Jennifer E. Smith In This is What Happy Looks Like, Jennifer E. Smith’s new YA novel, perfect strangers Graham Larkin and Ellie O’Neill meet—albeit virtually—when Graham accidentally sends Ellie an email about his pet pig, Wilbur. In the tradition of romantic movies like “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” the two 17-year-olds strike up an email relationship, even though they live on opposite sides of the country and don’t even know each other’s first names.
Through a series of funny and poignant messages, Graham and Ellie make a true connection, sharing intimate details about their lives, hopes and fears. But they don’t tell each other everything; Graham doesn’t know the major secret hidden in Ellie’s family tree, and Ellie is innocently unaware that Graham is actually a world-famous teen actor living in Los Angeles.
When the location for the shoot of Graham’s new film falls through, he sees an opportunity to take their relationship from online to in-person, managing to get the production relocated to picturesque Henley, Maine, where Ellie lives. But can a star as famous as Graham have a real relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie’s mom want her to avoid the media’s spotlight at all costs?
Just as they did in The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, the hands of fate intervene in wondrous ways in this YA novel that delivers on high concept romance in lush and thoughtful prose.
I really enjoyed Jennifer E Smith’s last book, The Statical Probability Of Love At First Sight (TSPOLAFs), so I was very excited to see what she was going to write next. When I came across the blurb for This Is What Happy Looks Like, a contemporary YA, romance about two teens living worlds (not to mention a country) apart who meet through a twist of fate and an email typo, I knew that it was right up my street and I immediately pre-ordered it in hardback.
If you want to know what happy looks like you simple had to take a glance at my face, when one of my blogging friends, Kerrie ( read her awesome book review blog here) nominated me to receive an Advance Reader Copy via the #WhatHappyLooksLike twitter campaign. Or perhaps a glance at my face at anytime during the single sitting it took to consume, this sweet, romantic book.
Told in third person, we are treated to the alternating perspective of both Ellie and Graham as they consolidate the depth of connection they have shared for months, with the stranger stood before them.
I absolutely adored the fun, flirty and funny email exchanges, which make up the prologue and punctuate the main body of the book. The chemistry was instantaneous, and I quickly felt invested in their relationship. If Jennifer E Smith is reading this and looking to create “extra’s” for her readership, I’d love to read more of Ellie and Graham’s correspondence.
What I love about Jennifer’s work is the inclusion of relatable issues, without sensationalizing or over dramatizing them. So ok, not many teens are international movie stars, but like Graham, we all have a desire to belong, and to be accepted for who we truly are.
Both this book and Jennifer’s previous book (TSPOLAFS) take a refreshing look at family, and changing family dynamics as the “child” approaches adulthood. Recognizing your parents as the individual they are, with their own insecurities, mistakes and problems is one of the inevitable markers of adulthood. While constructing an emotionally supportive relationship with your parents in the light of growing physical and financial independence is one of the more painful and rewarding challenges of adulthood.
Too often in YA fiction, family, particularly parents are a simply blockade to the developing romance or awaiting adventure, a hurdle to climb, a jailer to sneak by. In Jennifer’s books the characters don’t hide from their family problems within their developing romances, but confront them face on. Rather than the family dynamic being a hurdle to the romance, the romance and ensuing personal development, is often the catalyst to confronting the longstanding family issue. Verdict: A summer read as sweet and refreshing as a scoop of sorbet on a hot day. Reviewed by Caroline