I loved Jennifer E. Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, and was happy to find that her latest young adult romance novel, This Is What Happy Looks Like, has a similar feel. Two teens "meet" when one of them mis-addresses an email, and they start up a regular correspondence. Graham lives in southern California; Ellie in a small town in Maine. They bond over their email exchange, sharing things that they aren't able to share with the people around them. When Graham orchestrates a meeting, however, the situation proves to be a bit more complicated than either had expected.
I quite enjoyed This Is What Happy Looks Like (even if I didn't love, love, love it quite as much as I did The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight). Ellie and Graham are both solid characters, multi-faceted and relatable. Their interactions with each other, and with secondary characters, feel spot-on. I actually cared what would happen with Ellie and Graham so much that mid-way through reading it I dreamed of a movie version of the book that didn't go the way I had hoped.
Smith's portrayal of the small coastal town of Henley, Maine is solid, too. The reader can practically smell the sea salt, and see the ice cream shop where Ellie works. Like this:
"A few seagulls wheeled overhead, and from some distant boat a bell began to clang. Ellie hurried past the gawking tourists and away from the trailers, which now lined the harbor road like a gypsy caravan. There was a sharp tang of salt in the air, and the smell of frying fish was already drifting out of the town's oldest restaurant, the Lobster Pot. Its owner, Joe Gabriele, was learning against the doorframe, his eyes trained on the flurry of activity down the street." (Chapter 1)
"The inside of the shop was wonderfully cool and smelled like spun sugar, and as always, there was something about it that made the years recede for Ellie, peeling them back one at a time like the skin of an onion." (Chapter 1)
There's a wish-fulfillment aspect to the storyline (involving a movie star) that I think will work well with teens, but This Is What Happy Looks Like is still largely realistic in tone. There are disagreements between parents and teens, and between friends. There are annoyances. There are whoopie pies. I particularly like that Smith didn't try to wrap up all of the storylines, but rather left the characters in a reasonable place, where one could imagine (but not know for certain) what might happen in the future.
Like the emails in the first chapter, the limited third person viewpoint in This Is What Happy Looks Like shifts between Ellie and Graham (though a bit more Ellie, I think). Both offer keen insights, like these:
"But what nobody ever told him was that once something like this happens to you, there's no going back. In hindsight, this seemed like it should have been obvious, something he might have realized before everything was already in motion, but there was a slow inertia to the whole process that made it feel less like a catapult and more like a tumble downhill. And as with most cartoon characters, once the ground ran out beneath him, he continued to hang there in midair, legs churning, hoping that if he just kept moving, maybe he wouldn't fall." (Graham, Chapter 2)
"Childhood memories were like airplane luggage; no matter how far you were traveling or how long you needed them to last, you were only ever allowed two bags. And while those bags might hold a few hazy recollections--a diner with a jukebox at the table, being pushed on a swing set, the way it felt to be picked up and spun around--it didn't seem enough to last a whole lifetime." (Ellie, Chapter 7)
This Is What Happy Looks Like is part romance and part coming-of-age novel, with both characters learning something about who they are, and who they want to be. I think it could actually work for boys or girls, though the more traditional audience of a book with a kissing couple on the cover will be girls. The thoughtfulness of the characters could make this a good fit for kids who enjoy John Green's novels, though I think This Is What Happy Looks Like could also work for slightly younger readers.
Fans of Jennifer E. Smith's work will certainly want to scoop this one up. I would also strongly recommend it for library purchase - I think it could appeal to a wide range of teens in middle school and high school (not to mention some of their parents). This is a book that will make people happy.
Publisher: Poppy (@LBKids)
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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