Book Review: This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
Talk about the perfect summer book! I dare you to read This Is What Happy Looks Like without dreaming about beaches, fireworks, ice cream cones, and a salty sea breeze or two.
In this sweet, romantic young adult novel, Ellie and Graham meet by accident (or rather, by e-accident). When Ellie gets a random email from a stranger asking her to walk Wilbur, the dog-lover in her just has to respond and let the sender know there’s been a mistake. (Otherwise, poor Wilbur!). What follows next is a charming email exchange that starts light and flirty and ends up as a soul-baring correspondence, in which these two share everything except their full identities.
Little does Ellie know that Graham is actually Graham Larkin, movie star and teen heart-throb (I picture the teen-aged Zac Efron), sighed over by millions of teen girls around the world. Graham’s a bit new to the superstar gig and is hungry for real connection, and for once, he’s found someone to talk to who isn’t wowed by the Hollywood glamor. So when Graham’s newest movie needs to find a new filming location, Graham’s quick to jump in and suggest the small coastal town of Henley, Maine… where a certain someone happens to live. Graham hasn’t told Ellie who he really is, and he’s hoping madly that their amazing virtual connection will translate into real life.
Ellie, meanwhile, lives a contented life with her mother in Henley, but dreams of going to Harvard to study poetry this summer, if only she can scrape the funds together to pay for it. She’s not particularly starstruck, and is more annoyed by the film crews taking over her hometown than eager to catch a glimpse of the stars. But when Graham finally catches up with Ellie, after a brief delay caused by a teeny case of mistaken identity, it’s clear to see that Graham and Ellie do have chemistry, and then some. The question is, can a small-town girl and a Hollywood star find romance and a relationship, despite the never-ending cameras and paparazzi just dying for some good gossip?
This Is What Happy Looks Like is light and breezy, and there isn’t much doubt that there will be some sort of happy ending. I mean, a book with the word “happy” in the title can’t exactly get too tragic, can it? Still, it’s not all fluff. Ellie and Graham both have family issues to sort out, and there’s some real heart in their thoughts about the paths their lives have taken so far, how they want to live, and what role their parents can and should play in their lives.
A plot thread concerning Ellie’s estranged father is a bit extraneous to the main storyline and seemed liked needless filler to me. While providing much of the fodder for any sort of obstacle to the romance (and every good romance needs to overcome an obstacle or two, right?), the pieces about Ellie’s father — her search for him, her assessment of his role in her life, and her mother’s backstory — didn’t feel as important to me as they’re made to be in the story. In fact, I think the story might have worked a bit better without this element entirely.
Beside that, however, I really enjoyed TIWHLL (sorry, can’t keep typing that title out any longer!) Especially coming on the heels of my previous read, which was beautiful but incredibly painful, it truly felt like a breath of fresh air to read this summery romance. Light and airy, full of characters with good hearts and good intentions, this really is a terrific summer read. I wanted only the best for Ellie and Graham — and I absolutely pined for a summer vacation on the coast of Maine, preferably with my feet in the surf and an ice cream cone in my hand. Bliss!