Hurt Go Happy

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Hurt Go Happy Book Poster Image
Award-winner faces tough topic of animal testing.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 9 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Joey's mother consistently and determinedly makes bad and wrong-headed decisions which lead to harm for herself, her children, and others. Joey courageously fights for what she believes.


Spousal and child abuse, the latter leading to permanent disability, referred to and briefly described. A facility where scientists perform experiments on chimpanzees is described, the experiments themselves are only referred to.


Joey's mom wonders if an old man is a "pervert." He isn't.


Many brands mentioned, including supermarket, sneaker, soft-drink, sauce, pizza, toothpaste, fast food, and hotel.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink beer and smoke cigarettes and cigars.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that one of the major themes is animal testing and experimentation. Though not graphic, this may be disturbing to some kids. Also, a major character was abused as a young child, leading to deafness.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byEttina S. August 9, 2016

Had potential, but poorly done animal rights plot

The characters of Joey and her family and the way they grow in this book felt very real. However, I felt that Sukari (the chimpanzee) and her plotline was not v... Continue reading
Parent of an infant-year-old Written byTalia4801543555 May 25, 2009


Kid, 11 years old December 5, 2012

Not too bad

In fourth grade, our reading group read this book. It's amazing and moving, but I thought it was disturbing because I had never really been exposed to anyt... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old May 5, 2012

Such an awesome book!

It's really touching and I can relate to it. It literally made my eyes well up with tears. It is such an awesome book!!!

What's the story?

Joey has been mostly deaf since early childhood, but her mother has refused to let her learn sign language. But in her teens, Joey meets a neighbor, Dr. Mansell, who has a chimpanzee, Sukari, who can communicate in sign language. Trying to keep it secret from her mother, Joey begins to learn to sign. But when her mother finds out, and then Dr. Mansell dies, Sukari's future is in doubt. Includes sign-language alphabet, author's Afterword, and a Reader's Guide in the paperback edition.

Is it any good?

While the story never comes across as didactic, no one will miss the piercing critique of animal testing, and it's a theme that will resonate strongly with young readers. Equally powerful, though, is the web of issues relating to deaf children and their families, and in Joey young readers will encounter a strongly sympathetic, and courageous heroine. Like many in the deaf community, she recognizes the positive aspects of her situation, and though she is often frustrated and lonely, she is also at times grateful and relieved to embrace her deafness.

There are a lot of important themes here -- deafness, communication, animal rights, parental fallibility, abuse -- and sophomore author Ginny Rorby swirls them together into a powerfully potent brew in which each ingredient enhances the others. Without ever getting graphic or inappropriate, the emotional and at times disturbing result may be too much for more sensitive readers. The rest will find it hard to put down while reading, and harder still to forget afterwards. This is a book that has a lasting impact on the reader, and those in the target age group may want to go further and take action.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about animal testing and experimentation. What are the pros and cons? Which outweighs the other? What are the ethics involved? Is it OK if it saves many lives? Is it OK with some animals but not with others? Readers who wish to know more can start with the Web sites listed below, as well as the organizations listed in the back of the book.

Book details

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