Saturday, March 8, 2014

Review: This Is What Happy Looks Like

This Is What Happy Looks Like
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Published: April 2, 2013
Paperback, 224 pages
5 Gold Stars

(summary from Goodreads)

If fate sent you an email, would you answer?

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?

Anyone enjoyed The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, knows that Smith can write a hell of a romance in a short amount of time. TIWHLL is no different. Ellie O'Neill lives in Maine, Graham Larkin is a Hollywood actor. In a quick twist of fate, Graham accidentally sends Ellie an email. One email leads to many and soon Graham is deciding to film his next movie in Maine to be able to meet Ellie in person. But Ellie doesn't know Graham is an actor and a case of mistaken identity makes Graham go out with the wrong girl. But when they do finally meet, is it even possible for them to fall for each other when they live so far from each other and Ellie's mom doesn't want her in the media? A roller coaster of a ride, it's easy for fall in love with these characters and follow their journey like any good love story.

I've read some wonderful YA contemporaries lately and this one is by far one of my favourites. The characters are unique, Ellie is not like more heroines as she knows there are more important things in life than falling in love. Her mom fell in love early in life and though it did produce Ellie, she regrets most of the relationship. She doesn't want Ellie to go through the same thing she does, and Ellie wants to stay near her mom and help her out money wise. Graham isn't your typical actor either. He isn't interested in the girls he's supposed to be, he'd much rather talk to Ellie through emails and hang out with his pet pig. His relationship with his parents isn't as great as it used to be and he really wants to figure out where he's going next in life. When they meet, nothing and everything changes. Ellie tries to stay away from him but finds herself needing to see him, wanting to be near him. Graham knows it's best if he doesn't get involved with her but he can't help it that he loves her red hair and just wants to be close to her. Their moments are fleeting and wonderful, a summer full of love and possibilities. It's impossible not to fall in love with both these characters and root for them to have a happy ending. 

Told from both viewpoints, TIWHLL shows you that you don't need to be from the same world to fall in love. It's hard, but it's possible. Smith's writing is fluid and realistic, quotes that pop out in between moments that feel so real you must be beside the characters witnessing it. Summer is Henley, Maine is hot and full of tourists, but Ellie and Graham only need each other, only see each other. It felt like I was sweating in the hot sun along with them and sitting on the bus on the way to the Fourth of July picnic. I laughed, I cried and I flipped the pages hoping that everything would work out for Ellie and Graham. Just like Hadley and Oliver, these two meet each other out of nowhere, brought together by fate and knowing that it will take work to stay together. I love the idea that you don't have to live near each other to fall in love. Knowing that distance will not keep them from each other. I think that's more love than seeing them everyday. If you have to work to stay in contact, you will appreciate the moments you have together so much more. I'm excited for Smith's next book,  The Geography of You and Me, where we actually get to witness the aftermath of a fated meeting and see how well the couple does once they are separated again. Smith is a master at contemporaries and I'm eager to read more from her. 

“Exactly. How can you know it makes you happy if you’ve never experienced it?”
“There are different kinds of happy,” she said. “Some kinds don’t need any proof.”

“It was exactly as he’d thought it would be, like the first time and the millionth time all at once, like being wide awake, like losing his balance. Only this time, it wasn’t just him; this time, they were losing their balance together.”

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