Double Review | More Happy Than Not / History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than Not (2015) and History Is All You Left Me (2017) by gay YA author, Adam Silvera, are a perfect pair.  Featuring realistic gay protagonists, they confront themes crucial to older YA readers including identity, sexuality, love, and loss.  Silvera’s representation of mental illness is unflinchingly honest and raw.  I may not be able to bid you “happy reading”, but I hope you will find Silvera’s writing as powerful as I did.

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More Happy Than Not

more-happy-than-not-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: More Happy Than Not
AUTHOR
: Adam Silvera
PUBLISHER
: Soho Teen
RELEASE DATE
: June 2, 2015
GENRE
: Young Adult Fiction, LGBTQIA
PAGE COUNT
: 293

Trigger Warnings: self harm, suicide.


16-year-old Aaron’s girlfriend, Genevieve, has supported him through his dad’s death and his own suicide attempt.  But when the cracks in his happiness reappear, Aaron realises neither Genevieve nor his new best friend, Thomas, can cure his pain.  Could Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-wiping procedure be the key to happiness?

In the near future, Leteo Institute offers the ultimate clean slate to anyone who can afford it.  But memory erasure is controversial.  If a person has caused harm, is it ethical to clear their guilty conscience?  Can you really “fix” a person by erasing their painful memories?  

I realize I’m crying a little, too. I remember. Sometimes pain is so unmanageable that the idea of spending another day with it seems impossible. Other times pain acts as a compass to help you through the messier tunnels of growing up. But pain can only help you find happiness if you remember it – More Happy Than Not

An Immersive Read With Great Rep!

More Happy Than Not explores depression, self-harm, and sexuality in a gritty coming of age story.  Aaron is easily one of the most realistic and empathetic teen characters I’ve read.  Being inside his mind – immersed in the painful tangle of his thoughts – is intense and potentially triggering for some readers (this is not an easy read, so please be mindful of your emotional wellbeing).  The riptide of Aaron’s raw emotions refused to let me go.  A well-developed character with multiple layers, his choices and character growth drive the plot and gave me something to invest in emotionally.  Aaron’s path to forging his identity and accepting the past that moulded his present is topical to YA readers.  

Every Little Thing Counts

Silvera’s attention to detail makes More Happy Than Not a vivid reading experience, from Aaron’s dilapidated Bronx apartment complex, to the secondary characters who contribute meaningfully to progressing the plot as well as Aaron’s character growth.  Aaron’s girlfriend, Genevieve, is much deeper than the Manic Pixie Dream Girl I initially took her for.  Instead of existing merely to “rescue” Aaron via a skin-deep romance subplot, Genevieve is autonomous, humanly flawed, and has her own believable character arc.  I believed and related to her story as much as Aaron’s.

More Happy Than Not is an important contribution to YA fiction, with its gay rep and portrayal of depression that never trivialises people’s experiences.    I found Aaron’s journey through mental illness powerful because it voices taboo issues crucial to its YA audience.  

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History Is All You Left Me

History is All You Left Me Review Paige's Pages.png

TITLE: History Is All You Left Me
AUTHOR
: Adam Silvera
PUBLISHER
: Soho Teen
RELEASE DATE
: January 17, 2017
GENRE
: Young Adult Fiction, LGBTQIA
PAGE COUNT
: 320


17-year-old Griffin is grieving the sudden death of his best friend and first love, Theo.  Reminiscing on their shared coming of age, Griffin confronts the fatal mistakes he made along the way and faces the ugliest parts of himself.

History Is All You Left Me confirms that Adam Silvera is a genius when it comes to writing empathetic characters with realistic flaws.  Although Griffin’s behaviour, perpetuating his destructive cycle of rejection and self-loathing, are upsetting to watch unfold, this is a brutally honest portrayal of how grief, regret, and mental illness can take control of a person.  Silvera executes the themes of love and grief in completely fresh ways, avoiding clichés and validating how differently people process these experiences.

Memories & Perception

The character of Theo is gradually pieced together through other characters’ memories of him.  The great thing about building a character this way is that what characters remember (or deliberately omit) constantly changes our developing perception of Theo.  Silvera also employs the unreliability of selective memory to slowly reveal Griffin’s past actions, as Griffin gradually gives himself permission to remember Theo without his rose-tinted glasses.

Mental Illness Rep

Similar to Aaron’s point of view in More Happy Than Note, seeing the world through Griffin’s eyes demonstrates the impact of mental illness.  Silvera nails the feeling of being 17, and how mental illness is a harmful filter, distorting reality by minimising positives and maximising negatives.  One particularly powerful aspect is how Griffin isn’t motivated to confront his OCD tendencies because he views them as “quirks” that make him unique and attractive to Theo.  I love that Silvera accurately represents how mental illness can harmfully skew a person’s self-view.

History Is All You Left Me is a challenging, emotionally-charged book.  This story forced me to face many difficult topics, especially how people view themselves and each other through narrow lenses.  Like More Happy Than Not, I found it a difficult yet rewarding read due to its impact on my worldview.

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Discuss & Share

  • Do you think Aaron’s and Griffin’s struggles with mental illness were handled realistically and thoughtfully?
  • Although many of Aaron’s and Griffin’s actions are morally wrong, did you still find them empathetic and authentic characters?
  • What other YA titles would you recommend to fans of Adam Silvera?

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