MORE HAPPY THAN NOT by Adam Silvera
Trigger & content warnings: homophobia, fatphobia, biphobia, ableism, hate crimes, violence, domestic violence, self-harm, suicide, suicide ideation, suicide attempt.
In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.
When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.
Why does happiness have to be so hard?
I want to start off by saying that I haven’t settled on a rating for this yet and I’m not sure I will. I have conflicting thoughts and feelings about this so I’ll try my best to put into words what I liked and disliked about this and y’all can get a feel for what I was thinking when I read it! At the end of this review, I’ll dedicate a section to links to #ownvoices reviewers (reviewers who are both Latinx and queer) because it’s not my lane to comment on the representation in this book.
This has been one of my most anticipated reads for quite a while and I think I’ve put it off for so long because I was scared of the hype. This is a well-loved and very highly recommended book in our community, and I can tell why. This was my second time trying to read MHTN and whilst my first time reading didn’t take me past page 30, I was very quickly drawn into the story this time around.
Aaron was a multifaceted, really interesting, intricate character to read about. There was a lot going on in his life- he had to deal with the emotional aftermath of his fathers suicide, his attempted suicide, his deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend, Genevieve, and his growing feelings for his new friend, Thomas. I was a little worried going into it that it would be too many heavy topics to deal with, but I think Silvera handled them well. It’s a really raw, gritty representation of grief and mental illness and I’m glad it’s dealt with in a way that doesn’t romanticise it.
I also really appreciate that this discusses & explores intersectional identities. Not only is this about a closeted gay boy, it’s about a closeted gay Puerto Rican boy in an economically disadvantaged situation. Straight of the bat you know this rep was going to be gritty and explore what being gay is like in Latinx communities. Therefore, this book didn’t shy away from the things that came with that- homophobia, ableism, fatphobia- etc. I’ll link some twitter threads at the end of the review that further discusses this & the idea of intersectionality in OV works.
I found myself being more drawn into the story when Aaron finally met Thomas and struck up a friendship. I was definitely rooting for them both and wanting nothing but happiness for them both and I loved how easily they got along and how deeply they cared for one another. As this was told from first person POV, seeing things through Aaron’s eyes and reading how he interpreted things really had me thinking similar thoughts he did about where his relationship with Thomas was heading.
However, I soon found myself a little annoyed with some of the ways Aaron was treating and thinking about Thomas- especially after Aaron came out to Thomas and kissed him without his consent. Aaron’s constant internal insistence that Thomas was lying to himself and to everybody else about being attracted to boys slowly started getting on my nerves, especially since I wholeheartedly think that it’s unfair to judge someone else’s sexuality based on signals you think you were getting. I also don’t think it’s anybody’s place to try to force somebody else to come out- and although it didn’t really feel like Aaron was trying to force Thomas to come out (after he’d said he was straight), it was still really annoying that he kept thinking Thomas was lying. Whether Thomas was lying or not is Thomas’s business, not Aaron’s. Along the same lines, later in the novel when Genevieve tells Aaron to stop waiting around for Thomas, Aaron says “Look, trust me, Thomas isn’t straight. I know him.” 1) Thomas never came out to Aaron, and 2) even if he had, it is no ones place to speculate on the sexuality of others. There was also a line only 30 pages from the end about how Thomas was “probably having sex so he could feel straight.” Which sort of leads me into the next thing I didn’t like.
A lot of the internal thoughts Aaron had about Thomas’s sexuality came across as biphobic. It never occurred to Aaron that Thomas could like both boys and girls, and whenever Aaron was thinking about Thomas in terms of lying, it was always about lying to himself that he doesn’t like boys, or lying to girls about liking them. There was a line where he’s talking about a possible relationship between Genevieve and Thomas and says he can’t find it to be happy for them “especially when he’s bullshitting her and she’s bullshitting herself again.” He was also thinking about what Thomas might grow up to be, whether that’s “gay or straight” with no mention of the possibility of being bisexual. Lastly, where was also a line to Genevieve about how “only a guy who likes guys wouldn’t want to kiss you” but again, there are guys who like guys and girls, so it just felt a lot like bi erasure. I think I was extra sensitive to this because I’ve heard from a couple bi reviewers that they found Adam Silvera’s next book, History Is All You Left Me, biphobic as well.
My other main issue with this was the fact of Aaron cheating on Genevieve being sort of brushed over. I understood why he cheated- the fact he was closeted and had homophobic friends/family & therefore was using Genevieve to be a sort of cover for that, but I still think it was a shitty thing to do, and I think the validity of Genevieve being angry at Aaron’s cheating was dismissed a little when Aaron responded to Genevieve’s hurt with “You’re right. I’m sorry I’m not straight. I’m sorry I went after someone I could feel real emotions over. I’m sorry I needed to hide so strangers wouldn’t try and beat me to death. I’m sorry my dad killed himself because of me…” I understand that all of these things understandably hurt Aaron, but it doesn’t make the fact he cheated on Genevieve okay, and I personally don’t think he should’ve responded to Genevieve like that when Genevieve was expressing how hurt she was that Aaron cheated.
Similarly though, I really didn’t like that Genevieve took advantage of Aaron in the sense that she knew he was gay and still had sex with him anyway because he “wanted” it. [SPOILER] I don’t think Genevieve should’ve had sex with him, knowing he only thought he wanted to have sex because he’d had toe Leteo procedure done to make him forget he was gay. [END SPOILER].
I don’t think those things diminish the book as a whole, but they certainly made it less enjoyable for me. The last thing that made this less enjoyable for me was the amount of ableism. Firstly, one of the characters is literally named “Me-Crazy.” Ableist language such as “crazy,” “insane,” and “psycho” are consistently used to describe this character, and his violent behaviours. [SPOILERS] I also felt that some of the conversation at then end of the novel was ableist, after Aaron finds out he has anterograde amnesia. Although he was suicidal already, when he found out he had anterograde amnesia, he asks what his life will be like and his doctor says “challenging but not impossible” and that he may be limited to his memories from before the procedure. His response is “why bother living?” The “disabled lives aren’t worth living” trope is an extremely ableist trope that has been spoken about constantly, and although Aaron doesn’t die at the end, this line of thinking was still ableist. [END SPOILER]
In saying all of that, I really loved the overall message of the book that 1) you can’t choose your sexuality & it’s not something that can be changed/forgotten. And 2) that happiness is always attainable, even if you think it’s not. This was an important book that deals with a lot of heavy topics, but also explores intersections between race, sexuality and mental illness. Whilst there were things I personally wasn’t a fan of, I do think the importance of this book outweighs my enjoyment of it and therefore would definitely recommend it. Please keep in mind that this book may be potentially triggering, and I have a list of content & trigger warning at the start of this review.
Also. I 100% agree with everybody who said this book would emotionally wreck you. Adam Silvera, what have you done to my heart?! I was in the last couple pages and was like “hey, I haven’t cried yet” but I started crying as soon as I closed the book. You know an author’s writing is great when they can move you to tears. I’ve heard Silvera’s books get better and better, and since I had no qualms with Silvera’s actual writing style, I’ll certainly be reading his other books!
I’ll leave you with some links here to reviews by ownvoices reviewers, and also some twitter threads about intersectionality and how important this book was to ownvoices reviewers. I’ll be adding more links to reviews when I find them!
Thank you for reading!