Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review: This is What Happy Looks Like

It's no secret, but perhaps you could call it a lesser-known fact, that I am a huge fan of Jennifer E. Smith. Last year, I preordered The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and read it all in one night. Granted, I'm pretty sure that book has less than 300 pages.
I was expecting this book to be around the same size, so I was pleasantly surprised when I opened it and found, like, 400 PAGES. *happy dances* Which is not to say that I didn't still finish it all in one night-- rest assured that I did. I turned to the prologue and I was gone from this world. This book just pulls you in immediately with its unique premise and its self-awareness. Actually, most of Jennifer's books are self-aware: the characters acknowledge what a ridiculous and unrealistic turn their lives are taking, and how if they saw it in a movie they'd scream at the television because it was so unbelievable. And yet, these books are nothing if not believable. This one in particular takes a concept that is totally out-there (movie star accidentally emails regular girl, they begin witty correspondence, then he arranges for his next movie to be shot in her town so they can meet), and spins it so that it really doesn't seem that unusual. It unfolds naturally, like there should never have been a moment when you doubted it.

So, like I said, it pulls you in-- but what makes me love it so much is that it doesn't chew you up and spit you out. Don't get me wrong, I love angst and pain and damage as much as the next person, but sometimes you just need a break. Sometimes you don't want a fantasy/paranormal/dystopian book where there's always the possibility that someone will die around the next corner. Sometimes you want a contemporary book that doesn't rest on tragedy (I've kind of been avoiding the contemporary genre lately because it seems like every book is about girl-whose-parents-died or girl-whose-parent-has-cancer or girl-who-was-in-an-accident-and-her-boyfriend-died-and-oh-yeah-she-was-pregnant. It would be fine if these books could balance the tragedy with humor, a la TFiOS, but they all seem to believe that the two cannot coexist, which is just emotionally draining and tends to result in a distant narrator with frustrating psychological issues).
Maybe that means I'm only giving this book 5 stars because it was a relief from my ennui with the genre, but I don't think so. Plain and simple, there just need to be more books like this in the world. Sure, it doesn't exactly ask The Big Questions or make you Think Real Hard, but it does tell you the story of these characters who you come to care about. The secondary characters may leave something to be desired, but the primary characters more than make up for it. The whole book could have been just the two main characters, Ellie and Graham, sitting around and talking to each other and I'd probably still write love letters to it.
My favorite thing about Happy was the easy relationship between Ellie and Graham. They didn't even know each other but within a few emails they were bantering like old friends. The moment Ellie said "Some pig!" I had officially sold my soul to this book, knowing that it would not use my soul for torture, but rather to feed it cotton candy and shelter it under a rainbow.
I even think the writing in this one is a step up from Probability. It's more lyrical (especially the parts where Ellie and Graham say what happy looks like to them, and I was like, please let me live in this book forever) and the attention to detail is what makes it such a good story-- from the Charlotte's Web references to whoopie pies, it doesn't really leave anything hanging there while you're waiting to get back to it. [Oh, and about the whoopie pies: I felt so ~cultured~ the whole time because I've actually had one before. They DO exist!]
The ending was bittersweet and slightly open-ended, which is exactly my favorite kind of ending. It leaves you with hope but doesn't spell anything out for you-- so anyone with an imagination can close the book with a sense of satisfaction and having done something right by picking up this book.

Basically, This is What Happy Looks Like... is what happy looks like.