Sunday, June 07, 2015

Book Review: This Is What Happy Looks Like

Title: This Is What Happy Looks Like
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Published: April 2, 2013 by Headline
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed
If fate sent you an email, would you answer?

When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.

Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?

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(Warning: Review may contain spoilers!)

Jennifer E. Smith's book, This Is What Happy Looks Like, is a contemporary young adult novel set in a fictional small town of Henley, Maine (yes, I've done my research and found out that Henley, Maine is, in fact, purely fictional).

The book follows the story of Graham Larkin and Ellie O'Neill, both at the age of seventeen, but are from the opposite sides of the country, California and Maine, respectively. Due to Graham's mistake in typing the email address of the guy who is supposed to watch his pet pig, Wilbur, as he flies off to Maine to shoot his upcoming movie, his e-mail accidentally ends up in Ellie's inbox. And thus, beginning their online relationship—talking about their lives, hopes, dreams, fears, as well as how happiness looks like for the both of them. However, what Graham doesn't know about Ellie, is that her family holds a scandalous history with the media. In fairness, Ellie doesn't have any clue about Graham's life in the spotlight. When Graham sees an opportunity to relocate his movie set, he suggests that his crew shall take their entire production to Henley, Maine—the small town where Ellie lives—in hopes that he can finally meet her in person. But real life doesn't flow well like the movies, and it doesn't take long before Graham and Ellie are put under the troubles of staying under the radar in an attempt to protect one's identity and past.

If there is anything that I like about this book more than anything, is that the action started right off the bat. Usually, some of the books I've come across with before had to have some type of introduction—brief or not—before introducing the main love interest, or anyone or anything, even, and that sometimes can be a drawback for a reader like me, who is always on the hunt for action or conflict right away. I like how Smith already captured my full interest by igniting a light mix up upon the first few chapters, causing for the gears of my brain to turn in an attempt to foretell how the rest of the novel will play out.

Smith also showcased a lack of clichés, which I absolutely enjoyed. Yes, there is the commonplace female teen star attitude embodied by Olivia Brooks, who doesn't like to have bread on her sandwich. ("Not much of a sandwich," as Meg, the owner of the deli shop in Henley, Maine, commented about Olivia's lunch order.) Yes, there is the typical cliché of two best friends arguing because the other is keeping secrets—but it truly surprised me how there aren't a lot of clichés, especially when This Is What Happy Looks Like is a modern young adult contemporary book, which is the genre that is expected to have a lot of them.

Another thing that I like about Smith's novel is how supportive the characters are of one another. Throughout the entire story, it is very patent how Ellie's mother truly cares for her, and vice versa; how Ellie cares for Graham, and it shows through her occasional queries about his upcoming movie; how Graham cares for Ellie, of how supportive of her he is, and how he remembers the smallest details about her life. He is always present in times of her need. I just think that this book completely embraces the true meaning of what it is like to love and to be loved, of what it is like to care for someone and having the same care reciprocated, of what it is like to know that someone has got your back, especially when in times of desperate need.

Frankly speaking, there isn't really much that I don't like about the book. The only thing that really bothers me about it is the main guy's name, Graham. Stereotypically, I associate that sort of name to someone English; therefore, I had a hard time envisioning Graham Larkin as an American who resides in sunny California. Or not, as a walking and talking Graham cracker. But, the main guy's name is a minor thing. I can go pass that—hey, I managed to read the entire book, and I'm really proud to say that halfway through it, I finally warmed up to Graham's name!

If someone ever asks me if there is a book that I would recommend for them to read, this one will undoubtedly be included in my list. This book will indisputably win the hearts of readers who are really into contemporary and likes reading about young love. This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith is a lighthearted book, a nice and cozy summer read, that will truly warm our hearts for all the love it radiates.

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Jennifer E. Smith is the author of two previous young adult novels, The Comeback Season and You Are Here. She earned her master's degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and currently works as an editor in New York City. Her work has been translated into thirty languages.

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