronx projects, he’s Puerto Rican, he’s a nerd (& delightfully so) who loves comic books and has been drawing his own, he’s been dating his girlfriend for about a year and it feels like love, and he’s trying to come to terms with both his father’s suicide and his own failed suicide attempt following that. The only exception to this mostly pretty recognizable world is that you can pay the Leteo Institute to have your memories altered. The novel opens with Aaron’s reflections on this process – he kind of thought it might be bullshit, but is increasingly open to the possibility that it isn’t – but then the Leteo Institute mostly disappears from the main narrative of the text.

This is because Aaron is busy dealing with other stuff: namely, the introduction of Thomas, a new guy to the neighborhood, who quickly becomes fast friends with Aaron. But is it friendship or something more? Aaron realizes his feelings for Thomas are deepening and that he might be, in his own words, a “dude-liker.” (As someone who also tip-toed around identifying as gay for awhile, I loved this, even though it gave me all the feels.) Anyway, so being gay presents a number of problems for Aaron – View Spoiler » – and he thinks the Leteo Institute might provide a way out. Can they make him forget his sexuality?

I bet you can guess the answer to that question.

What I liked most about the book was Aaron’s narrative voice: Silvera does an A++ job here, for reals. Aaron’s voice is disarmingly funny, but oh man, there’s also so much emotional depth (and as much honesty as Aaron is capable of). I loved reading about his complicated relationship with the other guys in his neighborhood; his Trade Dates with his girlfriend, Genevieve; his developing friendship with Thomas; and his sneaking suspicion that it might be something more. My reading experience bounced back and forth between delighting in Aaron’s narration (tell me more about this abandoned musical about a robot who time-travels back to the Mesozoic era to study dinosaurs, and also Scorpius Hawthorne, demonic boy wizard) and then bam, emotional wallop. Like so, when Aaron comes out to Thomas: “But for tonight, this is enough. 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.” GAH. ::heart explodes::

And even before we know precisely what’s going on in the novel, there’s a sense that there’s quite a lot going on underneath the surface for Aaron as he falls in love with Thomas. And this is conveyed really splendidly! View Spoiler » Aaron’s developing recognition of his own sexual orientation felt really, really right and familiar to me. There’s a moment where he “realizes” that Thomas is gay and also might be attracted to him, and he worries about how the neighborhood will respond to Thomas’s sexuality, and oh man, he’s so obviously thinking about himself and working through his own feelings that my heart went out to him. (Not in a patronizing way, but in a “oh man, I have totes been there” way.)

So while I loved this book (and I did a lot, and I think you should read it), there were aspects of it that didn’t quite work for me. Namely, the Leteo Institute and the memory-altering procedure? While I thought it was an interesting premise – what does it mean for someone to try to forget their sexuality? for us, socially, for Aaron, individually? – I wasn’t thrilled with its execution. For most of the novel, the Leteo Institute isn’t … all that present. And while this is with good reason, it left me kind of wondering, for most of the novel, why this technology was even a part of the story. Huuuuge spoiler under the cut. View Spoiler » Additionally, the use of the Leteo Institute’s technology means that there are things that don’t quiiiiite make sense in the novel until you’re more than halfway through. View Spoiler »

So this might be obvious, but I really liked this book and would absolutely recommend it on the strength of the narrative voice alone. It deals with coming-out in an interesting and unique way, and also thinks about sexuality in relationship to class, ethnicity, and gender (which is … not all that common and is really well done here). Also also, I should note that this is Silvera’s debut, and it’s an excellent one. Pick it up if you have a chance.

Has anyone else read this? If so, what’d you think?

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23 Responses to “More Happy Than Not: Review”

  1. Jo

    Ooooh, this sounds so good now! I say “now”, because I was put off by the memory-altering thing. I wasn’t a huge fan of Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, and I had heard comparisons. But if it isn’t that present, that works for me! Though I will beaware of anything problematic now you’ve mentioned it. Oooh, I so want to read this! Thank you for the awesome review! :)

  2. Christina (A Reader of Fictions)

    I was looking at your review before but forgot to comment so hello it is me I have returned. Just pretend that was remotely a sentence. Anywho.

    So I tried More Happy when it first arrived and it was not at all what I was expecting, so I decided to abandon it for some time when I was in the mood for what it actually was. The nicknames and stuff made it feel a bit more Outsiders than I ever would have thought.

    Like you, I find the sci fi premise a bit odd. It’s almost like the sci fi version of magical realism, and I don’t know what to make of that. I’d totally forgotten about that part from the blurb and thought it was about something more like a “pray the gay away.” Maybe I need to read blurbs more often.

    Anyway, I’m so glad that you enjoyed it because that’s quite heartening. When I’m in the right mood, I’ll definitely be coming back to this one.
    Christina (A Reader of Fictions) recently posted…Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

  3. Vivien

    This was such a surprising read for me! I really did not have many expectations going into this one. I had the same feelings that you did…at first I was annoyed with the Aaron and Genevieve situation but then it became heartbreaking. I honestly just really wanted so much more from the Leteo portion of the book. It could have tipped this book into that next level. It reminded me so much of Eternal Sunshine which I absolutely loved! This was such a tough one to rate. On one hand, I enjoyed the character progression of Aaron, but I wanted really wished that the whole ‘memory’ bit had been more fleshed out. Still an enjoyable read though! And I did read in one sitting as well. After this comment, I’m with you on the 3.5 lol :)

  4. Alex U.

    I’ll be honest I was a little hesitant to read this based off the synopsis, I had picked it up at Barnes and Noble but then end up putting it back. I did however, end up checking it out at the library I just haven’t read it yet. But based off your review and many other positive reviews I’m eager to read it! Thank you!

  5. Thomas

    Ugh, read this one and loved it. I think you describe Aaron’s voice so well: it’s disarming in its honesty and searing in its emotional depth. While the lack of development of the Leteo institute did not bother me much when I read the book, I can why you and others might have felt a bit put off by it. I mainly just appreciated how Adam Silvera did not take the easy way out with any of his characters; each of them has “good” and “bad” aspects, and there is no one who we are supposed to easily love or hate. Stellar review and glad that you are giving this super intersectional story some space to shine on the Midnight Garden. :)
    Thomas recently posted…Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison

  6. Chrystal

    I’ve seen this book everywhere, but yours is the first review I’ve read and WOW! I’m so impressed with your review and what the book made you feel. I have a reservation for this book via my library, I just hope my turn is soon! :)
    Chrystal recently posted…Ten Things You Don’t Know About Me

    • Layla

      Haha, oh gosh, I hope your library copy comes in soon. And I hope that you enjoy the book as much as I did when I’m done? I really liked it, it was just also very, very difficult to read in places because it gave me approximately a million feels. (It also makes me super glad that no Leteo procedure existed while I was growing up and coming out, because I would have chosen that shit in a heartbeat, too.) Anyway, fingers crossed that you like it. ;) But no harm done if you don’t.
      Layla recently posted…Classic Readalong: To Kill a Mockingbird

  7. Carina Olsen

    Yay :D Gorgeous review Layla. <3 I'm so happy that you liked this book so much. You make it sound amazing. Ugh. I'm curious about it now :) I have seen the author around on twitter a lot, huh. But yeah. I'm not sure this plot would be for me :( Sounds heartbreaking, lol. Yet awesome too. So glad you liked it :D Thank you for sharing about it sweet girl. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #193

    • Layla

      It’s good? I really liked the writing, and I liked the narrative voice in particular quite a bit. But if you don’t want to feel like your heart is being totally shattered, perhaps … stay away from this one until you’re ready to be heartbroken. :)
      Layla recently posted…Classic Readalong: To Kill a Mockingbird

  8. kindlemom1

    Okay at first I actually thought you were saying that you were more happy than not with this book, not that it was the title of the read! I need a nap apparently!

    Glad this was an okay read for you that brought on the feels. ;)
    kindlemom1 recently posted…WoW Pick of the Week!

    • Layla

      Bahaha, no. I was more happy than not with the book! Mostly happy! If you can be happy about having your heart broken into a million tiny pieces, that is.

      Um, naps are always a good idea. :) Just ask my cats! They will confirm this for you.

  9. Alexa S.

    I have More Happy Than Not coming up on my TBR, and I’m very much looking forward to it! It sounds like such an interesting tale, and I’m curious to see how I’m going to feel about the more science fiction aspects of it. Glad you enjoyed it, in spite of your reservations about certain aspects!
    Alexa S. recently posted…Looking Back at Little House

    • Layla

      Ah, I’ll be interested to hear what you think of it when you read it then, Alexa! I did really enjoy it – wasn’t super sure about the integration of the sci-fi aspects into the overall narrative, but like I said, I’m still thinking about it and could change my mind entirely. :) I hope you like it too!!

  10. Hilary

    I might just pick this up for the heartbreak alone! This sounds like a fantastic debut novel!
    I think the Leteo Institute was used as a symbol more than anything else. Although if that were the case, I agree that it should be more present throughout the book instead of coming in as a way to round out the story. This is all conjecture since I haven’t read it yet but I get that sense from your review.
    Hilary recently posted…Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

    • Layla

      If you like heartbreak, I think you’ll really enjoy this one. Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of my heart breaking into a MILLION LITTLE PIECES after reading this book. And yeah, it’s an excellent debut novel.

      Yeah, I wondered about that. I mean, it enables him to thoroughly “forget” that he’s gay in a way that probably wouldn’t otherwise be possible (in that he’s able to forget any and all memories that are connected to his knowledge of his own sexuality). I still wonder *why* it’s important that this happens though, or what it does for the narrative? I don’t know. And yes, I wanted it to be more present in the book. I was also wondering whether or not it’s tied to all of the stuff around comic books that runs through the text too? Gah. If you read this and have any more thoughts about any of this, let me know!

  11. Christina

    I just saw this in the bookstore last week, and I can’t wait to read it. Your review has me even more excited!

    • Layla

      Awesome! I’m glad that you’re thinking about picking it up! I really enjoyed it, as you can probably tell. The story’s important, the characterization of the narrator is excellent, and last but not least, the prose is pretty freaking great – I’d happily read something by Silvera again. If you read it, I hope you like it.

    • Layla

      Nope, totally with you. I also thought the cover was kind of unsettling – it’s one of the reasons that I picked it up in the first place! Creepy half-happy face for the win!

      If you read it, let me know what you think!