Friday, July 1, 2016

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Adam Silvera's debut novel More Happy Than Not is billed as a cross between the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Protagonist Aaron Soto lives in a one-room apartment in the Bronx with his mom and brother Eric. There's little privacy in the living room that Aaron and Eric share for a bedroom, especially when Eric is up all night playing video games. Aaron spends most of his time in the street with his friends, playing games like Manhunt, which involves chasing each other up and down staircases, through buildings, and down alleys. 

The novel starts when Aaron's painter girlfriend Genevieve decides to go away for a three-week art camp during the summer, leaving him alone. Genevieve has been Aaron's life line, getting him through the period after his father committed suicide, and after he got his own happy-face shaped scar on his wrist. 

Even though Aaron has a group of friends on his block, his sort-of-best-friend, Brendan, is busy with other things this summer. Enter Thomas, a kid who lives nearby, who walks into Aaron's life and causes him to question his happiness, and the in-between state he's been living in. Thomas fills an important gap in Aaron's life when his girlfriend is away, and they're inseparable even when she's back. One of the highlights of the novel is the concept of "Trade Dates." Aaron describes them as something Genevieve came up with: she takes him to a place that she knows he'll like, and he takes her to a place that he knows she'll like. Aaron's place is a local comic book store, Comic Book Asylum, which exists behind a door painted to look like a telephone booth. Aaron and Thomas do something like a "Trade Date," too; but because they don't know each other as well, they each show the other a place that matters to them immensely. 

As Aaron and Thomas grow closer, Aaron discovers things about himself that make it very difficult to continue to date Genevieve, and to be only just-friends with Thomas. Aaron decides that there are two sides to this discovery: Side A is that he likes guys instead of girls and Side B is that he likes one guy in particular - Thomas. 

When things fall apart - first with Genevieve, and then with Thomas - Aaron seriously considers getting a new memory treatment offered by the Leteo Institute. It guarantees erasing certain memories that are too difficult. Aaron even knows someone who has had it done. But is it possible to erase Thomas? And what does Aaron lose by excising those memories and pieces of himself?

More Happy Than Not pairs a fascinating idea - the existence of the Leteo Institute, whose services are similar to those offered in Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind - with deft character development. The book continues to built towards Aaron's decision before pausing in the narrative, and exploring where Aaron has been before, and the choices he has made. I read More Happy Than Not almost in one sitting - it's incredibly hard to put down. I highly recommend Adam Silvera's debut novel, and appreciated the preview of his next novel, History is All You Left Me, that is added to the back of the paperback edition. 

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