A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that More Happy Than Not is a science-fiction story set in the near future, where people can pay to have painful or traumatic memories suppressed. As in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the procedure can be used to block everything from the violent death of a loved one, an ugly breakup, or even same-sex attraction. The protagonist lives in the Bronx with a diverse group of characters, and frequently their conversations are peppered with strong language ("f--k," "s--t," coarse words for body parts, "a--hole," etc.) and references to sexual activity and experience (tales of various first times, illicit hookups straight and gay, and teen pregnancy as well as protection). Despite the heavy themes and serious plot points, author Adam Silvera's debut book conveys a hopeful message about happiness, acceptance, and love.
What's the story?
MORE HAPPY THAN NOT is young Bronx-born author Adam Silvera's debut novel. It's the story of Aaron Soto, a 16-year-old Nuyorican living in the Bronx projects in a near future where people can get memories suppressed by undergoing a revolutionary technique called the Leteo procedure. Aaron has issues: His father recently committed suicide and he himself attempted it; his family lives in a tiny one-bedroom apartment; and his circle of friends on the block isn't always very supportive. Still, Aaron's got his girlfriend Genevieve, a beautiful artist, by his side. When he meets Thomas, a sensitive guy from a neighboring project who shares his love of comic books, superheroes, and classic movies, Aaron slowly begins to question his own sexuality. He knows Genevieve is great, but he's drawn to Thomas in a way that makes him wonder if he's a "dude liker," a dangerous thing to be in his 'hood.
Is it any good?
With its urban setting and diverse characters, More Happy Than Not is a rare and poignant look at how a struggling gay kid from the Bronx deals with pain, grief, and the heartbreak of love. Like his protagonist, Silvera, 25, is gay, Bronx-born, and Puerto Rican (not to mention having the same initials), so there's an authenticity to his prose that isn't always the case with books about low-income, urban characters. Aaron is realistically depicted as a bundle of contradictions: His mother is employed but barely makes a livable wage as a hospital social worker; his friends include petty criminals and aspiring artists, dropouts and ambitious students. The sadness stemming from his father's suicide and his own attempt permeates everything Aaron does. Even his romantic relationship is somewhat based on gratitude to the one girl who stuck by his side while everyone else (even his crew) distanced themselves.
Aaron's story shifts into high gear once he starts hanging out with Thomas, who's sensitive, articulate, smart, and loves Steven Spielberg movies, comic books, and all the pop culture-touchstones that make for a believably fast fanboy friendship. Thomas doesn't act tough or keep himself separate like Brendan, Fat Dave, Skinny Dave, and Me-Crazy (the guys Aaron has known all his life). While Genevieve is away at art camp, Aaron begins to think about Thomas so often he questions whether he's straight, bi, or gay. If he's really gay, Aaron wonders if the Leteo procedure would be a way to "fix" him. Silvera explores the way the true you always comes through, even when you want to suppress that part of yourself. His writing explores the humor and heartache, the sense of hopelessness that can surround a kid in Aaron's circumstances. More Happy Than Not, as the title implies, is about a fragile boy finding a way through the darkness and into the light, where everything isn't sunshine and light but where happiness seems possible no matter whom you love or who loves you back.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way memories, remembrance, and identity are important aspects of More Happy Than Not. What is the story's message about the impact that memories, no matter how painful, have on you as a person?
Discuss how the book depicts diversity. How are Aaron and his friends unlike the typical young-adult protagonist. Do you have to share background, identity, and race/ethnicity with characters to care about them? Why is it important to read about people like and unlike yourself?
Talk about how sex and losing one's virginity are major themes of the book. Is the candor about adolescent sexuality authentic or inappropriate? Talk about the significant role of sex in the story and in YA literature. Is reading about sex different from watching depictions of it on TV or in movies?
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