My first Adam Silvera! I have been hearing so so much about him lately, especially with his newest release, They Both Die at the End. When I added that one to my TBR list, I looked back, saw that I had two others by him already on the list, and realized it was probably time for me to actually read one of them. So, more or less randomly (and by that, I mean based on what was available at my library…), I decided to start with More Happy Than Not. I really love the sexual and racial representation that Silvera is bringing to the YA literary genre (it would be great if more general/adult authors representing like this would get big) and am super happy to read and support his works. It definitely doesn’t hurt that they are really well written and relatable. Essentially, I just wish that there were more authors writing these types of characters (and getting recognition for it) when I was actually a YA age reader – I think it would have helped me get to be where I am today (as far as understanding and acceptance) much faster.
“Happiness shouldn’t be this hard.”
This is the story of Aaron Soto, a high schooler living in the Bronx. His family is fairly poor and, after his father’s recent suicide, he has struggled with some of his own mental health issues. But he has an amazing girlfriend, Genevieve, a job at a local market, and a pretty solid group of neighborhood friends. Then he meets a new guy, from an adjacent neighborhood, Thomas. As he and Thomas start to spend more and more time together, he realizes that his feelings for Thomas are perhaps different than he thought, more along the types of feelings he should have (but maybe doesn’t anymore) for Genevieve. Of course, being gay isn’t really acceptable in such a rough area of the Bronx (or, let’s be honest, most places) and Aaron finds himself really unhappy. So he starts considering Leteo, a new memory adjustment technology that can erase memories…and make you forget the parts of yourself that you wish were more ‘normal.’
“Sometimes pain is so unmanageable that the idea of spending another day with it seems impossible. Other times pain acts as a compass to get you through the messier tunnel of growing up. But the pain can only help you find happiness if you can remember it.”
I went into this expecting an emotional ride, but one that I could more or less predict the course of. Well, I was definitely wrong – almost none of this plot was traditionally predictable. And though the expected topics are definitely the focal point, particularly sexuality and social class, there is a lot more going on here. We definitely get the anticipated challenges and trauma related to being gay: Aaron’s original “discovery” of this facet of himself, his coming out to his family (the good and the… very bad), the things he does and people he uses to pretend he’s straight, the harmful reactions of his friends and community, etc. But there is also quite a bit on top of that that I hadn’t necessarily predicted, like Thomas’ reaction to his confidence, the complications of Genevieve’s role and feelings for him, his own “re-discovery” of his sexuality. Honestly, this was a story with a much deeper message about complexity and profundity of sexuality than it seemed like it would be. The themes of sense of self and self-acceptance are intense and difficult, because the choices between social ostracization versus oblivion are completely unfair (and totally fabricated). And though forgetting may seem like the easiest way to achieve happiness, there is also a deep-seated unhappiness in having to pretend or forgetting your true self that will, eventually, win out. And in the end, perhaps that “more happy than not” feeling that you get when you choose to accept both yourself and the suffering that includes is still better than the alternative options. Aaron is a wonderfully flawed (in all your typical teenage ways, though with admittedly extreme circumstances) and haunted hero for anyone who has grieved and lived through pain on their way towards trying to find their own happily ever after. And he is also the model icon for everyone who has learned that happily ever after is not a perfect ending of total happiness, but a compromise of happiness while accepting who we truly are (no more hiding or pretending) and learning to live with loss and a normal amount of self-loathing. But we adjust. And we make the best of it. And we end up more happy than not.
“In that moment, I wish my existence were as simple as being set on fire and exploding in the sky.”
As far as the writing itself, this was solidly done. Aaron’s voice is strong and alive, the dialogue is realistic, and the characters’ relationship developments are nuanced and well-paced. I loved some of the little details that Silvera added, like Genevieve staying up to watch the clocks turn on time change nights or Aaron’s mom’s swear word spelling bees, that really brought these characters to life. And there were some really cute over-arching details, like Aaron’s comic book storyline or inability to ride a bike, that transcended his memory and stayed constant through each narrative. Although Aaron was an imperfect, partially unreliable, narrator, he told his own story with strength and honesty. And it was beautiful for that. Also (and keep in mind that I don’t really know anything about the author’s story, other than the inside cover description and the acknowledgements at the end of the novel), I am willing to bet this is at least partially told out of personal experience – the strength of feeling really shows throughout. Hats off and giant bear hugs for that.