The New York Times called Adam Silvera’s debut novel, More Happy Than Not, “mandatory reading,” and I’m inclined to agree. This novel turned everything I thought I knew about the young adult scene on its head, and I’ve been recommending it to everyone I meet. So if you see me in the next year or so and ask me what you should be reading, here’s your answer.
Aaron Soto is a sixteen-year-old boy living in the Bronx of the near future. He lives in a housing project with his mother and older brother, all three of them skirting around their grief and disbelief over Adam’s father’s suicide and Adam’s attempted suicide. Why should they live with their feelings when there’s a procedure that wipes away your memories? The Leteo Institute offers a memory-wiping (“memory relief”) procedure for those who have gone through trauma. In Aaron’s own community, one friend underwent the procedure after his twin brother was killed, effectively wiping out all memories of his sibling’s existence and their shared childhood.
Aaron has a scar shaped like a smile on his wrist, but he doesn’t have much to be happy about: his father killed himself, his mother is overworked, and the neighborhood he lives in is poor. While the support of his girlfriend, Genevieve, is a comfort, it doesn’t always seem like enough. He’s never quite sure of how he’s supposed to act.
But then Thomas shows up, and Aaron’s whole world turns upside-down. Thomas is not like Aaron’s friends from his project; Thomas is sensitive, and funny, and likes the same comic books as Aaron. Aaron starts finding more and more excuses to hang out with Thomas, until he realizes he’s falling for his new best friend. In a neighborhood where being gay is enough to get you jumped, Aaron struggles with this new realization. Maybe there’s hope for him, still, if he can just get his mom to agree to a Leteo procedure. But is the process of erasing memories enough to change a person?
“Memories: some can be sucker punching, others carry you forward; some stay with you forever, others you forget on your own. You can’t really know which ones you’ll survive if you don’t stay on the battlefield, bad times shooting at you like bullets. But if you’re lucky, you’ll have plenty of good times to shield you.”
You may think: “I’ve seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This kind of seems like the same thing.” But aside from the idea of a memory-wiping procedure, More Happy Than Not is entirely unique. Its diverse cast of lovable (and not so lovable) characters, realistic, gritty setting, and surprising plot twists make this a story all its own. I wept, unabashedly, through the last third of the book, because the writing is so good and the characters are so easy to care for.
Have you read Silvera’s debut yet? I’d love to hear what you think! If you haven’t had the chance to pick it up yet — do it now. You won’t regret it.