More Happy Than Not
By Adam Silvera
Published by Simon and Schuster
ISBN978 1 4711 7584 8
The Bronx is the northernmost of the five boroughs that make up New York City. It has some of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in the US – but also some of the poorest and roughest.
Sixteen-year-old Puerto Rican Aaron Soto lives with his mother and older brother in the Leonardo Housing Project, where life is tough and driven by poverty.
But Aaron has morals and standards, and does his best to keep away from the crime and violence that plagues the streets of his housing estate.
His relationship with his girlfriend, Genevieve, helps to keep him grounded, while his friends – Me-Crazy, Skinny Dave and Baby Freddy – are a loud and colourful, but deeply loyal, bunch.
But Aaron is also struggling with both physical and emotional scars. He is haunted by memories from his past. There are things that make him happy, but there are also things he would like to forget. That’s where the sci-fi element of Adam Silvera’s gritty, realistic novel comes into play.
The action takes place during one summer in the Bronx in the near future. Things there are much as they are now, but with the addition of a high-tech private medical clinic called the Leteo Institute. Here, patients can pay large sums of money to have painful memories erased.
During that summer, while Genevieve is away at camp, Aaron makes a new friend from a neighbouring housing project. Thomas is clever, witty, fun, and he shares Aaron’s love of comic books and fantasy fiction. The two quickly develop a strong friendship. Aaron’s street-wise gang of friends notice this shift, and they are not thrilled.
And yet, for the first time in his life, Aaron feels happy and safe. In Thomas’ company, Aaron is “more happy than not”, and he finds himself growing closer and closer to his intriguing new friend.
But when something happens to unravel the boys’ friendship, Aaron makes a massive decision. He must find the money to go to the Leteo Institute and have his unwanted memories and feelings erased – even if this means completely changing the person he is.
More Happy Than Not, at times a disturbing read, is an honest and moving portrait of a teenager in crisis. It’s a heady mix of young adult themes and gripping coming-of-age narrative. And it’s also a tender novel about what happiness is and how difficult it can be to find it.
This novel contains adult themes and language that some readers might find offensive.
John Millen can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org