By Adam Silvera
Available now from Soho Teen
Set in a near-future version of the Bronx, MORE HAPPY THAN NOT starts out like a contemporary coming-of-age tale. Aaron Soto is even poorer than most of the other kids living in the projects, but he's happy. He loves his girlfriend Genevieve and his great new friend Thomas. But when he starts to think that he likes Thomas as more than a friend, things get complicated.
So what makes this a near-future story? The Leteo Institute. The Leteo procedure can remove those memories that have been plaguing you. It's mentioned so frequently throughout the first half that you just know someone is going to get one. It made me want to bite my nails, wondering what would happen to drive Aaron to get the procedure. And then it came, and MORE HAPPY THAN NOT shifted.
I liked how debut author Adam Silvera sprinkled hints about what was to come throughout the first half of the book. There are glimpses of people who seem off, for instance. He sets up what is to come very well. I also liked that he doesn't rely on one big twist, especially since many readers will probably sense what is coming. The second half of MORE HAPPY THAN NOT unfolds in increasingly heartbreaking ways.
I felt immersed in this novel. For all that Silvera resists setting MORE HAPPY THAN NOT at a specific time, the setting is very grounded. You get a great sense of the life Aaron and his sort of friends lead. Even though he doesn't quite fit in, he's still got a real sense of community with them. (Okay, one touch I was bothered by: the mention of a new Avengers movie in December. Those are summer blockbusters!) I also liked the reality of the ways they hang out, going to comic shops, relaxing on the roof, playing made up games just outside the building. The sci-fi premise makes the story go, but it is strongly grounded in realism. This helps strike a good balance between the fantastical and the personal difficulties Aaron faces in his life.
MORE HAPPY THAN NOT is a striking debut. The tech is similar to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but the questions the story asks are different. Silvera ripped out my heart and stomped on it, yet I am already ready for his next book. If he's this good now, what will he write next?