Friday, April 26, 2013

This Is What Happy Looks Like

This Is What Happy Looks Like
Jennifer E. Smith
Poppy, 2013
$17.99, Hardcover

Genre: Realistic, Romance

Age: 12+

Description: Ellie O’Neill is a small town girl trying to ignore her past. Her mother was a young waitress when she got involved with Ellie’s father—a married politician. She ended up caught in the media spotlight and ran with Ellie to a small town in Maine where they changed their names and are still trying to hide from the press finding out who they really are, especially since Ellie’s father is now a presidential candidate. Ellie enjoys her small town—she’s got a best friend, a part-time job at an ice cream shop, she helps out at her mother’s knick-knack shop, and she even has the chance to go to a prestigious university for a poetry workshop over the summer. The only problem? She’s about $1,000 too short of funds to afford the entrance fee. One night she receives an email from a boy she doesn’t know asking her to make sure his pet pig is feed while he is gone. Being a lover of animals, she doesn’t want the pig to be ignored so she replies letting the boy now he has the wrong email address. What follows from there are very honest conversations between Ellie and the mystery boy from California. When the hottest of the hot Hollywood actors comes to her small town to film a movie the last thing she suspects to find is that the Graham Larkin is the boy she’s been writing too and he is interested in taking their relationship offline to in person. Will Ellie allow herself to fall for a celebrity? Will their relationship even survive considering the fact that her mother is dead set on them remaining out of the spotlight?

Opinion: Like my teen reader, Katie, I went into this story with higher expectations. I don’t normally read romance realistic fiction (what I do read comes from the library and I certainly don’t find myself buying a lot for my own collection) but I have to say the biggest drawback for this book was that it was entirely too long. I struggled to finish it as the plot seemed to drag through 400+ pages. Ellie is a sweet girl and a character a lot of people can relate too. However, the story was rather clichéd and unrealistic in that the movie star would come and find her and that he would be a sweet, down to Earth boy that Ellie could find herself loving. Her best friend was an infuriating character as she basically shuns Ellie for not telling her that Graham Larkin was her mysterious email corresponder and when she pushes Ellie to talk about what she is hiding from her past and Ellie doesn’t want to budge she decides to drop their friendship instead of respecting her privacy. There is entirely too much back and forth (Ellie and Graham will be together; no they won’t) which drags the book on and on. I was happy to see that Ellie gets to kind of meet her father (a handshake on the campaign trail) but it is so convenient that his summer home is close by where Ellie’s mother moved them but, at least, it wasn’t so clichéd that the author had Ellie tearfully reunite with her father (instead it is just another face he sees out there talking to the people). While this book was not my personal cup of tea, readers who enjoy the romantic stories will eat it up and love it.

Here’s what one of my teens had to say:

Katie, 14, says, “I really liked the cover of this book. It kind of made me feel happy which is appropriate for the title. I also like how it was formatted (picture, text) like Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight—while the books aren’t related it kind of creates a brand-loyalty image for readers. They automatically look at it and think, “Jennifer E. Smith!” Did it reflect the contents? I think it did and didn’t at the same time. It did kind of reflect Ellie’s happy list but didn’t really capture the tone of the whole book. I was really looking forward to reading this but, sadly, I don’t think there was any truly compelling part. I found the story was very hard to get into and to understand what was happening, especially the flashbacks.”

Thanks to Victoria Stapleton at Little, Brown for the ARC for the YA Galley Group!

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